Recent Music Reviews
10 QUESTIONS: SERPENTINE
Serpentine’s Gareth Vanstone (Bass) fields the questions...
What are you currently up to lads?
“Well Jason, we've just got back from playing at the Heat Festival in Germany, which was our first gig outside the UK. It was a great bill, which included the likes of Human Zoo, Keel and Stagedolls. We will be back on the road again shortly, as we have a gig supporting Mike Tramp from White Lion..... Then, following that, we are appearing at the prestigious Firefest in Nottingham, before we fly out to play Rockfest in Madrid. There are plans for two UK tours in the New Year, one of which will be a package tour like the one we did earlier in the year, with Houston and Crash Diet; there’s a lot going on!”
Could you take us through your new album 'Living And Dying In High Definition'?
“It was pretty similar to the first album, to be honest. Chris and Gareth wrote all the music on the album. Normally the music is written first and then it's sent to Tony so that he can write the lyrics, but for two of the tracks “Nuremberg” and “Where Do We Go From Here”, it was done the other way around.”
“You see, whilst writing the album, Tony was also working on the new Shy record; but they decided to use Lee Small's vocals instead due to some time restrictions! Tony had finished the lyrics for these two tracks, so he just sent Chris and Gareth his vocal track with no music and they then wrote the music around the lyrics and vocals, which was a completely new way of working for them.”
“Musically, we wanted to go for a slightly heavier guitar sound but whilst keeping it in the same vein as the debut album and you can see that in tracks like “Dreamer” and “Deep Down”. It was also different for Tony this time, as I spent a couple of days with him co-writing the lyrics for “Heartbreak Town”, which has a western cowboy theme to it. It's also about knowing that a relationship is not going work but trying to convince yourself it's worth saving.”
“I also co-wrote the lyrics for “Forgotten Heroes”, which is about how great it seems that their memory lives forever and their history never seems to fade. Tony usually writes alone but I think he enjoyed bouncing his ideas off someone for a change. The track “Love Is Blue” is an interesting one. I came up with line whilst we were writing “Heartbreak Town”, and Tony loved it, but turned to me and said, “We could write a whole track around that?”... And, that's exactly what happened!”
This is the last studio album to feature Tony Mills on vocals, although Matt Black sings on the Japanese bonus songs. Will Tony Mills be involved in the band’s future releases and live dates? Isn’t it a bit unusual to have a new(ish) vocalist yet not have him on the new album?
“It is and we would have loved to have had Matt sing on the whole album, but as the album was almost finished when Matt joined financial restraints meant it just wasn't possible. Plus, we had already signed a contract with AOR Heaven to deliver an album with Tony on it. Although Tony is a big part of what we have achieved, you have to remember that we have only ever performed live with Matt. Matt has already made the songs his own, and his live performances have been fantastic, as the reviews of our gigs have shown. As far as future releases are concerned, Tony won't be involved in a singing capacity but given how great a songwriter Tony is, writing with him again isn't something we would ever rule out.”
Have the band been pleased with the reviews and fans response to the debut album? This new album follows on very quickly – were many of the songs on this new album already written?
“We were delighted at how well it was received, yes. We got a lot of great reviews especially from Burrn in Japan, which gave us the highest rating in the issue that we featured in. That was inevitably the reason why we got airplay in Japan and also why we actually charted. But it was the fans reaction that blew us away, especially on the tour. That's the best feeling; when you play live and get such a positive reaction there really is nothing like it. That's why we are so excited about playing Firefest, as it’s our sort of crowd!”
How did the tour earlier this year with Houston and Vega go?
“The tour was great. Considering it was our first and we had only done 1 gig beforehand, it was new territory for us but one we really relished. I think the fact that the other bands on tour were easy to get on with made for a really good atmosphere, which the fans picked up on. We can't seem to escape the guys from Houston and Vega though; we played the Borderline together, then did the tour with Houston which Vega joined for the one gig in London; then we are playing Firefest with them both; and then Vega are playing Rockfest in Madrid with us? A round at the bar is getting to be a little expensive!”
