Possibly the sleeper hit of the year for people who are tired of cookie monster vocals and hardcore/lowcore/rotten-to-the-core, is the new CD by Bernie Tormι, John McCoy and Robin Guy, otherwise known as GMT. Bernie and John are seasoned veterans and Robin, though younger, has played with a cornucopia of bands. GMT's record Bitter & Twisted is simply put, phenomenal. Bernie (who was Randy Rhoads' replacement in Ozzy's band briefly after the tragic accident) has a guitar sound that just warms the cockles of the heart with his fuzz-driven, torque-y sound while John and Robin combine for a rhythm section that is potentially combustible. The record is a true labor of love, evident from even a cursory listen, offering up 11 perfect gems without a note that you would think was just tossed off carelessly.
It was a great pleasure to do an email interview with Bernie this week. Here's what he had to say:
antiMUSIC: What was the thought process behind putting together GMT and what was it about John and Robin that made you include them?
Bernie: Well to start with it was not entirely my choice, probably not even my idea! I'd always kept in touch with John McCoy, we had played together in a power trio in the mid 70's called Scrapyard, long before our years together in Gillan, and John had been hassling me for years for us to get together and have a play. This happened like clockwork every New Years. You know the phone would ring, all the usual nonsense and then "Man we really should get together and have a blow this year" Yes of course John, and then both of us would turn over, snore loudly, and go back to sleep till the next New Years. Finally we got it together about two years ago and had a blow initially with Mick Underwood from Gillan on drums, and it was great: we then tried recording and it didn't really click. Then I bumped into Robin, was suitably knocked out by his playing and personality, and GMT was born. Thinking about it, it must have been the longest gestation period ever! But you can see it wasn't really my idea to begin, it was more of a committee decision!
Me and John have always had this sort of telepathic thing playing, so it had to be John as far as I'm concerned, we both change at the same time in jams, it's really cool. Of course in fact we both change to completely different things at the same time, it sounds great, but if you analyze it, as I recently did, we then had one of those "that's not a D, it's a G" type conversations, so we both tried playing the same thing at the same time and it just sounded really boring! So I guess that chaotic element of us playing different things adds to the harmonic depth (mmmmm!) and operates as some sort of anarchic counterpoint and makes it sort of special and different! Hey nothings perfect!
When I saw and heard Robin for the first time I was totally blown away, he's not just your usual metal drummer. He's a great rocker, swings like a mutha, can do all the death, speed, punk, and does all this tribal and ethnic crazy stuff that I just love. Very musical guy (no pun intended!), and he listens to what other people play, so it really had to be him. Perfect for a trio, very noisy!
antiMUSIC: You've played with John in the past of course. Had you ever played with Robin?
Bernie: No I hadn't. I heard him when he was playing a session for a band that was recording at my studio. He was showing off like crazy bouncing sticks off the wall and ceiling and still playing in time, but then 30 seconds later doing a perfect take, fantastic stuff!
antiMUSIC: Bitter & Twisted is a tremendous effort. There isn't one bad song. How many did you go through before you settled on these eleven tracks and why didn't they make the record? Were you going for a certain vibe on this project?
Bernie: Thanks, that's much appreciated! The funny thing is we started with only about three or four ideas, got those down and wrote some more and then recorded them about a week or two later. It was all done in three sessions, and we literally had no other songs, so it was not an editing process or a second guessing process at all. That was all we had. This has sort of been a problem subsequently since we had no extra tracks for downloads or anything. But it was nice to have had such a high artistic success rate! Just naturally bone lazy I suppose!
As regards to vibe, we were very definitely going for a very old fashioned recording ethic, almost a jazz ethic, recording us playing in a room, no click tracks, very live, guitar amps in a different room to stop spill on the drums, and basically go for liveness, excitement, and feel as opposed to clinical perfection. It's pretty much the total opposite of all the metal wall of guitars thing: there is almost entirely just one track of guitar at any given point in a track, even the solos apart from one ("No Justice") just have the brontosaurus twins thrashing around in the mire below. That to me is what it should sound like, and McCoy and I agreed on approaching the production in that way, just record us how we play, because no-one else on earth could possibly sound like that! But it still sounds pretty huge.
