by Scott Alisoglu
– Guest Columnist —
UFO’s Andy Parker is a true Rock ‘n Roll journeyman and a hell of a nice guy to boot. Parker is one of the remaining original members (along with vocalist Phil Mogg), playing with the band from its 1969 inception on through the early “space rock” albums, followed by the style-defining Michael Schenker period and the revamped Paul Chapman era, including 1983’s Making Contact, before departing and then briefly returning in 1988-89.
The Texas resident rejoined UFO in 1993 and performed on 1995’s Walk on Water album (with a returning Schenker) before departing and ultimately reclaiming the drum throne in 2005 where he has remained to this day, playing with Mogg, lead guitarist Vinnie Moore, and keyboardist/guitarist Paul Raymond on 2006’s The Monkey Puzzle (the last with original member and bassist Pete Way), 2009’s The Visitor, 2012’s Seven Deadly, and this year’s phenomenal Chris Tsangarides’ produced A Conspiracy of Stars. Having last chatted with Parker after the release of Seven Deadly, it was high time we do it again … and that we did.
Scott Alisoglu: Hi Andy, nice to speak with you again. I was reading your diary entries at www.mr-parker-rocks.com, which served as a nice overview of the activities surrounding the new album, A Conspiracy of Stars.
Andy Parker: Ah great, but to be honest with you Scott I haven’t been able to write anything recently unfortunately. I had a pretty tough year in 2014. My wife had gotten sick with cancer and that’s always draining. Then earlier in the year I had done the updates you mentioned, but man when I came back from the first trip to Europe around February I hadn’t done one since. I’m home now through October so I’m really hoping I can get in there and spend an hour or so writing an entry. People really seem to like those. I don’t always talk about the band there; sometimes it’s just shit that’s going on here at home. I mean my house is all-consuming, but it’s coming along quite nicely.
Scott Alisoglu: So you’ve been working on your house?
Andy Parker: Yeah, I’ve got a 112-year old house here in Texas, in a historic district. We actually bought it when we still lived in England. We bought it in 2005 and it took me a month or so until we were actually able to live in it. And I’ve gradually been working on restoring it, which is painstaking since I’m a perfectionist and you’ve got to do all these things that must be approved by the City since it’s an historic house. Plus I’ve got these rentals as well, which always need work, so I’m a pretty busy boy when I’m home. I’m almost busier at home than when I’m on the road, so I always tell me wife I need to get back on the road so I can get some rest [laughs].
Scott Alisoglu: How is your wife’s recovery coming along anyway?
Andy Parker: She’s doing great, man. As far as we’re aware she’s through with surgery. She’s had to go through a lot and it knocked her down for a while, but anyone that knows my wife knows that she’s a force to be reckoned with. But it did take the wind out of her sails for a while. When something like that happens in life it really reminds you that no one is immune from it. Thank you for asking.
Scott Alisoglu: You’ve lived in the States for quite some time now.
Andy Parker: Yeah, I know I wasn’t really happy in England and wanted to come back to America. We were discussing it and we didn’t want to come back to California; I’d lived there for 20 years and was done with it, even though my daughters still live there. My wife has family in the Dallas area and I thought that maybe we should go to Texas, but she didn’t want to go back to a big City and I’m kind of a small town guy anyway, so we settled on a smaller town. But I’m done moving; they’ll carry me out of this house in a box [laughs].
Scott Alisoglu: The first thing that struck me about A Conspiracy of Stars is that it’s so rich and dense. You and [bassist] Rob De Luca really get a great rhythm section sound as well.
Andy Parker: You know we changed producers for this one. We had used the same producer, Tommy Newton, since I came back in 2005. He did You Are Here, the Showtime DVD, and then he did The Monkey Puzzle and Seven Deadly. He’s a great guy, but I think we just all felt it was time for a change. And Phil was just fed up with having to go to Germany to do his vocals and being away from home. To me it didn’t matter since I was in America anyway, so whether it was in England or Germany made no difference to me. And Phil had been talking to Spike from the Quireboys who had been doing some work with Chris Tsangarides and though Phil should consider him. Chris was actually the assistant engineer on [1974’s] Phenomenon, his first professional gig I think. And as an assistant engineer that involves everything from editing tape to making the tea to sweeping up afterwards. I hadn’t seen him in such a long time, though we had seen his career do really well. He was great, and much more laid back than Tommy. Tommy is a bit of taskmaster in the studio, especially where drums are concerned. And I had never played with a bass player in the studio with Tommy. The way it was done was is the scratch bass was put on and then the real one was put down. But Rob and I actually recorded together in a tiny room, which was like 10×10, and then the drum kit along with that. But I think it really helped because Rob and I could see each other and really get down to playing together. But yeah, the sound is a little different of course and I was very happy with it.
