by Justian Gaines
In recent years my musical tastes have zeroed in on two particular genres – melodic rock and the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM) scene, and where those genres cross most effectively is long running band Praying Mantis. I was shocked when I heard from founding bassist Chris Troy that the band would be recording their new album in Marietta, GA – practically in my own back yard. He invited me over to Muse Productions to hear some of the new material and chat with him and brother (and founding guitarist) Tino about the latest developments for Praying Mantis.
HRH: I first want to say that it’s a privilege to meet you, a pleasure to talk to you today, and I appreciate you taking the time to do this.
Chris Troy: No problem whatsoever.
HRH: I think the first thing to talk about is the new album. Of course, that’s why you’re here in the States. Is Threshold of a Dream the tentative title you’re working with?
Tino Troy: I think that’s what we’re probably sticking with now. I mean, don’t…don’t… nothing’s written in blood or anything.
HRH: Understood. When you set out to write and record an album, do you have a direction in mind that you want to take the sound?
CT: I think we did want to probably “heavy it up” slightly. I think maybe the last time, not that it was tame, but I just think we wanted a bit more heaviness on the drum side while still having the real melodic songs, and we knew (producer) Andy Reilly was superb for drums. I think what you heard there on the demos is just a small sample of what he does and his expertise. And he’s very very conscientious. The number of hours that he puts in, in itself says, I mean he’s been doing this for fourteen, fifteen hours straight and looking at that screen for fourteen, fifteen hours is no mean feat. So I think he’s done a superb job and hopefully the final thing will be to our expectations, which are quite high at this point.
TT: Yeah, I mean, we did the last two albums at home. I used to have a studio upstairs in the loft of my house and we did the last two albums there and they were not programmed drums, but a digital drum kit and although those sounds were good, everybody moaned about playing them. We had to keep the noise level down. So this time we thought, why not take a break? Before that, I was doing all the production stuff myself. I did the whole album, mixed all that. But now we said, why not take a break from it and let Andy do it. I’ve known Andy some time and Benji (HRH – new drummer Benjamin Reid) knew him, our new drummer. So we came here and we like the sound.
CT: I mean, geographically, we’re on like the outer perimeter of London and to come from far and wide to actually get together at the same time was really difficult so we thought that if we’re locked in the same place all together at least we can’t escape.
TT: Can’t escape, and we haven’t really.
CT: Actually, as I’ve said we’ve all got families and we have other commitments, but it’s been brilliant really to have them striped away. And people can’t escape, I mean, Tino sometimes comes up here to work on a keyboard part that’s not quite fitting in a song and things like that. But it’s all work really. The telly won’t be on or anything like that and people are really sort of focused. We really crammed about six months of work into two weeks, which means you’ve really got to sort of knuckle down and go for it.
TT: Having said that, we did actually do a lot of the groundwork and wrote the songs and as you can see on the computer screen here we’ve got all these songs that we had sort of programmed drums on already and we’ve edited and rearranged them. Over here we did a lot of the parts, but some of the parts are the original recordings that we did at home. But I guess it’s just great to do the live drums here, really, and it’s actually taken a whole different color.
CT: The situation with Frontiers, and I don’t know if I’m pre-empting your questions, as I was saying earlier this is the first time we’ve actually had a worldwide deal and they’ll actually be handling everything for us, including Japan, which has always been a good territory for us. And this time around, they have actually approved every single song. It took a while to write that many songs and to get them all approved. There’s eleven songs all approved by them and personally, we think this will be, hopefully, our strongest ever album.
HRH: I know you both handle the writing duties for your albums. Does inspiration strike at random times during the day, or do you consciously sit down and say: “I want to write a song about…”
TT: I’ve been really dry the last couple of years. I haven’t come out with that much stuff. Chris has been coming out with some brilliant songs and lately he sort of touches on a subject and embellishes that really. He’s quite morbid with his lyrics (laughs) and never really writes a happy love song.
