Interview with Danny Vaughn

Despite being delayed by a train derailment and showtime fast approaching, Danny Vaughn and his band spent time with Metal Express Radio to chat about the new album Traveller and life on the road before hitting the stage to a sold out arena.

You’re at the start of your UK tour. How many dates are you playing?

We’re doing a few different things at a few different points. Nottingham was the first show, then London, and there will be Birmingham, Belfast, and Liverpool on this little run, and then Cheltenham, Sheffield, and I’m not even sure how to pronounce this but … Pontypridd after that.

So you’ve scheduled a show in Wales too. Were there a few problems getting dates arranged in Wales?

There’s just certain places where it’s tough dealing with promoters and getting people who want to pay more than a couple of sandwiches and a bag of chips. At our level, we’re not doing things through promoters and we are doing it through contacts of our own. We unfortunately lost Little Jeff in Newcastle, and he was our contact here. He had moved from Trillians to a new venue that he wanted us to play, but sadly he passed away. Now we have Steve, who we’ve known for years, and have started working here at The Cluny in Newcastle. I’m loving this place already.

You must have played most of Newcastle’s venues over the years?

Yeah, except the big ones. Ha!! I’ve played all the little ones; maybe I’ll do St James’ Park next!!

The tour is in support of your new album, Traveller. Are you pleased with the reaction you’ve received to it so far?

I was a bit nervous at first because there were no bad reviews, and that really worries me as there’s usually someone waiting in the wings that thinks it’s shit. Now we know it’s a good album and it’s not just fluff. The happiest thing I see with this album is that it keeps getting slated as one that needs repeat listening, and to me that’s a success. I can’t tell you how many CDs I’ve got that I like, but never make it back into the machine, and with ours I think it does keep making it back into the machine.

Lee Morris (LM): It’s good that we have an album that’s a bit of a grower because if it’s an instant thing you go off it just as quickly.

It seems as though you’re covering all of your varying styles from your previous work on this album. Was this intentional or just the way it worked out?

I think that is normal for me, but I think the big difference on each album are the influences of the people involved. While my influences are more obvious for anyone that’s listened to what I’ve done, then you walk into a brick wall with “Warriors Way,” which was written to accommodate the way that this band plays. “Death of the Tiger” was something that I always wanted to try, but I never felt that I was standing in the right place to do it, but all of a sudden there they are and it all came together. It’s become a real favorite of everyone’s, myself included. I think you fly your influences as best you can. What I like about the album very much is that there are parts of everyone around this table in it. It’s not just “Right, here’s your parts lads, there you go!!” Everyone came in and put parts in and wrote some things. It’s all shaped and that’s the way I like to do things. I know there are some guys who want to completely control the musical situation. I don’t see it like that. If you let other people with completely different musical influences in, they will look at a musical part differently than you and that can really surprise you. It’s more interesting when it goes in a different direction than you thought it would. Every now and then it’s like “No, that’s crap!!” But, most of the time it worked out really well.

“Miracle Days” which kicks off the album, has a rather moving inspiration behind the song. Can you tell me about this?

I was contacted several years ago by a gentleman who’s son had been in a horrific accident where Dad thought Mum was watching him and Mum thought Dad was watching him. Mum was out mowing the lawn on one of these massive ride on mowers. She basically backed up over her son and didn’t know what she had hit and rolled over him again. Without being too graphic he was seriously hurt and there was no chance that this boy was going to live, and yet he did. He had 14 or 15 operations and became one of these Miracle Network children and he represented the organization. He lived for quite a few years after that. Out of nowhere, his father contacted me and said that being a lover of music, but not a musician himself, he’d always wanted to write a song for his son to show him how much he means to him. He thought I was the only writer who could properly pull it off that he knew. Unfortunately, the sad part for me was that it came at a time when I was at a serious creative low. I actually wrote the chorus pretty quickly, but I couldn’t come up with anything else and it got shelved for a long time. For some reason when we started putting stuff together for the new album, I always go through my old tapes, I never throw anything away as an idea I had 10 years ago might suddenly make sense. So that’s what happened here. I got the chorus back in my head and thought of what needed to be done. Unfortunately, the boy didn’t survive long enough, but I sent it to his parents and they approved it. As much as I love the song, I don’t think I would have put it onto the album if they didn’t like it. It’s a sad story, but it’s become a bit of a showpiece for us. I think you should always try to come up with a song that says “Yes, the album is definitely starting now!!”