Was the turn out good and are these tours with three/four bands the way forward for bands like Serpentine?
“Yeah, generally, the turnout was very good. I think these package deals are definitely the future for, not just us, but for most bands. It's a good way of spreading the costs of touring and it also helps to get people into the shows We all know that money is tight for a lot of people so when you can go and see 3 or 4 good bands for £15 rather than 1 it makes more sense for the fans. Plus, for us, it's the best way to get our music out to people and expand our fan base, which is what it's all about.”
How important is producing a video and using YouTube to promote it for a new band like yourselves? Could YouTube be seen as the natural heir to MTV’s influence in the 80’s and 90’s?
“It certainly got us a lot of attention and got us recognised quite quickly. I don't think it's as important as it used to be though. I think now, it's seen more as a bit of a bonus for fans, especially in our genre. YouTube is a great promotional tool, as it allows you to connect to fans you normally wouldn't be able to. And the same goes for the social networking sites, like Twitter and Facebook. It takes 30 seconds to post the latest news and all your fans can see it.”
What can fans expect from your upcoming Firefest show? Which bands on the bill are you looking forward to seeing?
“They can expect a bit of both albums; 3 tracks from the debut and 3 from the new album. There's only so much you do with a 30min set; but it will be a great show. As far as whom I'm looking forward to seeing? There's so many. Jimi Jamison is definitely one I will be watching, especially after the show he put on last time, but I'm particularly looking forward to both Jeff Paris and Kane Roberts. To be honest, the whole weekend will be fantastic.
If you could create a fantasy band line-up who would be in it and why?
“Well, where do we start? Seeing as I'm a bass player, I'll start there, LOL. I'd have Mike Porcaro, in my opinion, the greatest bass player ever. Technically he's brilliant, but it's the fluidity and feeling he plays with that's so impressive. Drums would have to be Cozy Powell. He was in Whitesnake, Rainbow, Black Sabbath, Michael Schenker Group; need I go on? Guitarist would be a difficult choice. There are so many great guitar players. I could cheat and have four or five; you didn't say how big the band could be.”
“I'll play safe and pick two; Neal Schon and Steve Lukather. Both are just too good to leave out. On keyboards again, so many to pick from; Jonathan Cain, Greg Guiffria, Jon Lord, Geoff Downes....; but I'll go with Don Airey. He's been in so many great bands, but mainly he's in for one reason. I saw him playing with Deep Purple in Cardiff a couple of years ago and he played an unbelievable keyboard solo.”
“Now for the one that everyone debates the most; the frontman! My personal favourites are David Coverdale, Jimi Jamison, Glenn Hughes, and Bobby Kimball, but I'd have to pick Steve Perry. I'll use one word to describe him 'Legend'!”
Is rock music in a healthier state now than ten years ago? How important has it been to have specialist magazines – ‘Classic Rock’, ‘Fireworks’ – in the High Street stores raising the profile of the music?
“Rock music has always been strong. Bon Jovi, Deep Purple, et al; all those bands have always remained very popular, but I think it's AOR that is in a much healthier state. You only have to look at what has happened to Journey over the last 4 or 5 years to see it's having a major resurgence. I have to say, it was magazines like Fireworks that probably kept the AOR scene alive when it could have disappeared and now that Classic Rock have their own AOR only magazine, (which is damn good by the way!!), shows you that AOR is definitely on the up!”
What do you enjoy doing in your spare time away from music?
“As a proud Welshman, it wouldn't take a genius to work out that I'm a huge rugby fan. With the World Cup being played in New Zealand at the moment, and Wales actually playing well in it (makes a change!), most of my time away from music is spent getting up at 2 and 4 am to watch the games!”
Anything else to add and a message for your fans...
“Just a massive thank you to anyone who has bought an album or come to see us live. We greatly appreciate the support and remember, they can catch all the latest Serpentine news on our Facebook page, our MySpace page and our soon to be newly launched website. So until we see you on the road...., keep on rocking!”