RAVEN are that rare thing in music, true originals – cut these guys with a razor and they will BLEED true heavy metal – a more intense live band does not exist on this planet!
Hailing from Newcastle Upon Tyne in North East England back in 1974 (yes – 44 YEARS ago!!!) the brothers Gallagher cut their teeth playing the pubs & clubs until solidifying their line up in 1980 with drummer Rob Hunter. The trio went on to release three of the most influential metal albums of the NWOBHM (New Wave Of British Heavy Metal) on the Neat records label which in turn inspired every band of that era and beyond. Basically, without Raven you just would not have thrash/speed metal…. after all, the band did give Metallica & Anthrax their first tours!
Following a tumultuous move to the USA, deals with Atlantic Records, indentured servitude and commercialism, Rob left the band in 1987 to be replaced by drummer extraordinaire Joe Hasselvander, who had made his name in cult doom band Pentagram, Savoy Brown and his own solo projects, adding a new dimension to the band.
Rebuilding from the Atlantic experiences, the band capitalized on their fierce live performances steadily releasing albums and touring the world. In 2001, guitarist Mark Gallagher was involved in a near fatal accident – but fought his way back from the brink and the band proved they were stronger than ever! This renewed spirit and attitude were reflected in the title of their 2010 album “WALK THROUGH FIRE” and in the career overview DVD “ROCK UNTIL YOU DROP”.
2014 found the band opening for Metallica (the band Raven took on their first tour back in 1983) in Sao Paulo in front of 70,000 fans, and completing a 43 date headlining USA tour – not to mention completing their finest album to date – ExtermiNation” which was released to universal acclaim from fans & critics alike in 2015!
2015 & 2016 had the band on tour..playing the USA, a 43 date Euro tour, festivals and territories such as South Korea & eastern Europe for the first time as well as a triumphant return to Japan.
Following a serious heart attack in May 2017 Joe Hasselvander has had to, unfortunately, relinquish the drum stool….taking over drum duties is the phenomenal Mike Heller (Fear Factory, Malignancy) who has immediately injected high energy into the band!
The guys are already working on recording material for the next RAVEN opus, taking their game to the next level…slated for a late 2019 release.
In a cynical musical landscape these days, where bands are not “gangs” but corporations…where albums and live shows are click tracked & pro-tooled to death… RAVEN is a band that is REAL, not FAKE – and proud of it!
John Gallagher is a true legend in the realm of heavy metal. I hope you enjoy my interview with him as much as I enjoyed talking to him. He’s a real straight forward kind of guy where what you see is what you get and that’s actually quite refreshing in today’s climate.
XS ROCK: So tell me about the new live album that you guys recently released. Was that a one-off recording of one particular concert or was that a compilation of recordings from several different live shows?
John: Oh, it’s totally a one-off, to the point that we didn’t even know that it was being recorded at the time. We found out when the sound man came up and said I recorded the show. Do you want a copy? So, yeah he goes here’s your memory stick, a flash drive with everything on it. Mike put it in his pocket and basically forgot about it. And then here we are six months later with a lot of nonsense that’s been going on with the new studio record. We’ve had a lot of trials and tribulations with it. The record says it wants to bring it out at the end of 2019 or the beginning of 2020. Oh, my god! It’s been like 500 years since we put anything out. We can’t do this. Maybe we have something live that we can release to fill in the hole before the new studio album. So Mike listened to the flash drive and said My God!, You’ve got to hear this. This is awesome. And we listened and the only obvious fault was that I had broken a string. I hadn’t broken a bass string in 25 years. On this tour, I broke three in a row. It’s really weird. We’re doing Hell Patrol and as soon as the singing starts, “bonk”! Yeah, I’m not going to be dancing through this song playing on three strings because it’s mainly on the “A” string and that’s the one I broke. So I’m singing because I have my wireless headset mic. So I ran over unplugged it and plugged the wireless back into the other bass and missed like 5 seconds. So we listened to everything else on the recording and said we’re good with it. We left it like it was because it’s real, so we just left it. There’s no touch ups on it except for that bass part. What you hear is what it was. People can pull up Youtube videos of us and say Yeah! What I’m seeing is what I’m hearing. There’s a lot of bands taking out laptops and touching it all up and releasing that as a live album? It’s a little disappearing up your backside with that one.
XS ROCK: So tell me about the new studio album?
