Co Down rocker Ricky Warwick on new solo album When Life Was Hard and Fast and riding out a horrible year
It's been a hard year for Co Down-born rocker Ricky Warwick. However, the LA-based Black Star Riders frontman has tried to stay positive and productive in the run up to the release of his new solo album When Life Was Hard and Fast, as he explains to David Roy
YOUR 2020 got off to a bad start before Covid even hit, Ricky. Can you tell us what happened?
It didn't start too well – I was in hospital on New Year's Day. I was having real trouble breathing, so they took me straight to hospital and I got three different types of antibiotics.
It was very strange. I've always been susceptible to chest infections when we've been on the road and usually I can feel when they're coming on – but this just came out of nowhere. And I never really got a definitive answer to what was wrong with me, even though I was in Cedars-Sinai, which is arguably one of the best hospitals in the world.
They sort of said it was pleurisy or pneumonia, but obviously now I'm thinking 'was it Covid?', because I ticked all the boxes. So it was a bit scary, especially since I'd never been in hospital before in my life up to that point. It shook me up.
So you've had to be extra careful during Covid?
Yeah, but luckily here in Los Angeles we've been fairly locked down since March. And obviously since cases are soaring again, now we're in a really restrictive lockdown.
It's definitely been a weird year – I lost my mum about four weeks after I was in hospital and obviously I couldn't fly back home for the funeral, which was just awful. And the family was all supposed to heading home next week for Christmas to spend it with my relatives in Comber, but that's not happening now either. But that's life, y'know? You just deal with it.
How have you coped with not being able to tour?
I've took a lot of positives from it. I got to be home for my kids' birthdays this year and all the other stuff that I'm usually away for. It was like, I can't do what I love – but there's plenty of other stuff at home that I love that I'm going to be able to get to do uninterrupted: I'm going to get to spend time with my wife, I'm going to finish writing all those songs I've been trying to finish, I'm going to read all those books I've been meaning to read.
So I kind of got into that mindset and became really proactive and positive. I've just been writing songs, trying to stay healthy and to enjoy being with my family. Because we're going to get through this and things will eventually return to normal.
It's funny: when it's really hectic and you're touring a lot, you always get that thought in the back of your mind – 'maybe I'll take a year off'. Never again! I've had my year off and now I'm absolutely jonesing to get back on stage!
You've been playing some live streamed acoustic sets for fans, have you enjoyed them?
I'd never done anything like that before, so it was a real eye-opener – they've really amazing and the response has been very positive. I treat them like proper shows and I actually find them quite nerve-wracking in a weird way, more nerve-wracking than actually playing live.
Tell us about the new album, When Life Was Hard and Fast.
I just wanted to make a great rock and roll album: what you hear is what you get, no frills, no 10 minute songs, just direct in-your-face loud anthemic guitars – "punching thunder", as I like to say.
I originally had another bunch of ideas for another solo album. But then I got hooked up with Keith Nelson [Buckcherry] to do some songwriting and that sort of changed everything, because there was some real chemistry there.
Fighting Heart [rocking lead single] was actually the first song we wrote together. We were writing it for someone else, but I listened to the demo and thought 'this is great!'. So I called Keith up and asked him to co-produce and co-write on the album. We worked on demos for most of 2018 and then recorded in April of last year.
A couple of the mellower tracks on there are actually the original demo versions, right?
Yeah, we just couldn't beat the vibe of what we had on the demos. I remember when I demoed Time Don't Seem To Matter, I had a stinking cold and I wasn't sure I was even going to be able to sing it. There's actually a few cracks in my voice because of the cold, which I love, because it really adds something to it. We went to re-record it when I was fit and well and there just wasn't the same vibe.
It's also duet with your daughter Pepper. What was it like singing with her?
That was a huge 'proud dad' moment for me. Pepper was 11 when she sang on it and she's 13 now. She's a great singer and really into her music. The song is predominantly written about her, watching her grow up and being away for a lot of the time, and having to deal with that. I think it's probably the most personal song for me on the record as a result.
Pepper came into the studio and did it in one take – afterwards, I was practically tearing up, but she was very much like "can we go and get Starbucks now?" Hopefully in a few years' time she'll appreciate it a bit more.
You've plenty of other guest stars on there, including Dizzy Reed from GN'R, Andy Taylor from Duran Duran, Def Leppard leader Joe Elliott and Luke Morley from Thunder, who does a solo on the new single You Don't Love Me.
I'm lucky enough to have some insanely talented friends, so when I write a song and think "an Andy Taylor solo would sound great on this", I can actually send it to him and 'boom', the song comes back with a killer guitar solo. Same with Luke and all those guys.
I Don't Feel At Home and Still Alive feel oddly relevant to life under Covid. Are you some sort of rock 'n' roll Nostradamus?
Sometimes that does happen, you write something and a year or so later it suddenly sounds weirdly prophetic. I was working on a Black Star Riders song called Riding Out The Storm back in February, way before Covid, but I know the album's going to come out next year and everyone's going to go 'that one's about the pandemic!'.
You're doing another live streamed gig tomorrow playing acoustic versions of favourites by your old band The Almighty. Are you regretting that decision yet?
Yep! It's actually the second one I've done and I already did all the easy songs, so I want to change it up. I'm now going to tackle the ones I said I'd never play. I mean, some of the songs on Crank and our later albums were never written to go anywhere near an acoustic guitar, so it's been interesting, challenging and fun. I think I've got it together now though, so I'm looking forward to it.
Finally, what do you want for Christmas this year?
Well, I'd like this pandemic to be over for a start. Other than that, I've got everything I want and I'm very grateful for that: I've a roof over my head, food in the fridge and a lovely family. I don't need anything else.