“Restless Blood” is an old track that you wrote back in your Tyketto days. Why didn’t you use it then and why has it taken so long to surface?

The guys were never quite happy with it. I wrote it quite quickly and it had a rather obvious AOR/Bon Jovi-ish style to it. There are tapes of us playing it at rehearsals and soundchecks and things. I played it later to one of these guys and they thought it was great.

Tony Marshall (TM): The first time I heard it was at my house and Danny said, “What about this one?” There were riffs in there that had something to it.

DV: Sometimes you can be too close to something and you just need someone else to see what’s there, especially if you’ve lived with something too long. The vocals and the bridge breaks were added and that’s the stuff that the band brought into it. The influence of the band is on that song. It was a case of taking the best of what was there and kind of moving it along a little bit. I’m pleased as I always thought it was a song that should’ve gotten done. It took a few years to get there, but a lot of them do. “Lifted” is another one. “Lifted” was written in ’92 or’93, or something like that. There was just a little bit of music there and we went through an old tape and I just went “Oh, I knew what that was supposed to be now, it only took a dozen years, but now I know!!”

There appears to be a Native American theme running through a couple of the tracks, such as “Bad Lands Rain.” Do you have Native American ancestry or is it an area that simply fascinates you?

There’s no ancestory, but it is a topic that interests me. The cover is one of my father’s paintings, that’s what he does and he’s also a children’s book illustrator, but he’s a Southwestern (North America) Indian painter, so I’ve been surrounded by the culture all my life and I’ve always loved it. I’ve got adopted relatives who are Lakota Sioux on the Pineridge Indian Reservation. If you go back through my albums, there are references in there. “Bad Water” is another about Native Americans. I was looking for a real story and “Bad Lands Rain” was a real direct result of the time when I first visited an Indian reservation. The people there are per capita the poorest people in America, much poorer than ghetto people, and it’s very striking.

“The Warriors Way” was originally written by you for Bob Catley. Did you offer it to Bob, or did you like it so much that you kept it for yourself?

That’s exactly what happened. I seem to remember that I started playing this riff and Lee immediately started drumming along to it, and I always take notice when that happens, when someone kicks something out and everyone just gets it right away and suddenly there’s a trail that you need to follow. So ,I just thought, “Bob, get your own song. Ha!!”

“Death of a Tiger” is a particular favorite, being a more brooding epic type of a song, rather like “Bad Water” from Soldiers and Sailors on Riverside. Does a song like this allow you to stretch yourself more vocally?

I’ll let the guys in the band answer that one as we’re doing it live and I’m curious as to what everyone else thinks.

Pat Heath (PH): “Death of a Tiger” is a bit of a plodder with a great vibe. As a song, it’s really, really strong. We debated for a while whether it was a good live track or whether it was just a good studio song, but it’s one that we all liked and we wanted to do it live. It’ll have a slightly different slant to the album version as we don’t have all the atmospherics that we have on the album.

DV: I was a little worried about it as I thought that it would divide our existing fan base down the middle, as it’s roots are really Led Zeppelin and not everyone who’s into the melodic side of AOR likes Led Zeppelin very much. That was the concern; would it be too plodding? As a production piece, I’m in love with it. It’s one of those that I go back to and listen to again and again. I like mood pieces and I’ll always try to do something like that. I think the only album where I haven’t done that is Tyketto’s Don’t Come Easy?, which really has pretty much one vibe all the way through. I like taking different journeys with different songs.

