No doubt, Robin McAuley is one of the greatest singers in rock n’ roll history! His work with Grand Prix, McAuley Schenker Group, Black Swan etc. is fantastic, and we can now enjoy his wonderful voice in “Standing on the Edge”, his recent, second solo album, out via Frontiers Records. Myth of Rock magazine feels glad, feels blessed to have heard McAuley’s new songs and to have come in contact and spoken with McAuley. During half an hour, the legendary Irish singer shared with us his vision and proved that, apart from an exquisite musician, he is a great personality. Robin, thank you for everything!
by Dimitris Zacharopoulos
You released your new, second solo album (“Standing on the Edge”) some months ago. Which are your feelings now that you come back with a solo album, so many years after your debut solo album (“Business As Usual”, 1999)?
Yes, interesting question. Well, you know, “Business As Usual” was never meant to be a solo album. I recorded it as a collaboration together with the guitar player from Survivor (Frankie Sullivan), and after we had finished everything and mixed the record, we tried like everybody else to get the record industry interested in it … Nobody was really interested in it, and at the same time, because of the sound of the time (we recorded the album in`1994), then we had grunge, we had alternative music, so all of the 80s styled rock music had gone down the tubes. The record sat, gathering dust, on the shelf for about six years and then a Japanese label picked it up, and they were interested in it, in 1999. However, the rest of the guys said “Forget it, put it out as a solo record, put your name on it!” and yada, yada, yada … I don’t really see myself as a solo artist … moving forward to 2020, with the pandemic and having already released the Black Swan record, which I love, Frontiers Records, my record label, called me and they said: “Why don’t you put a solo record out, during this time? And so, “Standing on the Edge” was born.
And what happened then?
Well … when they asked me to do a solo record, I was not very interested, I was thinking “What am I going to do?” and “Who would like to listen to a Robin McCauley solo record?”. The label said to me, “Give us some more of you. What you do, that’s what the people want to listen to”. I wanted to make it a little different, just to make it more interesting, the record company said no. “More of what you do”, I thought this would be really boring. So, about 18 months before that, I had been at a Michael Schenker fest in France. Uriah Heep was on the flight to France, and of course, my old keyboard player from the Grand Prix days, Phil Lanzon. We were talking, and I said, “So many people keep asking me if we will ever have a Grand Prix reunion”. Phil said, “Me too! It is just so funny, after all these years”. So, I asked him, “What do you think will happen? Logistically, probably never!” … When I started working on “Standing on the Edge”, I thought I would reach out to Phil, I thought we would have a collaboration, a Grand Prix connection, and then moved another step, when I talked with Tommy Denander from Sweden, who had worked with Jimi Jamison (Survivor, vocals) – I was in Survivor for five-six years, so I thought that this was another connection. I worked a Las Vegas show with a lot of musicians (“Raiding the Rock Vault”) and Howard Leese was the musical director. However, also Paul Rodgers, who was playing the show with Bad Company, was a musical director. So, I said to Howard, “Hey, give me the Bad Company song for my record, haha!”. And he said, “No, but I have some riffs, I will send you some stuff, if you use them, good, if you don’t use them and we are not finished, do whatever you want!”. I started working on one of the songs, I mixed it up, I put a rough vocal and the lyric down, and it became “Supposed to Do Now”. Alessandro Del Vecchio, of course, the maestro from Frontiers Records, sent me a lot of songs. I started working and I tried to make a beginning and an end to this record. The first track I think I worked on was “Standing on the Edge”, I wrote all the lyrics, all the melodies for everything.
How would you describe musically this new solo album?
It is a connection of all the things I have done before in my career. It is a solo record, so I would like to have a little taste of everything in there. Of course, that was then, the album has a much more modern sound to it and a different, modern production, but I like it, I am very happy with it.
Who was the one who mixed and mastered “Standing on the Edge”?
Alessandro Del Vecchio, from Frontiers Records. He had also mixed the Black Swan record, so we already had a connection. He also co-wrote eight of the album’s songs, together with Pete Alpenborg etc. Alessandro lives in Italy, where things with the pandemic were terrible, so we discussed who would play in the album, and he put together his musicians (from Italy), which made it easier to start the recording process. It was absolutely amazing, with Nicholas Papapicco on the drums and a great guitar player, Andrea Seveso, it was perfect, I am so happy, yeah!
