How long has it been since your favourite act released their new album…? If they are one of those restless bands who seem to literally live in the recording studio, their next record will probably come hot on the heels of the previous one. Other groups may make their aficionados wait a bit longer. Remember when we all waited for Guns N’ Roses to release Chinese Democracy…? The international supergroup Mother Road doesn’t go to such extremes in terms of album delays, but still, it’s been a couple of years – six exactly – since the release of their first offering Drive. Now that their new album II is ready, it was the right moment to ask the Mother Road guitarist Chris Lyne what’s prompted their six-year hiatus and discuss the new record down to the smallest detail…
Alexandra Mrozowska, Rock Speculo Interviews: Why did it take you so long to record a follow-up to Drive? Were the band members engaged in other projects throughout this period?
Chris Lyne: Well, that is a good question. I am sure they did (laughs). After we broke up in 2016, everybody had to go their own way and work on other things. I mean, we have to pay our bills… (laughs). I worked on my film music stuff and got for two movies awards. I also work as engineer for some post-dubbing companies and also played a lot of studio sessions for other bands… All of us are independent people and I don’t know exactly what the other guys did.
AM: Congrats on the awards! During these six years, some line-up changes were inevitable I think. Barry Sparks [ex-MSG] replaced Frank Binke. How did you hook up with Barry?
CL: Frank and me are long-time friends and we have made a lot of things together, but in the middle of the production, we had the feeling that we need a change musically. I spoke with him and he said, “Of course, Chris, no problem”, because he’s a professional musician and a great person and we are still friends! Barry and Keith [Slack, Mother Road’s lead singer – AM] have played two years together for Michael Schenker and they’re really good friends. So, Keith asked me what I think about Barry and I said “Wow, an amazing bass player!… If he has time for us – yes, of course let’s try.” Then I had a long chat with Barry and we both realize that we are definitely on the same page. I sent him one song without bass to let him play what he feel as for me that’s the best idea to check out if someone is musically on the same page as we are. And what can I say… one day later he sent us the song back and we were really impressed. He’s a hell of a bass player and an outstanding character too. So, Barry was absolutely the right choice for us, he and Zacky are so great together and that was the last missing piece in the puzzle. We are really happy and proud to have him on board!
AM: It was Alessandro Del Vecchio (Edge Of Forever, Hardline, JORN) who played the Hammond and piano on Drive. Why isn’t he a part of the band anymore and who took over for him on the album?
CL: Well, with Alessandro it is really simple. He wanted to be a permanent member of the band, but he doesn’t have enough time to work for it, because he has too much work for his employer – Frontiers Music SRL.
AM: Oh yeah, his schedule is perpetually busy to say the least!
CL: I really like what he played on the first album and I wanted to write songs with him for the second one, because I thought we could write songs closer to the whole band. But he told me that he has a publisher contract with Frontiers and that makes it difficult, even if he wanted to participate… We want to be independent and that’s the main reason why he is not longer a part of Mother Road. The Hammond stuff is played by an Austin, TX-based guy called David Breaux, the screaming B3 monster. Keith knows him very well and recorded with him.
AM: Do you plan to include a keyboard/piano player in the line-up, especially for the purpose of live performances?
CL: I’m not sure we really need a keyboard player when we go on stage with Mother Road, because Keith is also a great guitar player and it can be that we play with two guitars for some songs. But that’s a choice we’ll face with when it comes closer to some gigs.
AM: When I chatted with Keith six years ago, I remember he mentioned it was actually you who came up with the band name. Where did the idea come from? Are you interested in American popular culture?
CL: First of all, I’m generally interested in history of the whole world. And yes, that was a funny thing – as I told Keith about this name, he said he had never heard of that. I told him that’s the nickname of the Route 66. I saw this on a sheet metal sign in a car repair shop from a good friend of mine. For me, it sounded good and speaks also a little bit about our music.
AM: I believe you’ve been writing songs for the album with Keith in a span of the last two years actually, which is quite a lot of time. Do you have any outtakes of those writing sessions shelved for whatever reason?
CL: It’s not like we spent two years on songs for the album. The thing is, we don’t have any support from a record label or something. We pay everything from our own pocket and we have to pay our bills. Everybody in the band also works on other things to make money. But yes, of course we have some more song ideas and cool riffs… who knows for what! (laughs)
AM: Also back in 2014, Keith pointed out to slight difficulties of writing songs together due to the physical distance between you and him. What was the songwriting process like for the album this time? Did you manage to handle all songwriting/recording sessions in person?