It wasn't part of a grand strategy though, it was just because we wanted to do something that sounded like us as we are, though it has been very handy in terms of being able to play the tracks live!
antiMUSIC: Can you describe how long this how record took to put together? Did you have tracks sitting around for awhile or was everything written specifically for this project?
Bernie: Well it was done in a fairly hit and miss manner frankly, the drum and bass tracks went down pretty much over three sessions, maybe five or six days in all. There was obviously guide guitar along the lines of how I wanted it to go and a guide vocal. I then had to repair or redo guitar tracks, and finish off the songs! Most of them were fairly vague at that stage, maybe a verse and chorus idea but not too many completed lyrics! Usually the vocal and the guitar took about a day each per track. I'm not a workaholic and you've got to go pretty slowly if you are also engineering and producing as well as writing, which was the case here. If McCoy was not present he had to hear things to approve, so that took time too, though not work time. It also took a while because life intruded, and it all got fit in around other sessions at my studio, so I suppose that took three months or so on and off, mostly off, to be happy about it. We then had Colin Towns from Gillan do keyboard parts, tweaked and mixed. The mixes were again on and off, probably three or four weeks all in all: it took us a while to arrive at a sound we were both happy with, but after that happened on one track it all was pretty easy, it flowed. I guess it was about 8 months start to finish, but out of that less than two months actual time recording and mixing.
There were a few bit's lying around, but the only fairly complete track that got revived was "No Justice". John's intro riff on "Summerland" he has had for a while, also the guitar riff on the intro of "Vincenzo". I think he may have also had the riff for "Bitter and Twisted" for a while. The rest arrived like buses, all at the same time!
antiMUSIC: How does the writing work within GMT? The songs are credited to you and John. Is it a mix of ideas or do you both come back with fairly finished songs and then the other makes their contributions or a combination of both?
Bernie: No plan. It's whatever way it works: some are fairly complete. Some not at all. Some are written in the same room, some are two different songs that mysteriously blend into one. Sometimes John gets a guitar riff idea. Sometimes I have a bass riff. Sometimes from a lyric. But nothing flies unless it works with the three of us playing it in a room. The demos of songs are deliberately unformed, just acoustic and voice in one take usually. Robin has a lot of input. He pretty much has a blank canvas to start. So there is no "you play this" control freakery. It grows or dies the way it grows or dies, organically, with everyone's input on feel and arrangement. That does not work with most bands. Never worked in any other band I was in, but it definitely works for us. It's totally dependent on the personalities and chemistry involved. We have huge arguments when we record, it can be very abrasive, but that's undoubtedly part of the chemistry that drives it. We have some pretty special rehearsal tapes where we "discuss' things in an extremely animated fashion, bit like a cross between the Troggs tape and a Chuck Norris movie, but even more so!
antiMUSIC: Can you tell us a bit about a couple of the cuts? Either what they're about or maybe something that happened during writing/recording them? How about these since they're my favorites?
a) Bitter & Twisted
Bernie: This was initially John's riff, as was the title (I think) and a few lines of one of the verses, though I don't think he had originally intended those lyrics for this track. His lyrics were about the Gillan debacle, and what got added to it lyrically was a more general twist on the subject of being Bitter & Twisted! He and I refer to each other as Bitter & Twisted, but we can't agree which one is which! Personally I think I'm "Twisted", John's "Bitter" and Robin is "And"
b) Can't Beat Rock N Roll Well you really can't! This took about an hour to write, and half an hour to record. Robin tells me it's his favourite song of all time. That's when he's staying around my place and he wants an extra helping of spaghetti. I love the irony of the lyric, though I'm not sure that the word "mullet" translates too well to North America! Over here it's a 70's hairdo.