John: When we decided to talk with Mike and get Mike Heller onboard as our new drummer. He said let’s do a new record and I said I’ve been writing a bunch of new songs. So he said give me some demos and I’ll lay down some drums on them. And I said well, we usually all record together in the studio being the dinosaurs that we are. And nowadays, drummers have the option of laying out a click track and deciding if they like it or can do it better. I gave him the demos with the click and he re-clicked everything. A little faster here and a little slower there. So it feels right like you would really play it. We were blown away. I won’t go into the whole thing, but there’s a war going on. The person we were working with originally, got a hold of the drum tracks and re-edited them without telling any of us. We found out and were extremely upset. So we decided to pick up our toys and go elsewhere. Then we wound up on the Monsters Of Rock Crusie last year and we met up with our old friend Michael Wagner, who invited us up to his studio and we did the bass, guitar, and vocals there. It was just an awesome experience. He’s one of the best and he’s such a great guy. So we got all of that together and now there’s a couple of parts that we want to change. A couple of intros and stuff. And then we’ve got to mix it. But, it’ll be coming together. We’re very excited about it. It’s been worth the trials and tribulations. In a strange way, it’s as if we got into a time machine and went back to 1982 and said okay, what would we do after “Wipeout”? It’s got that kind of speed and that kind of technical approach but the songs are better. There’s a song called “Motorheadin'” which is like a tribute to Lemmy. So that was fun. I like the last album, but I felt like we should have let loose a little more. There’s so much going on with the sound that it’ll take quite a while to mix it.
XS ROCK: So I don’t want to insult you in any way, but you guys have done this for a really long time now. Does the discussion of retirement ever come up in conversation?
John: You just called me an “old fart” didn’t you? No. It’s pretty funny. This what we do. I see people that I grew up with their feet up on the couch and they’re watching TV for the rest of their lives. Nope! We’re just getting started. It’s hilarious, but we’re just getting started. We’re all healthy. There’s a time that we’ll take off for Mark to get his knees done. They’re still messed up from the accident that he had back in 2001. So he’s dealing with some issues from that, but that’s life. Parts are gonna wear out a bit here and there. Overall, we’re having more fun than we’ve ever had. We’re playing better than we ever have and we’re enjoying more than we ever have, so it’s all good.
XS ROCK: What do you consider your crowning achievement at this point in your career?
John: Still being here. It’s slightly unusual to be around as long as we have and we know that and appreciate that. It’s humbling. There’s a legacy. We’re not going anywhere soon and we have an obligation to ourselves and our fans to go out there and do it the best that we can. That’s basically what’s been happening for the last 45 years of this band’s existence.
XS ROCK: You’ve toured with a lot of bands, but correct me if I’m wrong but you actually had Metallica opening up shows for you at one point right?
John: Yep. The Kill ‘Em All For One Tour in 1983. They had just brought out the Kill ‘Em All album and we had the “All For One” album. And we went about introducing underground metal to America. So many people have said they were excited and created a band from seeing that. It was definitely a mind-blower for a lot of people and we all got on like a house on fire. They were nice enough about five years ago to let us open for them on a stadium tour in Brazil and Lars said “Yes”! So we got to play in front of 70,000 people in a football stadium in Sao Paulo. We hung out with them before they went on and it was just great. It was really, really nice and during the show, James said really wonderful things about us. It was very cool.
XS ROCK: What’s the strangest request that you’ve ever received from one of your fans?
John: Well, I’ve had some requests that you can’t print here, that’s for sure. Some of it wasn’t physically possible. I don’t think that would even fit there, Love! (Laughs) We’ve seen strange things like people handing us rubber chickens, crowd surfing in wheelchairs. We had this one guy that insisted on making this really dubious looking chili and he would bring it to the show. We’d all go, yeah, yeah we’ll have it later and then go through the process of chucking it out later because it was gray and had bits of stuff floating in it. Who knows what the hell it was.
XS ROCK: Over the years, who’s been the best bands to tour with?
John: Most of the bands that we’ve toured with have been great. We did a show with Iron Maiden back in the day and Paul Dianno stoled all of my money out of my coat and we had to borrow money to get back home. I got him back about fifteen years later when he asked me if I could come and play bass for him and I asked for an exurbanite amount of money, so I got it back eventually. We played with Whitesnake and it was just incredible. We toured with Judas Priest on their Turbo tour in the states and they were like “You guys have got Carte Blanche. they said, whatever you need, just please don’t smash any of our equipment. We got great food and the sound man let us do whatever we wanted. They were just really good people. We toured with Saxon and they were excellent. Great down to earth people. We dealt with a few weirdos. Some guy from Sweden, whose name starts with “Y” and is rather over-blown with the amount of amplifiers. Guitar player. Don’t know if it’s worse now or better. But, back in the day he was fond of certain substances and was really out of control. We had a couple of dates with him on tour. The first date was actually the day that Cliff died in 1986. I just thought it was funny that guy was trying to copy other people’s sound to the point that he actually had Ritchie Blackmoore’s guitar roadie working for him. All in all. I still like his guitar playing. You can’t take that away.