CL: In 2015, I was in Texas for four weeks to work with Keith on the songs for our second album, and I would say that 80 per cent of the song ideas we wrote for the new album were originated in these four weeks. With the last things like the arrangements, melodies or solos etc. everybody has worked in their own studio and we spoke via FaceTime or send each other samples. After we finished the complete songwriting process, Zacky came over to my studio and we recorded the drums, percussion and guitars. Also, I recorded the horn section for “Cold Heat” in my studio in Berlin. Keith recorded all his vocals and the Hammond B3 Organ in his own studio in the USA. Barry did the same – he recorded all bass guitars in his own studio. The good thing is that all of us are also great engineers, have their own studios and know how to record an instrument… Then, after everything was done, I started working on the final mix of the songs.
AM: The new Mother Road’s album being titled simply II, is it a homage of sorts to Led Zeppelin?
CL: You are right, it is a homage (laughs). I mean, Led Zeppelin did everything what they wanted to do. They never did that what the people in suits behind the desk say. Like they never had band pictures on the cover or made things they didn’t stand behind and I’m sure that all promotion companies were completely freaking out when they saw that. Led Zeppelin have let the music do the talking and rose to one of the greatest Rock bands ever. Okay, it was a different time, but for me is that impressive! And on the other hand, how important is a name of a music album…?
AM: The number formula did it for Led Zepp, so that’s probably how unimportant it is. So, in terms of music, II is more or less a continuation of Drive. However, there are some surprises along the way, such as the song you’ve already mentioned – “Cold Heat” with its Jazz/Funk vibes…
CL: (laughs) I don’t know what you mean with Jazz sound…?
AM: (laughs) Isn’t it open to interpretation?
CL: Maybe you mean the horn section. “Cold Heat” is a pretty cool rocking Funky song with a great groove and a lot attitude. I mean a lot of Rock music from the ‘70s have this kind of groove and sound. We are also big fans of the Soul and Motown stuff from this period. It was Keith who came up with this song idea and asked me what I thought. I said, “Wow, let’s work on the arrangement” and I’ve had the idea with the horn section that give the song the this special Tower of Power feel. The guitars are really heavy and funky with a cool Robin Trower-like Uni-Vibe sound. It’s a really great piece of music for us, because we wanna write songs that sound differently from the rest. Each song from the album has its own character and tells a different story. By the way, a good example of what I mean is Led Zeppelin again. Listen to “D’yer Mak’er” – that’s a Reggae song!
AM: Yes, there were no musical boundaries for Led Zepp indeed and it still reflects in Robert Plant’s solo career for example. On the other hand, at least a few songs on II have the Southern Rock feel to them. Also, your previous band Soul Doctor was often dubbed by the reviewers as “Southern Melodic Rock”, so am I right in thinking that you find Southern Rock particularly inspiring?
CL: Yeah, I agree! My real love and passion for music and inspiration are certainly from all the bands of the British Blues Invasion, but of course I love the Black Crowes and Lynyrd Skynyrd, to name a few. We wrote a lot of the songs in Texas and this was really inspiring for me too. I mean, ZZ Top, the Winter brothers and a lot more great musicians come from the same area where we wrote our songs for the second album. Also it’s that Keith comes from Texas and of course he has it in his blood. You can’t and shouldn’t deny your roots, so we wrote what was coming from our insides and let it flow. And with Soul Doctor, it wasn’t really possible to write and play music in the vein of the ‘70s Blues Rock, because the singer never had the voice for that kind of music and was more a Melodic Rock guy.
AM: Your music has this vintage vibe to it and yet, it’s the 21st century production after all. What do you think is the secret behind the right balance of the old and new?
CL: Good question! For example, today it’s technically possible to make music sound bigger with more bass frequency, or you can make it sound wider, I’d say – more stereo, because it is digital. Back in the day everything was analog, the tape machine and all the great analog outboard gear in the studio. All that gear sounds a lot better than the digital gear that the most people use today. For me the “old” sound was a lot better, it was warmer and had more dynamics. Today everybody thinks the louder is better and with one’s cheap device and a computer they can make a good sound… (laughs) That is not the truth! The mastering for vinyl was also a complete different thing, but that’s a different story. Anyway, I try to produce an album with that kind of music in the old analog way with a little help of the good side of the digital world. Me and Keith use high quality old microphones and pre-amps, real guitar amps and a lot of all the good vintage stuff. I know that isn’t easy to understand when you have no idea what’s going on the technical side of studio work, or how to record instruments – but I think it works because you picked up the vintage vibe in our production and that makes me proud (laughs)
AM: You’re right, I have absolutely zero experience as a sound engineer (laughs). Anyway, you’ve just mentioned Drive being re-released on vinyl [by Metalapolis Records in 2015 – AM]. Do you plan to do the same with II?