But irony or no, you really still can't beat rock'n'roll!
And, yes, I do think television is the opium of the people. Hey you can tell how much I watch it....but the video rocks!
We were very proud of this, it's different. It's almost closer to being a folk song than yer usual rock ballad. It was also something that was different because of it's subject, which was about time passing and ageing, general decay and entropy, not normally considered acceptable rock'n'roll fodder. But I think it really worked.
Also, fantastically, a long track and NO GUITAR SOLO! More of a Keith Moon orchestral thing in place of solos. When we recorded this John and I just screamed "Go mad" at Robin in the appropriate places followed by "Stop", I think he still has nightmares about it. He didn't know us very well at the time!
d) Deireadh An Samhradh
The cosmic Gaelic one: this was going to have lyrics, but I couldn't get anything together that I was happy with, and then John pointed out that it worked anyway. It means summers end in Gaelic, and weirdly this track probably took more time than any other, even though it's pretty much just a soundscape, and not really a song. We'd love to do more of these. Sad old hippies........
ome of the metal bigots have a problem with this. Typical closed minds, always a problem. If they can't take a joke....
antiMUSIC: You have such a full sound. You've been known as a Strat man. However there's a distinct difference between your sound and Blackmore. Are you using a Marshall (they seem to go hand and hand) and what other adjustments or embellishments to your sound to you use?
Bernie: Yes, I'm afraid it's time for some guitar nerd stuff here, I've always used old early 60's Strats and a Marshall Superlead II, various cabs, sometimes Hiwatt with Fane speakers, but right now I'm back to Marshalls with vintage 30's, sound lovely. I love that crunchy raw savagery that old Fenders have, none of those modern guitars have that, they are all too perfect. The guitars have either Bog standard 62 pickups on or Texas specials which are slightly more overdriven. I used to use an Electroharmonix big muff in a Pete Cornish pedalboard for a long time, but like me the board is very old, very big and hard to carry and a bit past it now, so now I use either a Dunlop fuzzface or a Dunlop Jimi Hendrix system classic fuzz which is basically a Fuzzface with a fixed brighter eq. Much easier to carry and sounds GOOD! Not much like Jimi though!
I'm not sure what Ritchie, uses but yes, it sounds pretty different even when I'm going in clean. I think a lot of it is in the hands, I sound pretty much the way I sound on any Strat. I have played with Ritchie, he's fantastic, but I would think I'm a more physical player than Ritchie is to start with. He has a lot of subtlety and classical nuances in his playing. I just beat shit out of it.
antiMUSIC: I would guess that by the sound of the record that you love to play live. These songs almost seem to demand it. However the quality of the songs is such that this affair was not just rushed out the door but rather created with a loving touch. So I guess my question is, do you prefer one environment to the other or is it both for different (or obvious) reasons?
Bernie: I love it all at the moment. At various times in the past with different lineups the predictability of it all has just put me to sleep. For years. Live is much more fun for me with John and Robin than it ever has been at any point in the past.
Funnily enough we never rehearse, and that really works for us too, so there is no comfort zone when we go on stage. You gotta be on the ball, straight, and 100% engaged. It also helps the jam tracks, the only time they happen is on stage. It's very '67 man.
antiMUSIC: You have had the privilege of playing with a lot of high-profile musicians. Arguably the biggest so far is the role of the replacement for Randy Rhoads in Ozzy's band. Were you aware of (and an appreciator of) Rhoads and the record Blizzard of Oz at the time you auditioned for the band or was this just an ideal situation to make a name for yourself?
Bernie: I had not heard Randy or either the Blizzard of Ozz or Diary of a Madman albums when they approached me. I had heard "Mr Crowley" briefly on the radio and can remember thinking that it was very cool. But I knew nothing about Randy or Blizzard
They hadn't done too much over here.