Let’s go now to the lyrics of tour new songs. Where do they refer to? For example my favorite song of the new album, “Late December”?
My wife is from Austria, she is from Vienna. When you have been together for thirty years, every time you hear a love song, a ballad, your wife goes, “Is that song about me? Why don’t you write a song about me?”, haha! So, in this record, exactly because it is my solo record, I dedicated “Late December” to my wife. “Late December” is a true story of how I met with my wife at that time of the year. We actually met originally in Germany, then four years passed without seeing each other and met again in Stockholm, Sweden. So after thirty years here we are now, haha!
Another favorite song from “Standing on the Edge” is “Wanna Take a Ride”.
I was at home, during the pandemic, nobody is going anywhere, we are all wearing masks, like in a terrible movie, a terrible movie. But one day I said, “I am going to the beach!”, my beach is about forty minutes from me. So I headed for the beach, listening to the song, and I was thinking, “This is a good day to go to the beach, to get out, to go to the ocean, no mask, and “Wanna Take A Ride” was created.
Your other current project of yours is Black Swan. Can you give us some details about it?
About two years ago, Serafino Perugino, the CEO of Frontiers Records, called me and told me, “Hey Robin, I would like you to do a solo record’. I answered him, “No, I don’t wanna do a solo record”. I was really busy with Michael Schenker’s Fest, I was very busy with the Las Vegas show, working five nights a week … it didn’t feel right. Then Jeff Pilson called me, maybe six-eight months later and said, “Hey, Serafino wants me to put a project together, a very big one, like a supergroup!” and I replied, “No, I don’t like supergroups, I don’t like this kind of stuff”. Jeff told me he wanted me to be the singer of this new band, he had already spoken with Reb Beach, who had played on the “Tooth and Nail” album of Dokken, and thought that my cooperation with Reb would be really good. So I asked him if he would play the bass in this project and he goes, “No, I will be the producer, I have also written some songs”. My reaction was, “No, no, you must play the bass”, but he insisted, saying “I have some great bass players lined-up for this project!”. We started writing some stuff, Jeff put some bass lines down, Reb and myself had a chat, agreeing that Jeff should play bass in the songs and finally, Jeff was persuaded! So Black Swan was created, we brought Matt Starr to play drums … it is a great band, and right now, we have already recorded the vocals for five new songs of the second Black Swan album and I have six more songs that I have to finish. But we are recording, and writing right now, and it is … amazing, it is really really powerful and I am super excited about it, yes!
What would you say to travel back to your McAuley Schenker Group days?
I joined Michael Schenker in 1985. I couldn’t join Michael Schenker Group four years earlier, in my Grand Prix days, I was busy, I was touring with Grand Prix, and Michael came to see us perform and I got a call. We were sharing some rehearsal rooms with MSG, we were on the same label, Chrysalis Records, so we kind of knew each other, but the timing wasn’t right. Four years later – four is the magic number, haha! – I was working in Frankfurt, Germany, and we released a remake of Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” with Far Corporation. Rudolf Schenker heard that cover on the radio, and when he spoke with Michael, he told him “Who is this? This is good! I like this!”, and Michael said “Yeah, I know who that is! He refused to join me four years earlier”, haha! Rudolf told Michael, “I think you should call him again”. So, I was the last of seventeen singers, auditioning, and Klaus Meine, Rudolf Schenker, the management company, Michael Schenker listened to everything and I got a call – they said, “Hey! We’ve decided that you should be the singer”. Then Michael told me that he would like to change the name and I want the “M” to be you, but I thought it was a really bad idea. Michael Schenker Group is what everybody knows, I love the logo and he goes, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, I need a partner, we keep the MSG logo, but you keep the “M”, haha!”. Anyway! So we had McAuley Schenker Group, we released “Perfect Timing” and suddenly, we were on MTV!”. At that time Michael Schenker was making some inroads into the American market, so the management wanted something that was more structured for touring, more structured for a commercial sound, and we gave it to them. A lot of people didn’t like it, they thought I was too commercial for Michael Schenker, but it was the first time that Michael had MTV, VH1 and the American rock radio, so …
Robin, what do you remember from the making of the classic hit song, “Nightmare”?