Scott Alisoglu: So you didn’t have to record in an empty swimming pool this time then.
Andy Parker: No, no, and it’s different strokes for different folks you know. Tommy likes that big ambient sound to be honest. The Monkey Puzzle was done in a big studio called the Big House in Hanover, which is a lovely room. But Chris’ room was just an interesting sound. With today’s equipment you can pretty much make anything sound like anything. I was very happy with the way it came out; it’s very warm and very thick. Chris was a very easy guy to work with. He had a different approach to laying down tracks. He would say “I don’t listen with my eyes; if it sounds good then great.” With that approach, man, I mean I put down four tracks in a day, which was just unheard of. We were fairly well rehearsed you know, but with Chris it just felt good. Since I’d been struggling with my wife and her sickness, and had other things on my mind, that approach really kind of helped me get it done. And he’s such a nice guy, just a sweetheart. And I love Tommy to bits of course, but it’s just a different approach and after three albums (and the band had done five), we were ready for a change is all.
Scott Alisoglu: Rob’s bass work is quite pronounced throughout the album.
Andy Parker: It is yeah. He’s pretty much still a hired hand as far as the band goes because no one can really say what’s going on with Pete [Way], but we’re never going to shut that door. He might shut it himself, but the band won’t ever shut it. And that includes Phil [Mogg] who had to basically lay it on the line with him because his lifestyle got in the way; it just got too bad. But as far as taking on a new bass player and making him part of the band just isn’t going to happen at this stage. But Rob is about as close as you’re going to get to that so we thought it would be nice to include him in the writing of this album. Two of his songs actually made it onto the album [“The Killing Kind” and “One and Only”], which was kind of nice. He’s doing other things as well, like going to Australia with Sebastian Bach. I think Rob felt well more included on this album and I think he did a really good job.
Scott Alisoglu: I was reading a review of the new album and the writer stated that “Ballad of the Left Hand Gun” was about old Westerns. It’s about a famous guitarist, isn’t it?
Andy Parker: Yeah, but it’s hard to know with Phil; he plays it pretty close to the vest on the meaning behind the lyrics. Well, Vinnie [Moore] is left handed [laughs]! But he plays right handed, which is very interesting. He does everything else right handed. Paul [Raymond] plays guitar left handed, but upside down because he was left handed growing up, which is kind of wild for a keyboard player to be left handed too. But he said the only guitars around were right handed, so he just learned to play upside down. A lot of people don’t realize that it’s a very different approach. So instead of strumming downwards, he’s strumming upwards, which has a whole different feel. On a good night when the monitors are kickin’ and I can hear him, there is some really good stuff going on between him and Vinnie.
Scott Alisoglu: Vinnie contributed quite a bit of writing to this album.
Andy Parker: Oh yeah, he’s very prolific. And it was the same with Michael [Schenker]. Phil writes his own lyrics 99 percent of the time, so the songwriting tends to come out between Phil and the lead guitarist. Paul had some writing credits on the new album too. It’s difficult for me because we don’t really spend much time together writing like we used to in the old days. So over the years my writing contributions have kind of fizzled out because I don’t really get a chance to sit with the guys. I’m hoping to change that in the future though. I have a music room set up in the house here and I have instruments. As soon as I can get this damn house finished and I get the time anyway. There’s always so much going on. I’ve got loads of ideas and maybe I can get with someone local to write with.
Scott Alisoglu: Speaking of Vinnie, and I almost hate to bring this up because it’s so overdone, but one of my pet peeves is the unwillingness of a certain segment of the UFO fan base to praise any UFO albums that don’t include Michael Schenker. Nothing against Schenker at all and he helped create some of the band’s greatest songs, but come on, how about appreciation for UFO’s impressive body of a work as whole?! Let it go, man!
Andy Parker: Yeah, exactly, and he’s been out of the band as a permanent member for 25 years! Vinnie has been in the band longer than Schenker now![laughs]! It does get a bit annoying. I think it’s getting less so finally. The thing is a lot of the reason I wasn’t in the band for some years was because of the uncertainty with Michael. Michael would just go out and disappear at the drop of a hat. If he walked out on stage and he didn’t like his guitar sound he’d chuck it down and not even finish the show! To be honest, I wasn’t into that; people deserve better than that. You make the best of what you can and you get out there and do it. Having Vinnie in the band has been such a breath of fresh air. And he’s such a phenomenal guitarist and a really good guy; there’s no ego there with him. We have fun and we really enjoy ourselves together on stage and I think that transfers to the audience as well. They pick up on that. The music of UFO has always been about having fun with it, but we’re not so serious about ourselves. It must be getting annoying with Vinnie too with people always comparing him to Michael. Paul Chapman had to go through that as well when he replaced Michael and it was just as bad, if not worse, for a while there. I mean let it go, dude [laughs].
