Over the course of SonicAbuse’s lifespan, I’ve had several opportunities to talk to Glenn Hughes and, remarkably, on each occasion it has been to discuss an album that has exceeded all expectation. This occasion, however, is particularly special as it marks the return of Black Country Communion, a band that appeared to have run its course, only to spectacularly reform at the end of last year. Reunited, once more, with Kevin Shirley, the band (comprising Glenn Hughes, Joe Bonamassa, Derek Sherinian and Jason Bonham) decamped to the studio and set about recording the simply-titled ‘IV’, a glorious, life-affirming slab of hard-hitting rock ‘n’ roll that stands amongst the best the band have recorded. It is hardly surprising, then, that Glenn Hughes, the Voice of Rock and a bassist of considerable note, is in an expansive mood. Always a charming and talkative interviewee, for this session he is positively brimming over with excitement at the bright future that once again beckons his beloved band (named, of course, for his home).
Hello Glenn, how are you?
Sweating my… whatever off!
You’ve got to understand I’m an Englishman and I live in Los Angeles, and it’s probably the same temperature there, but the fucking humidity over here is fucking killing me!
Oh man! I have long red hair and the corresponding pale skin, so this is murderous for me!
I can imagine, man!
It’s lovely to have the opportunity to talk to you again, particularly in these circumstances with Black Country Communion back together, it’s wonderful news and it’s a wonderful album as well…
It’s an album that was begging to be made, but in the right circumstances as far as us coming together as brothers. And you know, over the course of the last few years, we’ve been slowly and surely returning. Joe’s been to see me a few times when I’ve been playing, I’ve been to see him, we’ve had some dinners; I see Derek all the time, Jason comes into town and we have some fun, so it’s a matter of time and this was the moment.
The album, I believe, was predominantly written by you and Joe? How did you engage with the process of writing this record?
Well, Joe… it wasn’t meant to look and sound like Joe and I were escaping the band to write these songs. We were the only two that were available in a window last October, and Joe wanted to write in my home, where we wrote the first… where we wrote about three or four songs on the first album – Joe and I wrote ‘Black Country…’, ‘Sista Jane’ and ‘great divide’ in my studio and he wanted to return to that safe place. It is a safe place, my place, it’s very quiet where I live and it’s away from the Hollywood thing and he wanted to get away from town and come to the beach and hang out with me and the dogs and write some music.
I’ve heard the album, a stream of it, and it’s amazing from the very first song with that huge, Zepplin-esque, Bonham drum sound…
You know, when we got together, at lunch to talk about this album, we talked about what we’d write and I said that we should keep it in the genre of a little bit of each album; we should take the best bits of each album. So, we’d take a bit of that song and… please, we don’t re-write songs – you won’t hear another version of ‘black country’ or ‘one last soul’ – there’s moments in these songs where you’ll hear that it sounds like a style of Black Country…
Let’s talk about style. When you hear AC/DC, right, you know it’s them before he sings, and when you hear, I don’t know, Rage Against The Machine, you’ll know it’s them and, for all intents and purposes, when you hear Nirvana, you know it’s them. And when you hear BCC, you now know it’s the Black Country Communion. I think we’ve created our own sound. But remember now, I am from the 70s and what I do write, I sound like I’m from the 70s. so it’s not like I’m trying to be from the 70s, it’s where I am. I’m not taking that back, I feel very, very happy where I am.
One thing this album seems to emphasise, on two songs in particular – ‘over my head’ and ‘wanderlust’ – is that you’ve really dug into, I felt, that soul background. And particularly ‘Over my head’ with that falsetto….
[Glenn starts singing] Over my head!
Dude! I love that track. The last couple of records you’ve done you’ve been singing with such force – did you approach it in the same way as the last couple of records? In single takes?
Well, here’s a good story for you, Phil. I don’t know if you know the story of ‘one last soul’. When I came into the studio in Malibu to play Joe and Kevin BCC, I wrote six or seven songs for that album, I played them the songs and the last song I played them, I said “listen, I’ve got this other song, it might be a little bit… normal. It might be a little bit regular, or it might be mainstream-y, kinda” and they asked to hear it and I played them ‘one last soul’ and they were like “O…K! this could be interesting!” and it was, it was a big song for us.
And ‘Over my head’ was the same thing. I woke up one night, three o’ Clock in the morning and Gabby heard me going [sings] “Over my head!” and she said, “what’s that honey?” and I said “I’ve just wrote this verse and chorus” and I went into my studio at three in the morning and I finished it and that song and that chorus that I just sang to you, it was out of a dream, you know. And it’s those kinds of songs that seem to connect with people and Phil, I like to keep my songs as simple as possible. As simple as possible.
It’s that kind of spontaneity that has really stood out on the BCC back catalogue and really seems to come out on this one. Again, your presence is very much at the heart, and you’ve got another song with a huge bass riff – ‘the crow’ – and I could lose myself in that sound for days, that huge, Glenn Hughes bass riff…
It’s nasty isn’t it? It’s like… it’s the way… I can’t go back and fix my records, I can’t go back and fix pieces of work I’ve done. I can’t go back and fix things, but I tell you, on this album, I said to Kevin… well, I suggested to Kevin, that we needed to make the bass nastier and it needs to be, you know, wiry and more aggressive. It doesn’t have to be the loudest thing on the album, I didn’t want it to be loud, I just wanted it to be nasty. I think you’ve heard me say I never repeat myself on record, so, you know, I’m not frightened. I don’t think there’s any fear in me in the studio and I hope that’s the way I continue.
