Robin McAuley is one of Rock’s great voices, coming to prominence with his band Grand Prix he went on to sing with Michael Schenker and lately he’s provided the voice for the wonderful Black Swan. With a history so long and rich though there are always plenty of stories and before we get to the new solo record ‘Standing on the Edge’ we thought we’d find out about that time 30 years ago when he was apart of a project with two thirds of Motorhead’s classic line-up…
Robin: Whoa Mark, what time is it with you for God’s sake!?
Mark: (laughing) 4.30am!
Robin: Dude I hope your coffee is bigger than mine!
Mark: (laughs, lifting up large cup) Yeah, it’s quite big! I had to do it through Robin, I had to talk to you because you’ve gone and done it again! I think they forget even though we’re both on the West Coast mine’s in Australia not the US!
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Mark: The last time we spoke was about ‘Black Swan’ and now you’ve got another great album out!
Robin: That seems like forever ago right?
Mark: It does, doesn’t it, but I’m still playing it! I spoke to Jeff (Pilson) the other day and there’s another one on the way!
Robin: Two weeks in!
Mark: Fantastic, I can’t wait to hear what this one is like.
Robin: They sent me the new tunes and they’re sounding awesome! Totally awesome!
Mark: Who’d have thought it, decades in – It’s a wonderful point in your career I think.
Robin: The very best, it’s my favourite thing that I’ve ever done, and people say “But what about…” but dude this is just great!
Mark: Before we get onto the album talking of other things you’ve done I always like to sneak a nice anniversary in if I can and this is one that might be a little obscure but I’m sure there’s a great story behind it! It might be a small footnote in a great career but it’s the 30th Anniversary of a little mini album you did all those years ago!
Robin: Oh my God!
Robin: With Chris Glenn and Philthy Taylor! (laughs) Oh my God! Oh my God! (laughs) What do you want to know?
Mark: Well I must admit it was one that slipped past me, but a while ago I was on eBay as you do and I saw it for sale and I though “I never knew Robin did this, what’s going on?” Tell us a bit about how that came about, as a bit of an appetizer before we get onto the main dish!
Robin: (laughs) So Grand Prix ended in that period and I get a call, and almost simultaneously Philthy and Brian Robertson were no longer in Motörhead, so they were floating around connected to Chris Glenn and I get a call “Hey, we’re putting this project together. You want to sing?” and then I’m getting all of these other calls and they’re saying “Dude, you don’t want to work with these guys! You’re a completely different personality and if you get into this nothing good’s going to come out of it. Because there won’t be too much music and there will be too many visits to the ‘Dark Side’!” (laughs)
Robin: (still laughing) Right? So I hooked up with them at the studio and sure enough we’d have a 12 O’clock downtime and I’d be there all gung ho and Robbo would be there and Philthy would be there and Chris, and there’d be drinking and eating and snacking and 9 O’clock at night would come and I’d be thinking “I’m ready to get the fuck out of here” and just as I was thinking that Robbo would come over and say (does great Robbo accent) “Are you ready to sing the Blues man?” (laughs)
Robin: I said “Dude, I’m going home, I’ve been here since noon and we’ve got nothing done” and this would just go on and on and on and on. And occasionally I’d get a piece of music to work on (does Robbo accent) “Give me call when you’re ready!” (laughs) “Write something and I’ll come in and play on it” and I thought “Oh jeez” and then I’d get these other people, engineers and producers that I’d worked with and friends and they’d go “Are you OK?” then “Are you still OK?” And I’d say “I’m fine but I can’t play you anything because we’ve got nothing” (laughs) So it kind of went on like this and we did get a bunch of tunes, and then Robbo wasn’t interested anymore and we ended up in Frankfurt in Germany and we picked up a young guitar player called Marcus Schleicher, who’s since passed, god rest his soul. And then we came in touch with a producer – an