Scott Alisoglu: Generally speaking, how much is involved for you in terms of endurance and preparation for a tour?
Andy Parker: To be honest, I don’t really do anything, and it’s seems really bad to say that. I’ve never really been one to practice much particularly because I’ve never enjoyed sitting there and doing it. That’s why I don’t really have any hot licks or spinning the sticks and that sort of thing in my live performances because I was really never interested in that. I just enjoyed playing with the other guys, rather than sitting in a room and seeing how good I could get on my own. That’s bad in some ways because I could have probably developed a better technique, but it just wasn’t my thing. Back in the 70s and 80s we never came off the road, so that wasn’t a problem; we never stopped playing. If we came off the road we were in the studio. Now it’s a little different and I have these two sides of my life, so when I come off the road I’m involved in this house and things like that. Nowadays when we get ready to go back out on the road I can’t guarantee that I’ll have picked up a pair of sticks until we enter rehearsals. A lot of the time between tours, if we’re home for two or three weeks before we go back out again we won’t rehearse at all because we’re going to do the same set and everyone already knows it. I always carry a practice pad so I might sit in the hotel room for a few hours warming up the day before. I’m terrible about it, so you know, don’t try this at home, kids [laughs]. I do get a lot of exercise working on the house. If you’d have seen me at 7:00 last night after working on the house I was walking all bent over; I felt like I’d been beaten with a stick after putting in plumbing and nailing down a floor on my back porch. I felt about 90 years old last night. I spent a lot of time outside too, so I’m relatively fit in that respect.
And I’ve been playing for a long time. A lot of it with playing live is knowing what pace to set for yourself. Back in the 70s when I was a lot younger and a lot thinner I could burn out halfway through the set because I’d go in there like a bull out of the gate. Quite often we’d start with “Lights Out,” which is a hell of a song to start the set [laughs]. We always have at least an hour in the dressing room before we go out, and that’s our time to get your head in the right place. I spend lot more time now thinking about my playing, Scott, than I did in the old days. I don’t know if that has anything to do with the fact that we were using a lot more substances back then or what, but I do tend to think about my playing a lot more now. The other guys always laugh at me after they ask if I’d been practicing and I’m like “Well no” [laughs], but no one has ever said shit like I need to practice more the next time I come out either [laughs]. It’s a very physical band live and sometimes the sets will run nearly two hours. Knock on wood, man, I don’t seem to be having any problems with it. I mean I’ve got a little arthritis here and there, but who doesn’t in their 60s? I feel very fortunate.
Scott Alisoglu: Are you still breaking drum pedals?
Andy Parker: You know I hadn’t broken one in a long time, but I just broke one recently. I broke both a bass drum pedal and a hi-hat just recently within the last few months. Either the equipment is weaker or I’m coming back [laughs]! We don’t play as often now, so my gear doesn’t go through as much stress as it used to. We will usually play three or four nights on and then have a night off just to give Phil a rest. And we’re usually only out on the road for three or four weeks at a stretch. I’ve got two sets of gear too; one in Europe and one in America. The American gear hasn’t seen any action for two years now. I think a lot of the equipment now is so much better than when we started too.
Scott Alisoglu: Have you got plans for a U.S. tour?
Andy Parker: Well, here’s the deal. We actually had dates penciled in for September, but Phil was going to be moving from his house in Brighton (UK). His house is actually adjoined to a pub that just changed hands, so there is stuff going on all hours of the night and it’s been hard on him, so he needs to move. He needed that time in September to get moved. So I think we may be looking at the early part of next year, maybe February or so. I hope so anyway since it’s been a couple of years since we toured America! We certainly hadn’t toured for the new album or Seven Deadly for that matter or not much anyway.
Scott Alisoglu: What songs were you playing from the new album in Europe?
Andy Parker: Well, we did do “The Killing Kind” and we still do sometimes, but for some reason it didn’t seem to do as well live. And let’s see, “Run Boy Run” and we had been doing “The Real Deal,” which might come back, and then we’re doing “Messiah of Love,” which is a great song. I’m actually getting to sing some too; I’ve been doing quite a lot of backup singing, which is really cool. I never sang in the 70s and 80s, so singing and playing the drums is like a new thing for me. That kind of gets your head in a funny place sometimes. So me, Rob, and Paul have all been doing backup vocals, so it’s actually getting quite good, especially with a song like “Messiah of Love.” Even though I never had, it’s like hey man I can sing you know, and it’s been working out really well.
Scott Alisoglu: As we wrap this up, I was thinking that since you said you’ve got family coming into town that you should take them to Motorhead/Saxon gig in Dallas on Friday.
Andy Parker: Uh, I don’t think so [laughs]. I don’t get up to Dallas very often and my wife certainly isn’t into that end of the spectrum. Maybe The Eagles, but not Motorhead/Saxon [laughs].
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