There seems to be a positive message pervading through some of the songs such as “Better By Far” and “Think Of Me In The Fall”…

It’s funny that you say that, and you’re right, but I’d say half of the songs are about death. “Better By Far” is one that came to me in about 15 minutes, and it’s a fantasy piece about what I wish for, which is when it’s all said and done and your time is up, you walk into a clearing and there they are, everyone that you want to see again from your past.

Are you pleased being on the Frontiers label?

It’s kind of a love/hate thing. I’m straight up about Frontiers. On the love side, they do exactly what they say they are going to do; they pay me exactly what they say they will pay me and when. As with anyone else who is allowed to have creative input, you’re going to have creative differences. Frontiers’ down side is that they don’t know how to move to the next thing. They’ve got some big bands on their label, but they put stuff out and just kind of leave it there for a while. Frontiers support me, and personally I have no complaints, but I feel that they, along with other labels at this level, try to do too many albums. It’s like “This one will sell 2000 and this one will sell 2000”… maybe if they cut it down a little bit and try to get 10,000 out of the sale, that would be better, but unfortunately the hardest thing to convince people of is that it is live music that sells albums. Playing live is what we are best at and we try to convince them of that, to keep pushing to keep us out there.

How did you put the band together for the album?

PH: I think we knew each other from the gutter actually. Ha!!

TM: We don’t like each other, we only do it for the money!! As a band, we’re based in the Northwest of England. I’m from Manchester and Pat is originally from Wigan, but lives South of Gatwick, so he has to travel.

DV: I have to travel the furthest!!

TM: We originally started the band as it is when Danny was offered the Firehouse tour, and I had got up with Danny during an acoustic show to do just one song, and for one reason he actually called me back after reviewing the video of the tour.

DV: No-one showed me the video of that tour!!

TM: Danny called me up and Steve had also mentioned about forming a band.

PH: Kieran Dargan from Fireworks magazine had called me up from Ireland and asked me to go over and talk about this job, and we sat and chatted and Danny took me on by recommendation.

DV: Anything that we do at this level with this form of music… it’s all going to be circles. It’s always going to be various people we’ve known over the years. I’ve known the promoter, Steve Cummings, for years; he’s stalker number 3! He came to every show I’ve done from way back, and all of a sudden he’s promoting gigs. That’s how things happen. Kieran was the same. He was just a fan who said that no one was bringing over the sort of music that he likes, so he thought that he’d just do it himself. Those are the people we are starting to find. There’s a guy over in Spain like that, so we’ll keep trying to expand it, and the same with Greece and Germany.

You’ve got a lot of material to choose from. What sort of set-list will you be playing on this tour?

PH: A good one!

DV: There’s so much to pick from, it’s a frightening thing to have a back catalog. It means you’re not a 20-year old anymore.

PH: In the past, we’ve done stuff from all the Tyketto and Vaughn albums, From The Inside material and Flesh and Blood, so there’s a lot to choose from that we can play.

DV: I enjoy listening to the Flesh and Blood album and it has nothing to do with the fact that I’m on it! I like the music, which I didn’t write.

PH: It’s fun to do live, but playing stuff that Al Pitrelli has played is not easy.

DV: I’ve have greater and greater respect for what these guys are doing, as over the years I’ve started to fancy myself as a guitarist. I’ve been playing for 20 years and it’s only the last couple where I’m starting to feel like a guitarist.

This has been a busy year for you so far with a new album, this tour with your band, and, of course, your shows with Journey. How did you end up doing the Journey tour?

DV: I think much of it was down to Jeff Scott Soto’s relentless badgering!

TM: I’ve known Jeff for around 8 years and all I did was send him a text that basically said “I hear you’re playing the UK, we’ve bought our tickets, do you need a backing band?” He basically swore at me by text saying “How dare you buy tickets!!” He came back and asked if we were up for it and we were.

DV: That was like 9 days before it started!

TM: We were a week away from not getting a show. We were batting backwards and forwards with management and they wanted this Lennon girl who they had in Europe, but she literally died on her ass. We badgered Jeff and Jeff badgered management.