engineer guy and he started to record us, and before we knew it Mausoleum records was sticking it on vinyl and what have you. We did shoot a couple of hilarious videos. But when it came out we didn’t know it was coming out so Mausoleum did that sort of little sneaky thing. They were really like good demos rather than a properly mixed and recorded album or EP or whatever you want to call it. And out it came with artwork I’d never seen before a and all of this came out with us knowing nothing about what was going on, and then in the midst of that segue, a producer by the name of Frank Farian in Frankfurt, who had just produced, this gets better, he’d just produced Milli Vanilli! (laughs)
Robin: He liked my vocals so he said he’d like me in the studio, so I ended up in the studio and before I knew it Bobby Kimball from Toto was there and we were singing a remake of ‘Stairway to Heaven’ and I’m going “What is wrong with this picture?” (laughs) and so it just sort of went on – and then Rudolph Schenker heard ‘Stairway to Heaven’ which was all over the place, it was a huge hit – it went Top 10 on the British Charts. And then Rudolph looked at Michel and then he goes “We need this singer” because Michael was auditioning at the time. I had passed on Michael four years prior in London in my Grand Prix days and so they tracked me down when I was doing some promo for Far Corporation and next thing I know I’m back in Hanover in Germany in Rudolph’s studio with Michael and a week after that or something I’m told we want you to sing and we’re going to change the name to McAuley-Schenker and I’m thinking “Someone needs to get off this ride right now!” (laughs)
Robin: And the rest you know! (laughs)
Mark: And that was one of the reasons I asked because it was one of those times that seemed to lead somewhere completely unexpected in a really crazy way!
Mark: It wasn’t so much cement between the two bands, but just this interesting little archeological layer in there that I knew nothing about!
Robin: (laughs) is that what you’d call it! (laughing) It was interesting! Very interesting!
Mark: And it’s cool to see carrying that connection through that Phil is on the new album too!
Robin: Yeah that was cool, about 18 months ago at Schenker Fest we were playing at a Festival in France and Uriah Heep were on the plane and we basically spent the entire hour and a half flying out of Heathrow into France, standing in the galley yakking with the stewardesses going “You can’t be standing all this time!” And we discussed how many times he gets asked as I do if we’ll ever see a Grand Prix reunion, and we decided probably never. And then the solo record came round and when I got my head around it I contacted Phil and said “Hey, let’s have a Grand Prix connection” and see what happens, so we actually wrote two songs and they turned out great. And I did the same with Tommy Denander and Howard (Leese).
Mark: Did you meet Howard through the Rock Vault?
Robin: I actually did a Rock and Roll Fantasy Camp with Howard with Simon Kirke (of Bad Company) playing drums!
Robin: Right! And Simon can sing to! And so when it comes to ‘Rock and Roll Fantasy’ and Simon goes – “I’m Not singing it if you’re here” so I said I can’t sing it you’re the band’s drummer! So I ended up singing ‘Rock and Roll Fantasy’ with Howard and Simon Kirke and I think Tony Frankin or Rudy Sarzo was playing bass! So I’m like this snotty nosed kid going “Yes! Yes” right and so I’d known Howard years before Rock Vault. So when Rock Vault kicked in and I was cutting some tracks I needed a guitarist and I said to the producer Howard would be perfect for this and so I contacted him and all he asked was “Are you doing it?” and when I said yes he was in, and then I found Tracii Guns and he came in and so we were up and running and off to the races. So fast-forward seven years almost and almost 700 shows under our belt what started off as a “let’s see how this flies” took on a life of its own.
Mark: Last time we spoke we were just in the early days of the pandemic and the ‘Black Swan’ album was just about to come out – that made our top 5 and now here we are again with a solo record and again it’s looking Top 5 material! I may even like it just a bit more!
