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Progressive Rock Interviews

Magnum

Interviewed by Mike Korn

Interview with Tony Clarkin of Magnum from 2012

MSJ:

The first thing I noticed about On The 13th Day is how loud and in your face it is. Was this harder sound planned from the start or did it just come out in the studio?

No, there was no real plan to how it was going to sound, there never is, we just do what we do. It’s a progression of ideas right up until the last minute. 

 It’s always a pressure with every album to come up with something good. Every time I sit down to write a new album I ask my self, “How the hell do I do this?” There is never any pre conceived plans as such and narrative to follow. We just let things develop. It’s been like this for many years so no, no real big game plan.

MSJ: The sound on the new album is stripped down and basic. The classic period of Magnum had a lot of epic, progressive tunes. Would you say you've been "trimming the fat" since then?
It is kind of like that. You can put all these ideas together and it sounds great and then a few days later you come back in the studio and notice that it’s all a bit too much. So in a way yes, we do sometimes take a full song a strip it back and almost start again keeping the strongest elements of the song.
MSJ: How have the long term fans you've had since the 80s been responding to the new material since your return in 2002? And have you been making in-roads to newer, younger fans?
We have noticed over the past five years or so that the audience has started to change a little. We get a lot more younger fans really rocking out down the front, which is great. But what's really cool is they know all the old songs also, as well as the new material. I think we're like a family heirloom...we get passed down through the generations.
MSJ: The lyrics have also taken a harder, more realistic turn. Checking out tracks like "Broken Promises" and "See How They Fall,” would you say the overriding feel is one of cynicism?
It can possibly be perceived that way and if that what you get from it, that's fine. I write what I see around me. I’m not trying to make a political statement as such but just say what's going on in the world. Some of it is very dark and grey, but this is just observation. I don't see myself as cynical at all…quite opposite.
MSJ: Your current line-up has been pretty stable since the comeback. How easy has it become to perform and write together? Is the collaboration almost telepathic at this point?
It has to be said this is the best Magnum have ever been. We play really well together and we do rehearse to get the best out of the songs. It’s a lot of work sometimes to put a show together - lots of planning and sitting down and thinking how can we do the best version of this live. The set list changes so many times coming up to a tour.

The line up is very strong and it’s great we all get along these days. Everyone brings something to the table, as they say.

MSJ: How are Magnum songs composed currently? Do one or two members take command or is it a fully collaborative process?
I write the songs. I come in with a basic track idea. It may be just a simple progression and then I make sure the idea is in the right key for Bob to sing before we move on. This can change at any point, though. Once we have  a basic song with verse and chorus then we start getting people in. Harry will come down after a few weeks and put his thoughts in about drums. Everyone has an input: it’s not a closed story here. Everyone has their allotted time as studios are expensive so we have to stick to a time frame. Usually each member has a week or so to do what they want. Then we kind of strip it all back and keep what we think is the best parts of all the takes. This is a bit quicker and easier these days with technology. Thank goodness.
MSJ:

I'm curious about the meaning of the title track "On the 13th Day.” That has an ominous ring to it, what is that song about?

The original title for the song was actually "The 12th Day" but it was getting a bit of a Christmas vibe, and 13th day sounded a bit better. Thirteen is a more ominous number, it has many connotations and stories. I spend a long time on the internet making sure there is nothing like it so no confusion happens later.

The front cover came about the same way a lot of the Magnum albums happen. I sit down with Rodney Matthews and talk him through the ideas I have in my head. He sits with me and sketches as I speak. We get to a point of a rough sketch looks good then he goes away for a couple of months and returns with the artwork. The other parts of artwork are all done by Al Barrow. That's the same situation. We have long conversations about ideas of how to make the packaging look good. We wanted a circus feel on the inside of the album so Al came up with these old bits of framework with bulbs in them like the old signs you would have seen in Moulin Rogue and Vegas many years ago, It fitted well so we go with that.

