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DAMON JOHNSON (Black Star Riders) Talks UK Tour and New Album

Black Star Riders are preparing for the closing leg of their Heavy Fire tour in the UK.  Mick Burgess called up guitarist DAMON JOHNSON to talk about the tour and find out the latest on the recording plans of the band.

In a couple of weeks, you embark on your latest UK tour.  Are you looking forward to getting started?

 We always look forward to coming to the UK.  There`s no question that the UK is so important to the career of the Black Star Riders.  They really embraced us right from the beginning. There`s a whole team of people behind us from the fans, the management, record company and everyone is on high alert right now in a positive way ahead of the tour. It`s going to be great to be back.

 You did an extensive tour earlier in the year.  Are you hitting places that you didn`t get to on the first leg?

 All of these are markets that we didn`t play when we did our tour in March. I think it`s fantastic for the fans.  We`re pretty involved in our social media and we get on there to see what people are saying, what they’re excited about and what they are disappointed about.  Obviously, you can`t play everywhere but we do try to play as much as we can and go to as many places as we can and I don`t think anyone can deny our commitment to the UK.  This is almost a celebration of the success we`ve had with our Heavy Fire album. We get to come back to the UK and end the whole tour here.  I don`t think we`ll be back next year apart from some festival shows in the summer.

 What about the setlist?  How has that been developing over the course of touring this year?

We are going to mix it up.  We`ll be playing some songs we didn`t play in March.  There`s a handful of songs we have to play which fortunately we love to play.  I know as a fan, if a band was coming back to my region for a second time in a year I`d like to hear something different from them so we`ll be doing a few deep cuts from the albums that we haven`t done in a while. It`s always fun to knock the dust of some of the other tracks.

Do you feel that you are now 3 albums into your career that you are finding your own identity as a band that`s not so closely associated with Thin Lizzy as you were when you put your first album out?

I like to look at it as the Thin Lizzy fanbase has taken Black Star Riders along as its own entity.  We`ll always have a spiritual connection with Thin Lizzy and we`ll always be proud and grateful for that.  It so inspiring for us to get feedback from the fans when they say that they loved it when we played Soldiers Town or the title track to Heavy Fire.  When you`re writing and making these records you just never know.  The fact that our band started out the way we did coming out of Thin Lizzy, when we did the first tour we had to do half the set with Thin Lizzy songs as we didn`t have enough of our own to play.  It only seems to be a short space of time but we`ve done three albums now and have been able to establish our own identity. I still hope we can play some Thin Lizzy songs forever as the fans like to hear them and I love playing them too. They are such timeless songs and we like to pay tribute to Thin Lizzy and show them due respect. When we play those songs there’s an authenticity to it and we`re honoured that we can play them.  There`s a real commitment to the origins of where we came from and our fans like that.

On the tour you are joined by Tax The Heat, Blues Pills and Dirty Thrills. That`s a great bill.  What did you make of that when that idea was presented to you?

When I first heard who we`d be playing with I thought we`d need to be at the top of our game or we`d get our asses kicked. All of them are great bands with great songs, a lot of talent and a lot of passion.  It`s great to have so many great bands on together.  We`re all excited ahead of the tour and I can`t wait to see all three bands on stage.  It`s going to be great.  It`s going to be busy backstage though.  We may have to flip a coin to see who gets the biggest room.

Since you toured earlier in the year drummer, Jimmy DeGrasso has departed.  What happened there?

Jimmy`s phone rings all the time.  I think he was just looking to occupy his calendar a little bit more.  We love Jimmy and he`s played such a vital role in the band and we want great things for him.  We`ll always stay in touch with Jimmy.  There`s no animosity at all, it`s all very amicable.

You`re now joined by Chad Szeliga from Breaking Benjamin and Black Label Society.  Where did you first come across Chad?

We are very fortunate to be able to play with such an uber talented player as Chad.  He`s very familiar with the background of Black Star Riders and where we`ve come from.  He brings a lot of performance element to our stage.  The reaction from the fans has been really great.  We first came across Chad back in 2011 when Thin Lizzy supported Judas Priest and Black Label Society in The States.  I`d just joined Lizzy and it was my first tour of The States with them and Chad was drumming with Black Label Society at that time. We saw Chad play every night and we hung out together and he was a great guy to be around.  He`s very mellow but a monster behind the drum kit.  You’ll enjoy watching him play.

Have you had any thoughts to the follow up to Heavy Fire?

Me and Ricky have already started writing for the next album and we hope to get into the studio next summer.  We`re right at the beginning of the process.  It`s a pleasure to have a collaborator in the band with the level of ability as Ricky.  The two of us are constantly collecting ideas from lyrics, concepts, chord progressions and riffs.  It`s one of my favourite times where we are individually preparing stuff to bring to the other guy when we have that very first session.  We`ll probably do that in a couple of weeks when we are in the UK.  We have a couple of days off so we`ll go into a hotel room and see what ideas each of has got and hopefully we`ll get a few things really going.

When does Scott come in and add his ideas?

We are committed to wringing as much out of Scott Gorham as we possibly can.  I`m sure if he was on this phone call he`d be rolling his eyes and laughing. For every two guitar riffs Scott brings in Ricky and I have 30 songs.  That`s what I love about Scott is that he is so supportive about our endeavours as prolific song writers and yet he never fails to come in and save the day with a couple of stellar riffs. His ideas always get us excited.  Scott`s impact on me growing up is so important, he was such a big influence on me and to be able to work with him in this band is absolutely incredible.

Looking forward to 2018.  What are your plans for next year?

We`ve just announce a US tour with Judas priest and Saxon and we have a load of fans over here that have never really had the chance to see us as we don`t tend to play in America that much but we are going to put that right and this tour is perfect for that.   So we`ll have that tour at the start of the year and some festivals in Europe over in the summer and we`ll be working hard on our next record.

Black Star Riders tour the UK in November starting on 8th November at the Wulfren Hall in Wolverhampton and ends on 19th at The Pyramid Rooms, Portsmouth.  For more information visit www.blackstarriders.com

Interview By Mick Burgess

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