CT: It’s true though, the inspiration I do get is from the very sad subjects. It’s amazing though that the type of melodies that we do have, which I find that most inspiring and the ones that you think “bloody hell, that’s a nice melody” you know you’ve got to put the lyrics in context with it. I don’t write love stories full stop, and a lot of the lyric element is not me, and so then you think “well, what’s next” and then you know, it’s death and things like that. For instance, “Sanctuary”, one of the songs on the album, there was a spate of suicides in Wales recently. For some reason, there were these packs of kids, you know, fourteen, fifteen, who got a really morbid element about them and went online to these blog sites and made this pact of committing suicide. Some of these young girls were gorgeous and you’d think they had everything to live for, and they’re just committing suicide, and I just thought it was a great theme and a good inspiration for the songs. And another thing, a friend of mine died in a car accident. A friend was driving and because he felt he was to blame for the other guy’s death, he literally on the day this occurred he’s coming out of the car, realizes what he’s done and tries to go in front of a lorry that’s coming the other way so that he doesn’t want to live. From an inspiration point of view, it’s a great element. Not that you want it to occur, but it does give you a great depth of inspiration I think.
HRH: Is that usually where it starts? You have a concept in mind and then come up with melodies and lyrics?
CT: I tend to do the melody first and then figure lyrics to the melody. That’s normally the way I do things, and I think for Tino it’s quite similar.
TT: Yeah, I usually write the song first and then Chris sets up a keyboard part and I have the opposite notion “no, don’t do it like that, do it like this” and knock it into shape that way. We’re a good team that way.
HRH: You mentioned love songs, and listening to the track you played earlier, what strikes me about Praying Mantis is that you can hear a love song and in theory it could just be that the guy’s singing about his girlfriend, but you kind of suspect he’s singing from the perspective of an ancient warrior or someone from another dimension.
TT: That’s what I love about lyrics. You look at the song “Lovers to the Grave” off the first album, remember that, everybody thought that was a love song but if you listen to the lyrics it’s about Romeo and Juliet. Which is a love song I suppose (laughs) but it is more tragic.
HRH: You guys are working with largely a new lineup this time around. What can you tell me about the new crew, and what led you to them?
TT: We play in this other band called Paddy Goes to Holyhead and that’s…
CT: It’s a pub band. It’s a pastime thing now and again to have a good laugh and we already knew Andy (HRH – guitarist Andy Burgess) from there and it’s the same thing with Benji. I mean, we were sort of playing together in this band and we realized that it was a really good sort of unit, the nucleus of what we already had there. And we thought that the situation with Dennis (Stratton)…I won’t say it became sour, I just think it just got to the point where we thought that for another album we thought we would try a slightly different direction. And because we work doing a lot of work with the Paddys and because this unit was becoming the nucleus of the situation we thought: “well, it’s actually working pretty well”. And then with Mike Freeland…
TT: He came from this same band, this covers band, and we knew him quite a bit longer. He had been doing this stuff with Chris Tsangarides in a band called Dangerous Breed, and we heard it first of all, and it was a bit…it was real thrash stuff and I thought “well, I’m not sure about this” but we’ve come around to fashion some songs and you could see the potential. And in a year and a half, he’s just come on leaps and bounds and we’ve gotten the best out of him really. He’s a really shy chap, but as far as vocalists he’s done superbly in the last eighteen months and hopefully we are bringing out the best in him. I think we’ve tapped into that potential.
CT: He’s a shy lad who sort of come out in stages.
TT: Like Jekyll and Hyde, he’s mad on stage. (laughs) You would not believe it was the same person.
HRH: I was going to ask you what his vocal style was because I hadn’t heard anything of his before, but from the tracks I’ve heard he seems like a great fit with a powerful voice.
TT: Andy Reilly, who’s producing down there calls him Klaus Meine, you know (singing) “I really had a blackout!” (laughs)
CT: And it was really weird because Mike was singing Klaus and had not really heard much Scorpions, but part of it really does sound like Scorpions, like Klaus, and that’s great, because I live Scorpions and I love Klaus’s voice.
HRH: Looking through the various lineups of the band throughout the last twenty years or so, there are a lot of vocalists and they seem to be all high caliber singers. You’ve had really good luck with the singers you’ve brought in.
CT: Yeah, and Mike’s certainly no exception. I think that with the style of what we’re doing with this album he fits that spot completely. For instance, Gary Barden, I thought fit, but sometimes I thought “not quite” because he didn’t have the range. And we need that real top range sometimes, those screams, particularly on the latter stuff we’re doing, it really gets up there sometimes and you’ll notice when you get the full album and hear the rest of the songs that there’s some bloody high stuff. But, you know, he still keeps the power up there as well.
HRH: I do want to ask you a bit about the studio here. I saw that Andy Reilly had worked with FM and Bruce Dickinson. Is that what brought you here?