CL: Maybe… In my opinion, vinyl’s the best medium for this kind of music. But there is only a small group of die hard vinyl fans – including me – who would buy such an album on vinyl. Especially that it seems to be that we will only make a digital release of our second album on all platforms around the world, I mean streaming and digital download etc. All because nobody buys CDs anymore. But maybe we will make a limited edition of II on vinyl eventually, because I need one in my collection too… (laughs)
AM: Saying there will be only a digital release of II kind of contradicts what you reported in April – to be in the midst of searching for the record label to release the album in physical format…
CL: As I said before, the record companies in our genre don’t give you real support. They wanna have a hit album and a high class production, but they do nothing for that. Of course, you can go to a record company where a songwriter writes the songs for you, the label boss gives you a new band name and after one record you are out… Sorry, but I am an artist and not a slave of the money! If you have a big name from the ‘80s or the ‘90s maybe you have a chance to get a proper deal, but for us it’s not easy these days. So, I guess we will make it in our own way and bring the album in spring 2021.
AM: What you say is sad but certainly true… Before the pandemic hit, you were also planning to support the album release with concerts. Have you ever performed together after Drive was released? Do you have any specific concert plans once the situation is back to normal?
CL: Back in 2014, after the release of Drive, we have made a lot of promotion and wanted go on stage to promote our album. The band was ready, but our business partner told us it’s too expensive and it’s better for a new band to go on tour after the second album. Some festivals were interested, but they didn’t wanna pay any money. I mean, Keith and me finance everything and paid for the complete production. Flights, studio etc. – all that costs money and we couldn’t spend more money from our own pockets. Having said this, we were all really disappointed of how some things are going, because the reaction from everybody was great and a lot of people were so excited about Mother Road’s music. But that’s how it is, nobody will pay a penny for a band who doesn’t have a big name from the good, old days. I mean, all of us have a long history and had played in really good bands with a big name. Reviewers called Drive a highly recommended album. Sad but true, because it seems that the music is the second choice for the business people in our genre! Still, the new album is in my opinion a big step forward, because we are now closer as a band and that reflects in our music.
AM: I know what you mean. I could tell you how years of experience in music journalism are of no value for some of the music industry people too, but that’s a different story. Anyway, during the lockdown we see many musicians engaged in live jams, acoustic live streams etc. What do you think about it?
CL: As I said before, personally I have a lot studio work for some film companies where I worked as sound engineer and also, I wrote some new songs in my studio. Still, regarding streaming gigs with everybody from the band sitting in different rooms and playing a song… Maybe that works for a single teeny Pop star or whatever. But for me it does never work for a real Rock band, because Rock music feeds a lot off the energy exchanged between the musicians on stage and the fans in front of the stage. For me that [live streams – AM] is boring!
AM: What are you up to now? And speaking of the other bands you played in, what’s the current situation of Soul Doctor? Is it on hiatus, or did it permanently disband?
CL: I also have my Thin Lizzy tribute band together with some really good friends and musicians. We play some shows if we have time for that. That’s a lot of fun and believe me, we are not so bad (laughs). As for Soul Doctor, I left the band in 2011 and this chapter is definitely over for me!
AM: You’ve also done a lot of session/studio work, including albums by Drive, She Said, Paul Laine or Voodoo X. What was your exact role when it comes to them?
CL: I only remastered some old records of these bands you are talking about. I did that in assignment as Mastering Engineer for a record company and I never worked with all the musicians on the original recordings. After the remastering we spoke on the telephone about some details or special things obviously, but that’s all.
AM: Is there anything you’d like to add in the end?
CL: First of all, thank you Alexandra for your support and the opportunity to do this Interview! Just saying, support real music and listen the new Mother Road album. We did our best to make a real good-sounding Blues Rock album with amazing songs. Hopefully, we’ll get the chance to play this music live and then I’m sure we’ll give you all a blast with this amazing line-up. I might say a lot more to music fans, but that would be too much… (laughs) Till then, stay healthy!
To find out even more about Mother Road, be sure to check out the interview I did in 2014 with the lead singer Keith Slack and my review of their first album Drive [both for Hardrock Haven].