David, Sharon Osbourne's brother, phoned me to tell me about it and to ask me to go out. At the time I was forming the Electric Gypsies, had a UK tour in place and had a release scheduled for the recently completed Turn Out The Lights album, which eventually charted Top 30 in the UK. So I said I couldn't do it, that I'd love to help but didn't think that I could because of all these obligations. I mean I had been working towards all this stuff for at least a year. The phone calls continued, David offered me masses of money, definitely no auditions (which I did not believe), money up front, and also said it was just for a month, could I reschedule any stuff I had to do for a month or so later? Well being your typical continually penniless guitarslinger, I agreed to try and reschedule. I managed to do that and off I went. Frankly I had no idea that Ozzy was as big in the US as he was at that point.
Also being your typical arrogant cocky guitarslinger, at that point I hadn't even heard Randy on Ozzy's records, I thought it was going to be like Sabbath, which I felt I could do in my sleep.
The day before I went, I got given copies of the records by the record company. Shit, scary, terrifying even! Randy was fantastic. First listen was like jumping into a pool with no bottom with lead weights on! Sinking feeling! How was I going to get a handle on this such a short time, I didn't even know which songs were in the set and which were not. Me and my big mouth man!
So anyway, I got there, had to audition (of course), got the audition and got told by Sharon that the money was about an eighth of what had been promised to me by David. When I pointed this out, Sharon said "David doesn't know what he's talking about, David's on drugs!" Man you've got to love her, and you've got to laugh, I was so stopped in my tracks I just mumbled "Oh, OK" or something like that. The reasons I stayed were that I really liked Ozzy. It was a fantastic band, great tracks, a real challenge for me to try to get my head around Randy's playing and still have it sound like me; and having the chance to play with Tommy Aldridge, who I was a real fan of was awesome. So I thought "who cares about the money. Here I am. I want to do this, it's only a month". I never thought about making a name, that has never interested me, I'm really not that devious or political. I just do what I do: to me it's a sort of spiritual thing, and that has always been the beginning and end of it. It's nice to get paid too, but that is peripheral. If people notice, that's nice too, but it's never been the main point.
Looking back I can see more in it than I could at the time: for Ozzy and Sharon it was a hard won point in Ozzy's career and was inevitably about a performance carrying on that was bringing in large amounts of dollars and cents, which they had not had too much of in the recent past. They had a level of pragmatism and overview that they could not admit (you can't do that in rock n roll) that I as an idealistic musician did not have.
In the circumstances, which were absolutely heartbreakingly tragic, even to me as an outsider who had not known Randy, I think they pretty understandably wanted someone to do exactly as Randy did, and really did not want me to do what I do. I mean they wanted me to wear the same clothes and have a hairdo that was similar. But me being me, my agenda was that there was no way I would EVER do exactly what any other guitarist would do, what you get is what I do, even if I'm playing someone else's parts, I'm a stylistic player, not a session player. And Randy was a totally unrepeatable one off anyway. I think that's something that is a lot more obvious now.
So I guess there may have been a little bit of unease at the time about my trying to inject my style into Randy's guitar parts. I did get that vibe, though again that may have been just my own exhaustion paranoia. Also the live situation was a theatrical performance. It had to be, and not a musical experience shall we say, it was heads down and pray we all get to the end at approximately the same point. The sound on stage was just abysmal, I couldn't hear anything, and I hardly knew the songs at all at the beginning. So apart from the audience reaction, the gigs were no fun at all for me: but contrary to most people's belief, being cheered by 20,000 people does not really make up for the fact that you can't hear what you are playing to begin with!
It also emerged that the "only a month" thing was another bit of a fantasy on David's part, maybe just to get me out there, I don't know: but I really couldn't let the people in my band, record company and agency and fans down, so I had to bail out. They were carrying Brad Gillis incommunicado in the crew bus anyway, so maybe they half expected me to jump ship.