Robin: Oh do you think so? Oh my God. You know, I didn’t know what to do. They said “Hey, keep the momentum before the next Black Swan record comes out.” And I’m thinking “God what would I do? Who the hell wants to listen to Robin McAuley solo? I don’t know anybody and if you know someone that’s two people. Right!” and they were laughing but I said “It’s just going to be so boring. More of the same old shit. Who wants to hear that? So I kind of had to sit back and go “Aaggghhhh” So it wasn’t until started to get off my high horse and reach out to Phil and Howard and of course Alesandro Del Vecchio who of course mixed it and produced it and got his take on it and started co-writing that it started to take shape. All of a sudden I started to sit up and pay attention and next thing you know I had 15, maybe 20 songs sitting in front of me – the music. So I sifted through the music that felt good to me and sounded like where it should go as it was going to be a little bit different. So I picked the music, I started writing the lyrics and the melodies and sent some rough vocals back to Alesandro and he goes “This is great, it’s great considering you didn’t want to do it” (laughs) And he thought the label would love it, so we did some roughs, sent the back to the label and they said “This is terrific, let’s do it.” And before you know it they’re calling me and saying “Have you thought about what you’d like for the cover?” I just said as long as it’s not me, I don’t want to be on the cover. We’d done photos and everything but I didn’t want a photon the cover, so they asked what did I want, and when I’d finished the lyrics on the track ‘Standing on the Edge’ which became the title track – I started thinking where we were at with this pandemic – and what a shit-show right? Excuse my French! And I’m a big Batman fan and I love Gotham! So I’m thinking “There it is!” What if I was a gargoyle, high up above, looking down and thinking “What a mess!” (laughs) and that’s how I started looking at it, and it’s a great piece of artwork. It’s very ‘now’ and in the moment and it kind of represents what kind of crap was going on with the entire world coming to a standstill. And ‘Standing on the Edge’ the title is just that – we are on the precipice of something new, we’ve never done this before, it’s the worst movie you’ve ever seen, how is the sequel gonna be? And hopefully it will be a really good sequel, hopefully we will have learned, we’ll have moved forward and we won’t be wearing a mask! I mean when was the last time someone told you that you could wear a mask, go to your bank and ask for money!
Robin: Come on! There’s so much in there! And that’s how I thought about the record when I was doing it!
Mark: let’s hope we’re out of it soon.
Robin: New Zealand had a 50,000 capacity concert a few weeks ago.
Mark: We had a 30,000 a few weeks ago.
Robin: Good God! That’s great.
Mark: And then we had one case, one person with Covid and they shut us down for a week.
Robin: You’re kidding me! (laughs)
Mark: Back to the album though – out of the 20 or so songs you had you got it down to 11.I’m still trying to decide what my favourite is as there are so many contenders.
Robin: The fact that you’re listening is great! (laughs) Honesty though I think it just is about the momentum I’m coming off the back of this great Black Swan record and I am not going to do anything to detract from that! And suddenly here I am recording solo record! (laughs) That was exactly where I was at, but I thought “OK, it can’t be Black Swan, there’s no need for Black Swan I can do something different.”
Mark: So where did it all start, what was the first song that was recorded for the album?
Robin: Well I wrote everything first – Phil had sent me some stuff and Howard and I remember saying to Howard “Hey give me a Bad Company song” (laughs) and he said “I won’t give you a Bad Company song but I have an idea that’s not finished that I can sent to you, chop it up, do what you like and let me know what you think.” So I stretched it, added an extra verse, a chorus, a pre-chorus and sent it back and said “What do you think?” He said “This is awesome are you going to use it?” but I didn’t know until I put the whole picture together. Alesandro sent me in maybe a dozen or fifteen songs – so I was sitting on a ‘bucket load’ of music and I wanted as a solo record to do something a little bit different to make it interesting for me too. So I picked the music that I felt good about and then I started to write the lyrics and the melodies till things started to take shape. And I think the first song that I actually worked on was ‘Standing on the Edge’ and that kind of set the tone for me for the rest of the writing. And that kind of stuck, I thought that sounded like a great album title, a good song title, a decent lyric and I moved on from there. Then I wanted to create some sort of picture, you know, I always think about reading a book with a beginning, a middle and an end – I wanted it to duck and dive. Plus I wanted to use my vocal range for what it is, and push myself in different areas and contrast it like a ping-pong game and see where I could take it, and also to make it interesting for me performing. I hadn’t sung for six months Mark when I started – and that was a learning curve because I had to go back into my ‘bag of tricks’ and start training myself to be able to go in there and get the job done. And you know the middle of the record ducks down a bit with ‘Runaway’ and ‘Want to Take a Ride’ there’s a whole different feel before your Power Ballads – you gotta have a Power Ballad! (laughs) And I tried to make it diverse and I think we managed that, and the last track is called ‘Running out of Time’ and I think we did eventually run out of time! (laughs)
Mark: (laughs) A great song and a great way to close. The new album out on the 7th May is going to be great for anyone who loves great songs and a killer voice. And it’s already had a few singles released.