We like to do the European festivals. We get to see our friends and play with a lot of bands that we knew coming up. Bands like Anthrax, Sodom, Kreator, Rage all of them people. It’s great.
We did a festival last year with Tom Warrior from Celtic Frost, who’s got his new band Typtikon. What a nice guy. We sat and talked to him for ages. He said he was a huge Raven fan when he was a kid. He said you’ve got to pinch me. I can’t believe I’m sitting here talking to you guys and that’s really nice, you know.
XS ROCK: I would expect at this point in your career, that it’s nice to hear that you’re an influence on some of the other musicians.
John: Yeah! We used to laugh and half-seriously wondered if there was someone out there who just kind of edited us out of the books or something. They used to mention the New Wave Of Britsh Heavy Metal and we didn’t get mentioned. They’d talk about the early Thrash stuff in America and we didn’t get mentioned. The final straw to all of that was, I think it was the Hot Topic store in America brought out a recreation of the Kill ‘Em All For One t-shirt with any mention of Raven having been removed from it. I was like “well, that was our bloody tour!” How dare you!
We were part of all of that and kind of apart from it as well. In the best traditions of New Wave Of Heavy Metal, the bands all had their own unique sound. None of them sounding alike other than a shared enthusiasm in what they were doing. Which is what made it special. By the time it got to ’82 or ’83 a lot of bands were like let’s switch from punks to growing our hair and being heavy metal and then five minutes later, let’s cut our hair again and be New Wave. You know, that kind of nonsense. I don’t know if we’ll ever see anything like that again.
We saw the Grunge thing happen where an out portion of America was that no record company would tread. A bunch of kids starting making music that hey liked. Again, the first bands that came out were all really different and then there was a feeding frenzy and everyone said let’s put a checkered shirt on pretend we’re grunge now.
XS ROCK: That’s true. It seems everyone tries to label things and then there are the copycats of it.
John: The labeling thing drives me insane. I’ll have a comical discussion with Mike and ask what’s the difference between death metal and black metal? Because to me, it’s like looking at a turd and another one and trying to discover which one is which. I don’t get it. To the people who love it, more power to you. I agree with you. I am an inconsiderate idiot. The labeling thing comes down to “Do you like it or not:? An even on a broader scale, “Is it good or not”? I know some of the musicians in bands of those genres are like unbelievable. They are as good as any musicians out there. It’s just not for me. You’ve got appreciate talent. It’s out there in many forms.
XS ROCK: What do you think of the current rock scene?
John: It’s weird. Like I said the labeling thing drives me nuts. Everything is a “core”. Symphonic Death Metal Grunge Core? Or whatever they want to call it this week. They’re trying to tell you that the band sounds like this other band. Why do you have to sound like any band? Why can’t you sound yourselves? Imagine if ready-formed bands came out like they do today and one of them was Rush? What would you call them? Rush is Rush! Iron Maiden sounds like Iron Maiden and Raven is raven. We’ve all got our own thing. The music that’s out now….there seems to be a lot of older bands that seem to be winding down. Twisted Sister and Black Sabbath recently hung up their hats. There’s a lot of rumors about other bands quitting as well. And then you’ve got younger bands and so much flack is getting thrown around. Like Greta Van Fleet for example. On the face of it, it seems incredibly contrived and an industry creation. But, by the same token, it’s a bunch of young kids who are playing rock music that has zero to do with going on behind the scenes and they jam and improvise on stage and that’s lifeblood. That’s rarely done these days. That always kills me when I see a band live and they just reproduce their album note for note. These kids are not doing that and more power to them! It’s like the rising tide that lifts all boats. They’re a young rock band that’s going to inspire people to go out and do the same thing. Great! They should go for it!
XS ROCK: What would you like to say to all of the Raven fans out there?
John: I’d like to say thank you for all of your support over the years. Check out our new live album, then the upcoming studio album. We’ll be out on tour here, there and everywhere and hope to see you out there. Keep Rockin!
John Gallagher – Bass and Vocals
Mark Gallagher – Guitars
Mike Heller – Drums