DV: Jeff was just outstanding. There were logistical problems and other people had other agendas. For a guy who’s only recently been in the band, he put his foot down and went to bat for us. I sent him an e-mail saying “Jeff, you have to stop, I don’t want to be responsible for what could happen to you!”

TM: His reason was that he wanted to repay us… when the Tyketto reunion was on I was doing the tour management for them and he was booked to play Wolverhampton at the same time as Tyketto and he was going to lose his arse, so we gave him a call and said come and join us so he played with us at Wolverhampton and then at Belfast. They were great nights and two storming shows, and we really, really got on well and basically the Journey tour was payment for those two shows.

DV: Actually, I had never met Jeff until those shows. We had known of each other for something like 15 years. We got on right away but Tony has a much longer standing friendship with Jeff than I do.

You must have felt quite exposed just you and Tony Marshall and a couple of acoustic guitars?

TM: Two or three times I was exposed, but then I fixed the zip on my trousers! Actually, on the first night we were nervous. We were playing to 2200 people in Nottingham. Jeff came into the dressing room and sang along with us on some of our warm-ups, and then we were on stage. It went really well and it set the stall out for us for the rest of the tour. We felt more and more comfortable as we went on.

DV: We also had no idea of what the whole atmosphere of the thing would be. For me, it was “Oh right, I remember this level.” It’s been a long time for me, way too long in fact, but I didn’t know what to expect from the crew and from others. That immediately clicked and it was very easy going. A lot of the worries that we had were gone.

You got a great reception at both shows at the Newcastle City Hall. Did you expect such a good reception?

I’m happy to say the reception that we got was excellent. People came out to see us rather than staying in the bar, and we went down really well. It was the same throughout the tour as well. The loudest people were definitely at the first night in Newcastle, and the best accomplishment we had was a very nearly full house at the Hammersmith Apollo, there were very few empty seats.

I think a lot of it was to do with the nature of Journey fans, as there were a lot of repeat people coming in and a lot of people came over from America to follow the tour. They get onto the message boards. You know, that’s how things work these days. People post onto these saying that things are great, then all of a sudden our Web site is jumping with people going “Who are you?” Word gets around and people come along early to see what’s going on.

The internet is a great way to spread the word about music. It gets bad press from the Industry, but it’s the lifeblood for many artists.

DV: It’s a double-edged sword, certainly. Overall, I think downloading is hurting the Industry less than the Industry thinks it is. It’s hurting those guys that are making million plus salaries. I worry that bands might not be able to make a quality product as there won’t be enough people to buy it. But, quality is coming cheaper and cheaper. I’ll stand behind the quality of our album and our album cost less than $18,000 to make. The budget for the first Tyketto album was a quarter of a million dollars.

TM: What did you do with the rest of the money??

DV: There was a lot of sushi! Ha!

Sonically, you can’t tell that it was a relatively cheap album to make.

PH: I think one of the reasons that this album sounded so good is due to the engineer, Pete “Pee Wee” Coleman” — he was just exceptional. He helped everyone at every stage of the album; he took such an interest in it. When Lee went into the studio, he recorded the entire album’s drums in two days.

DV: Most of the producers that I know have always got a quality partner at their side. With Kevin Elson, it was always Tom Size. It’s rare to have a quality in one person who can deal with musicians, can structure songs, and can keep the ball rolling. Then, there’s the guy that knows how all of the machines work. I know what I can hear here and I can say to Pete Coleman that I need it a bit more like this, then I make a reference to an album and he knows exactly how to do it.

How did you go about making the album?

PH: In terms of the Traveller record, the pre-production was invaluable. We went into the studio for two weeks and we had song ideas and threw ideas around and pieced them together on the computer on Cubase. All the detail was worked out in pre-production… that’s why when Lee went in to do the drums, they were finished in two days. Then after the two days, we could get rid of the tape and get a drum machine instead. Ha!

LM: We set ourselves a deadline to get things done. We did everything from beginning to end in 28 days. A lot of bands leave things open-ended and it’s like they’ve got too much time to change things. This band always works better to a deadline.