Robin: We had ‘Standing on the Edge’ as the first single and ‘Say Goodbye ‘as the second single and come Friday there will be a third single, should I tell you?
Mark: Go on.
Robin: It’s going to be ’Standing on the Edge.’
Mark: One of my favourites, a great ‘blue sky’ song, as I’d call it.
Robin: Yeah a great summer song, it’s a little bit of light in this dark world! (laughs)
Mark: Nice and uplifting! Just what we need.
Robin: And I promise you, if you play it really loud you won’t stop singing the chorus! It’s a breath of fresh air, and I wrote it because I was hunkered down in lockdown at home and I thought “I have to get the hell out of the house!” I’m forty minutes from the beach and that’s exactly what I did, I bailed and I started to put the lyrics together on the way. I didn’t have to have a mask, I was out on the Pacific Ocean, dude it was killer! (laughs)
Mark: I guess the way things are at the moment and with a solo project like this I’m guessing there’s not going to be a huge tour off the back of it? (laughs)
Mark: Would you like the chance to showcase it at some point? I think it deserves it.
Robin: Well thank you. I was talking to Jeff Pilson about this the other day and he always gets the question all the time “Dude are we ever going to see Black Swan live?” and I said to Jeff “Think about this, probably not a Tour, but some big Festivals would be the perfect forum – a lot people in the same place at the same time when it’s allowed.” That would be perfect, and the same has to be said of the solo record, nobody’s going to come out just to see the solo record, you’d have to mix it up with probably some MSG stuff and who knows what. So it can’t happen soon enough, you know, to get back on stage, I said to someone earlier, I hope we do it right because while there’s a desire and a great need to get back out on the live stage can you imagine if a lot of bands who move too fast, and the promoters lose their ass and they turn up at a venue and they’re not selling tickets, or they’re only selling a small amount of tickets and it costs a fortune to get out there. So we’ve got to do it right.
Mark: It’s hard to know what to do with so many tours pulled and so many albums released a year ago with no tour, some bands are even starting tout out new music and almost write off the previous album and tour. There’s no certainty for anyone.
Robin: Schenker Fest found that because Michael released ‘Revelation’ and we had a sold out tour of Japan and a sold out tour of Europe all cancelled. ‘Revelation’ never got toured, it was rescheduled, then cancelled and in the midst of that then he recorded his 50th Anniversary record ‘Immortal’ which is already released and now he has dates set up with that line-up for October and November. So I hope that comes through for him. And I also hope that there are people at the venues because if not that will make it worse for ’22 because then your budget is blown! (laughs)
Mark: It’s so hard to know. So uncertain and even though in Australia things are good I just want to know when I’ll be able to fly. There’s some big Festivals in Europe and the US that I need to see! It’s been far too long!
Robin: You’re right none of us know.
Mark: Thank you so much for your time Sir, always great to see you, and let’s hope we’ll be talking again very soon about the new Black Swan record! Keep it up mate, you’re doing some wonderful work, it’s just a horrible time to be doing it!
Robin: (laughing) Touche! Thank you so much, stay safe! And go to sleep!
Mark: Thanks Robin.