MSJ: "Didn't Like You Anyway" sounds like it could be inspired by someone or something from real life. Would you care to share the story behind this one?
(laughter) That would be saying, but no. It’s again looking at the world around me. There are many people in the world that can sucker you in with what they do and say.
MSJ: "So Let It Rain" kind of stands out on the new album. It has a happier, upbeat sound and the piano is much more obvious. How necessary is it to include a song like this to break up the crunchy hard rockers?
Again, no plan as such. I write at home in my studio for a few months coming up with ideas. Some days it’s a guitar riff day. Some times it can be a drum pattern or a simple bass riff that will stick and a song will develop from there. So no real effort to say, “Today I will write a heavy guitar based song.”
MSJ: Does Magnum take any influence or inspiration from newer bands that have risen to prominence in the last couple of decades?
I think we are influenced by so much around us. As a band we all have different likes and dislikes and this can come in handy when talking over ideas of how things could be. If we all like the same thing it could become very boring. I can think of any one thing at this time I could say I have been influenced by. On the tour bus we watch a lot of live band DVDs so maybe some of that sinks in subliminally. I don't know.
MSJ: What's your take on the current melodic rock/prog rock scene? In some ways, it seems healthier than it has in a long time, but the music business itself seems to have utterly collapsed?
You can come from different angles on this. The rock scene does seem to have a little life pumped back into it but with the internet making it so easy to pirate copies of new albums it must have some impact on the bands trying to make a living out of it. It seems so acceptable for people to come up to me and say I downloaded the album off the internet, then laugh, but what can you do? The internet is your biggest weapon to use to get info out there but also a thorn in your side.
MSJ: What have the high and low points of Magnum been since your return to action in the early 2000s?
It seems to have been a steady move upwards. Constantly improving and getting better in every way. I feel very happy and lucky to still do what I do.
MSJ:

To my knowledge, the band has never played the States. Is this something you plan to correct in the future? I would think an event like ProgPower would be a natural.

We did go over with Ozzy many years ago, but yes, it would be brilliant to go over there again.

To be honest we wish we could play more live shows. We would love to play in the USA and Japan etc. We do have extensive EU tours and do well. We need promoters to take note that there are still a lot of Magnum fans out there and we are willing to play all over the world. We all agree that we would love to be on the road for about six months a year would be great. Just give us the opportunities and we will step up.
MSJ: Do you "play around" with the songs on a live performance or do you stick to them pretty faithfully? Does improvisation play any part in the live setting?
You always try to do the best version you can, if that means some things get changed, that's OK as long as it’s not too drastic. Songs we have played for years have changed over years as we have found new and more exciting ways to do things. So I suppose yes ,things do and will change constantly. 
MSJ: If you could ask any three people from history to dinner, who would they be?
(laughter) What an unusual question. I’m not really sure. Can I think on that one? Maybe some one very intellectual or may be just someone fun and very attractive, (laughter)

Or just someone who pays the bill!

MSJ: What was the last CD/release you got just because you wanted to check out the band?
I can't remember. (laughter) I think it was Foo Fighters. Me and Al go out shopping on tour and I am very impulsive and buy lots of CDs but never remember them later on. I buy a lot of rubbish. (laughter)
MSJ: What was the last gig you saw just because you wanted to see the band?
It’s not very often i go out to see many bands, to be honest. We sometimes get chance to see the odd band on tour when we're out on the road. I think it was Peter Frampton while I was on tour last year.
MSJ: Is there any "Spinal Tap" moment in the long history of Magnum that you'd care to share with the readers? Names can be changed to protect the innocent!
There are quite a few mishaps, like people falling off the backs of stages and drummers disappearing into flight cases by accident, the usual kind of touring happenings. Years ago there was a lot of things happening, mainly causing trouble but these days things are a little calmer and sedate. But still lots of fun is had. The old saying “what happens on tour stays on tour”...You will have to wait for the book on that. I joke, of course.
MSJ: Any final words for the faithful out there?
Just a big thank you for taking the time to interview us and thank all the fans for buying the new album and we hope to see you all on tour in the next few weeks.
MSJ: This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2012  Volume 6 at lulu.com/strangesound.
 
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