Yes! I remember that we were already recording the album “Save Yourself”, we were in the middle of recording and one day Michael gave me a cassette and he said, “I put some acoustic ideas, see what you’ ll think”. There was a small room to the side of the studio, here in Los Angeles, and I started listening to it and … oh, my God, it was such a beautiful piece of music! I had a four-track Tascam recorder, and I started writing lyrics and putting the melody together. The guys were in the studio and they heard me and started saying, “What is that? It sounds amazing, it sounds great!”. I told them, “Well, it is just an idea”, and I played it to Michael and he loved it. Then we recorded a video for it in the desert in the middle of the night, haha! … It is a beautiful song, it’s still a great song! I am glad you have asked that question, I would love to perform that song with Michael and a big orchestra, I think it would be amazing!
Which is your relationship now with Michael Schenker?
It has always been great. When McAuley Schenker Group ended, in 1991-1992, all 80s rock here in the USA was down, it was all Seattle, all grunge, all alternative and nobody wanted to listen to 80s hair metal, or rock, or whatever you call it. So it ran as far as it could go, I always recorded at least one song on his records, as a guest, and in 2012 we did a whole US tour together. People always thought that we had a reunion, but that was not the plan, we just came together and did a tour. Michael was coming to the US, because I live here, for some shows, music conventions etc., he used to call me and say to me, “I am doing a show, I would like you to sing”. When Bang Your Head Festival in Germany, I think four years ago, happened, his management team called me and said, “Michael has this idea, to bring all the singers together and play a festival”. I went, “That’s a great idea! It is a new idea, but it is a great idea!”. I thought this was really exciting, because now, instead of me singing Gary Burden’s songs, Gary can be on the stage singing his songs, I can sing my songs and we can work all together. It was just a great time, a great time, a huge show, 2-hour show. We released “Revelation”, the second Michael Schenker Fest album, and then the pandemic hit, we had to cancel a sold-out tour of Japan and Europe, and now, of course, this year we had the Michael Schenker Group album, “Immortal”, with Ronnie Romero, Ralf Scheepers, Michael Voss etc.
Robin, you are a great singer. Which are your vocal influences?
Ouhhh! My favourite singer is definitely Paul Rodgers, an icon for a lot of singers! But in my early days, my influences came from Motown music. I was always listening to Motown, I just love Motown, I still love Motown. Motown music is big and strong now, as it ever was. I just loved The Temptations. The Four Tops, The Drifters, The Platters and others! It is great music! I used to listen to the phrasing, to the vocals, to the lyrics, to the hooklines, and then … l heard Free for the first time, and I heard Paul Rodgers singing! I went “Aaaahhh, this white guy! This white guy has a lot of soul, hahaha! I just fell in love with it. Sometimes Rodgers is too bluesy for me, but his vocals are just amazing, and then of course, Bad Company! I think I liked Bad Company a little bit more, Bad Company was less bluesy, it is still Paul Rodgers, so …! And then, over the years, I really liked, when I heard the first Foreigner album, Lou Gramm as a singer, He was absolutely amazing, I got to know Lou over the years, I’ve worked with Lou over the years, … man, he gives me the goosebumps, such a great, great, great singer, singing great melodies and great lyrics! … I like a lot of passion and lot of soul in the music, I like to be convinced when I listen to a song, I like it when it is personal. A lot of singers sing, but there is no heart.
Which is your favorite albums, from the ones that you have recorded in your career?
I will go straight forward, it is the Black Swan album! Absolutely!
Finally, Robin, which is your advice to the young people, who want to be singers? Who would like to get into the rock n’ roll business?
Don’t do it, hahaha! Don’t do it, it is crazy, unless it is your passion. If it really is your passion, then you have to give it everything, because there are so many disappointments. Especially when you give it everything and nobody wants it. It is so disheartening, but you have to persist, you have to stop listening, to continue and make it better. You have to give your heart and soul into your music and make it believable – don’ t keep moving around, don’t keep going, “Oh, I should be doing this, oh, this is better, I should be doing that”. You must do who you are, you are here in your heart. Because from your heart comes the truth. Your heart tells who you are, not what the other guy is doing, that is just copycat. If your heart says that you feel it, then people will feel it too! So, give it everything, concentrate on it, if that is what you want to do. If not, you can be a farmer! Farmer is a good business, hahaha!