It was really a whole load of crossed lines I think, but I had to leave, I had obligations that I could not get out of, I would have had people after me with machete's in the UK if I hadn't. I only did so when Ozzy and the band were happy that Brad was able to do the business live, so I saw his first gig: he was great, much closer in style to Randy than I was, and much more familiar with the songs.
antiMUSIC: You were also with Ian Gillan for his most productive and creative solo period. The Glory Road record, in particular, was excellent. What do you remember most that time and how did you get on Ian? I imagine many brandies were put to rest during that era.
Bernie: That was a great time. Ian was a great guy to be in a band with, a lot of fun, lots of drinks and good times. Rather too many drinks maybe! And of course one of the best (if not the best) rock/metal singers on the planet. Personally it was Jameson's Irish Whiskey!
I understand the entire Gillan catalogue is finally just about to be re-released on Demon/Edsel over here after what seems like centuries of legal nonsense, I'm very glad to see that, I hope they have done a good job with it.
antiMUSIC: Desperado had the makings of a good band when you consider the pedigree of the members involved. How frustrating was it to know you had such a good product yet you were at odds with the record company at that time?
Bernie: Frankly devastating! But not as devastating for me as for Dee, he financed it at the beginning, and lost his house and went bankrupt thanks to the record company pulling out.....nice people to do business with.
antiMUSIC: Can we get your take on a couple of your fellow guitar players?
a) Gary Moore
Fantastic guitarist, I've seen Gary about a hundred times, starting at the Fives Club in Dublin when I was teenager, he has ALWAYS been fantastic! My favourite period was when he played with a three piece band called Skid Row in Dublin in the late 60's and early 70's with bass Brush Shields and drummer Nollaig Bridgeman. What a band! They did two albums which were sadly not a patch on their live performances. I can still remember Gary going where no-one has ever gone before or since on tracks like "Mad Dog Woman" and "After I'm Gone", what a guitarist, what a band! I met him for the first time recently which was a fantastic treat for me.
b) Rory Gallagher
Lovely man, great guitarist, a real hero, on so many levels. So original too, great tracks. And such a nice guy, he poured me a glass of whiskey when I went back stage to say hello at a gig in the 80's. Can you believe that? Rory Gallagher poured me a glass of his whiskey! What a gentleman. Saw him many, many times, first time in '69 with Taste. He was a real inspiration, and always improving, always better every time I saw him. I miss him.
c) Hugh Cornwell (not a true lead guitarist but nonetheless)
Great writer, great band and again a great player. I would not know how to rate him as a guitarist but he has so many other talents I don't think guitar is the main thing in his case!
d) Michael Schenker
I love his solos, the sense of melody and passion is pretty unmatched. He is really one of the greats.
e) Eddie Van Halen
What can you say? He broke the mould and created a totally new landscape, and he also did it in the context of a great band. I'm not sure that his myriad imitators did much more than try to turn his magic into something that was pretty banal. I don't think anyone does his style as well as he did it. A true original.
antiMUSIC: Is GMT a long-term project or are you taking it record by record (or rather moment by moment)?
Bernie: We hope it is long term, though that's obviously a difficult thing to predict, bearing in mind the age factor and the financial rewards these days! It's a labour of love, we'll keep it going as long as we can. It's a beautiful thing!
antiMUSIC: Any chance of seeing you in North America to promote this record?
Bernie: No plans at present. But hey we'd love to! Any ideas? Anyone got a rowing boat?
antiMUSIC: Anything else you would like to mention that I didn't ask?
Bernie: Just to say thank you for the interview Morley, it's much appreciated.
We also have some videos up on YouTube where people can check us out. The link is http://www.youtube.com/user/gmtrocks
And also love and a big thank you to the all the longtime Bernie fans. They are a sort of long lasting worldwide thin green line! You rock, people! I wish GMT could come and play live for all of you in your homes! Thanks for being fans, it really is an honor!
Morley and antiMUSIC thank Bernie for taking time out to speak with us.