DV: We have to really as we have no choice due the finances. We’re not like Def Leppard where one of the guys might be in the Bahamas on vacation and he has an idea and they put everything on hold until he comes back. Mutt Lange is notorious for spending so much time on a track.

So, you’re not into spending months on perfecting a single song?

LM: On the way up here we were watching the Metallica, Some Kind of Monster film and it was just insane, James Hetfield took 12 months off, and for 6 months of that they were still paying for a facility and they even built their own studio. It’s an open-ended check book at that level.

DV: Sadly, it ended up being their worst selling album and their worst sounding album. I liked what they were trying to do in the beginning, but by the end I thought how hard could it be to be in the biggest and coolest band in the world. How could that not be fun? They have taken all the fun out of it. When Rob Trujillo came in, he knew exactly how much fun it should have been and he was up for it.

Sometimes the “Industry” gets in the way of the music…

TM: We found that with Journey; it’s a big money making machine — scarily big money making machine. Jeff, Dean, and Ross were constantly having fun on the tour, but the rest of it is just business. It’s not just about going out and playing for people, it’s about going out and playing to make money. Jeff and Dean still treat it like a club gig. Every night he treats it the same as a club whether he’s playing in a 25,000 seater stadium in The States or the City Hall in Newcastle; he still understands who Jeff is, where he’s been, and what he’s been through to get there — he hasn’t forgotten that.

DV: You just don’t know where you’re going to be next. With us, we don’t do this to be cool. I like to be that part of the audience as well. At Hammersmith, me and my girlfriend were down in the front singing along. I just want to let loose as I just love that music and that band and I want to enjoy it as a fan.

LM: With the band, we’re all such good friends and we love being on stage and playing together. This comes across to the audience and we have a riot on stage whether it’s a small stage or a large stage… we just love playing.

DV: We have a connection with the audience to the extent that when we had problems with our equipment in London we chatted with the fans; it wasn’t like we were so worried that the momentum of the show had gone. We changed the tempo of the show and Tony was the best at it out of all of us, and he was like “Right, it’s time to have a laugh ‘cos there’s smoke coming out of the amps!!” As opposed to “Ughhh” and tightening up. You can do that and then you lose. This band tends not to do that. It gives Tony a chance to do his stand-up routine.

If that wasn’t enough to keep you busy, you’ve also fitted in some dates with Terry Brock from Strangeways. Now, those must have been some shows?

That was musically very satisfying, but professionally a complete and utter disaster. It was horrendous as in the promotion and the whole thing was just awful. We had a very good band and playing with Terry and doing his songs was fantastic. We sang together and switched vocals mid-song and mixed it all up. Terry would like to come over to England and do some, maybe do an acoustic thing. I don’t know, but we’ll figure something out. He’s quality. Hopefully that’s something for us to look forward to at some point in the future.

What will you be doing next?

Well later in the year I’ll be coming back to the UK with Tyketto to play at the Firefest in Nottingham, and I’m looking forward to that very much. There are some other things in the pipeline, but you’ll have to wait and see.

Check out the Danny Vaughn website for more information.


  • Mick Burgess

    Mick is a reviewer and photographer here at Metal Express Radio, based in the North-East of England. He first fell in love with music after hearing Jeff Wayne's spectacular The War of the Worlds in the cold winter of 1978. Then in the summer of '79 he discovered a copy of Kiss Alive II amongst his sister’s record collection, which literally blew him away! He then quickly found Van Halen I and Rainbow's Down To Earth, and he was well on the way to being rescued from Top 40 radio hell!   Over the ensuing years, he's enjoyed the Classic Rock music of Rush, Blue Oyster Cult, and Deep Purple; the AOR of Journey and Foreigner; the Pomp of Styx and Kansas; the Progressive Metal of Dream Theater, Queensrÿche, and Symphony X; the Goth Metal of Nightwish, Within Temptation, and Epica, and a whole host of other great bands that are too numerous to mention. When he's not listening to music, he watches Sunderland lose more football (soccer) matches than they win, and occasionally, if he has to, he goes to work as a property lawyer.

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