CT: Well, my mate Andy (Burgess), we sat round writing the songs and he said “why don’t you do it at Reills’s place?” and that seemed like a good idea. And Benjamin actually used to live here and he said as well that it’s a great area and we’ll just go there and stay in the place, and as I said before we just became recluses and you know, two weeks of hard work, and I think it’s worked bloody well. I must admit I had my reservations just a few days before coming out here. It was a bit daunting, but we had to come back to do a show and the flights were booked, so you know, we’ve got to do it. And if anything, we’re slightly ahead of schedule. We’re just wrapping up things now.
HRH: When you mentioned that you were going to be in Marietta recording an album I had to do a double take. This is the last place in the world I expected to find a New Wave of British Heavy Metal band, but I’m glad it’s working out for you.
CT: Well, it gets us all out of London, and the weather there has been crap lately, and it gets us all in the same place. So really, by coming out here there’s no running away. But it’s gone superbly and it will be intriguing to hear the final product.
HRH: Tell me a little bit about working with Frontiers as a label.
CT: Serafino (Perugino) from Frontiers emailed me a couple of times asking what was up with the band, and offered a worldwide deal if we got him some songs he really liked. And he kept pushing it. There were a couple of times I was like “yeah, yeah, I’ll get around to it” and he said “come on, Chris, get your ass in gear”. So credit to them that they have pushed, and hopefully we’ll give them something that they’re really proud of.
TT: We sent them the first batch of songs and they sort of pooh-poohed them, so we thought we were going to have to go back to the drawing board.
CT: The second batch we sent they said: “that’s it, that’s top dollar.” Go on out and record them. And this will be the first time we’ve had a worldwide deal.
HRH: I want to ask about touring. Are you going to be hitting the road in support of the album?
TT: That’s another thing we’ve got to sort out. We’ll get Christmas out of the way and then I think we’ll approach a couple of promoters and see if they can get something going on that. While the iron is hot, we might as well strike and get a few dates together perhaps as a support tour to someone.
CT: Once we get the mixing done and the album finished, I would look to late March or April.
HRH: How easy is a tour to accommodate? With families and other commitments, is touring hard to pull off?
CT: It does become more difficult because there’s not the money out there that there used to be. A lot of bands lose money on the tours themselves. It’s the merchandise that can really claw back the losses.
HRH: Are your tours limited to the UK? Do you hit Japan?
TT: We haven’t really toured in ages. The last major tour we did was in Japan about five years ago. All we’ve really been doing in the last five years is festivals.
CT: But that works quite well, because it doesn’t eat into your schedule too much, and you play to a huge fan base potentially. So it does work out very well. It’s hard to get tours sometimes, and nowadays you’ve got to have the money to buy onto the tour unless the record company is prepared to give you a buy on. It’s a lot more difficult than it appears on the surface.
HRH: I’d like to ask about your influences. What bands came along that made you decide to pick up the guitar and play music?
CT: It was really Wishbone Ash and Thin Lizzy, wasn’t it?
TT: Wishbone Ash and Thin Lizzy, basically two twin guitar bands.
CT: I liked Toto a lot, and Journey, you certainly hear some Journey in our stuff as well. More recently I really like a band called Fair Warning, they’re a really great band. It’s sort of heavy, good playing, and sort of cracking songs, excellent songs.
HRH: Is there a favorite artist from the NWOBHM era, either in terms of the music or that you just had good times with?
TT: We had a good time with Iron Maiden when we went on the road with them.
CT: I just would have like to have been as successful as them (laughs). I mean we have no recriminations or jealousy…lucky bastards! (laughs). No, obviously they’ve done great and to have stayed at the top there, full credit to them. And to their management, because I think that is such an important thing, and (Rod) Smallwood was superb and was really focused. He knew where he was going to take the band and without him they may not have made it. He was so influential. He had a real vision of where he was going to take the band, stuck to it, and he got them there.
HRH: I’ve have one more question, and this may fall under the category of wishful thinking, but what are the odds of a US appearance by Praying Mantis?
CT: We’re certainly looking into it, I mean, we’d love to play here. We will be looking into the possibilities, but obviously would have to get the logistics and economics sorted out. We’re more than interested, and certain songs we’ve got on this album, people have said would go down well in the market over here.
HRH: I think that’s it. I do appreciate your time, and it was a pleasure meeting you. From what I’ve heard, I think the new album is going to sound terrific and is going to be one to watch for next year.
CT: You’re quite welcome.
Get all your Praying Mantis info here: http://www.praying-mantis.com/
and HRH’s Justian Gaines.