It never looks like there’s any fear in you on stage either… I remember seeing you at High Voltage festival one of the few dates you did and you were up the front and the energy you put out… you watch some bands and they don’t move and they’re static and there’s very little engagement and then you watch BCC and it’s like the electricity is flowing…
Remember now, I don’t talk about my stage presence, but this is something I’ll talk to you about because I haven’t spoken about it today at all. When I’m on stage, I am not the guy that stands in the mirror with the tennis racket thinking “how does this look?” I only see myself when I see myself on YouTube and I think “oh fuck! What was I thinking doing that?” There are some things I do on stage and it’s just [let’s out horrified groan] aggggh…
…but I can’t help it! I get lost in the moment and I don’t think Joe cocker knew what he was doing when he was crouched down looking like that in the sixties, doing that thing with his hands. I don’t think he knew he was doing it. I don’t think… I literally don’t think Steven Tyler works on his image in the mirror either, I just think that’s the way he is.
I would hope not – the spirit of rock ‘n’ roll is to be lost in the moment and the bands you mentioned earlier, you mentioned Nirvana and RATM, and it’s the same – I don’t think they thought about how it would be perceived – it’s music and it moves you and it’s important and that’s why your music moves other people, I believe.
You know, it’s like… people have this thing about me. They think I have this huge ego because I… I guess I’m just this thing on stage that’s something other than the quiet, reserved guy is because I’m not that… Offstage I’m not that guy, but some people think that this guy you’re talking to has this massive ego, that treats people badly… They’re absolutely mistaken, and I have to say this to you, none of my business – what they think or say – is what I do. And I connect with somebody greater than me – someone that gave me my life – my parents and my belief in God.
I always felt that’s reflected in your music. It’s always come across to me that your music is built around that fundamental belief in spontaneity and life and that’s one of the reasons I always appreciate the opportunity to speak with you and to hear your music as well.
Thank you, man.
You know, I’m getting older now and I’m getting wiser (if you will), I’m also realising that there’s… Look, I do believe in the afterlife and I do believe in reincarnation, but we’re here right now and I’m going to have the most fun I can have. I don’t owe anybody any money and I don’t swear at people. I’ve stopped fighting with people. I don’t piss in the streets any longer. I don’t do drugs and drink. I’m a regular dude, you know, who’s been given the ability to sing and play.
So, it’s that spontaneity, that gives the music its character – you didn’t feel any pressure in crafting this record?
We don’t really think about that. We don’t think about other bands. We don’t think about sonics. We don’t think about anything but the feel. It would appear you hear progressive rock on this album, you might hear some blues, you might hear some folk and soul. But we are… when Joe and I wrote this together, so we had no reservation over being honest. Joe said… well, he didn’t even say it. I just know from the look in his eyes he wanted me to be free when I was doing this work with him and he was very excited to play me ‘resting place’ as I was excited to play him ‘over my head’ and the rest of it we wrote toe-to-toe. We jam non-stop, Joe and I, we jam non-stop and it just comes out.
I’m glad you mentioned ‘resting place’ because that’s very out of left-field – it’s got that beautiful violin part and that folky feel…
It’s… when he played it to me he instantly DMd me on Instagram and he sent me a picture of this mandolin and he said that he’d written this new mandolin song and he wanted to finish it… he was going to finish the acoustic parts that night and he was going to do the electric parts the next day. I said “great!” and he was very excited when he came over to my house and he played me the track… I just loved where he was taking it and I had no idea… the song’s about a violin and a guy who plays the violin on the Titanic and they find the violin and obviously it’s you know… so we had to have a bloody violin on the album… I say bloody because it’s a bloody fiddle! That’s Kevin’s call, but he thought an Irish fiddle player would be perfect but, trust me, [American accent] “there ain’t no blues in the fiddle! You gotta believe me when I tell you that!!!” [Laughs]
I know you’re awfully short on time and I really appreciate you taking this time, and I’ve really got one last question for you and that is that you have live dates coming up in January – you’re returning to the Black Country and that is always the place where Glenn Hughes… you always remember it and that’s obviously very important to you.
We’re playing in the place where I started my career in 1968, in Wolverhampton Civic Hall, which is newly refurbished and it’s larger now. If you don’t mind my saying so, these shows will be sold out within a minute or two, so it’s a great, great celebration for Jason and I to be playing in our home town. Our band is named for it, Wolverhampton is my home and it’s… I’m very much American now, but I have never forgotten where I was born and when we play there – and Joe will tell you this – when we play there, he’s never heard a louder crowd than Wolverhampton. That crowd, that night, in January – it was the loudest crowd we’ve ever played to and, trust me, they were there to see the band. They weren’t there to see me, they were there to see the band that was named for them, so I’m happy to inform them that we’re coming home!
Thank you for your time and for the music.
Thank you so much for your support brother.
JANUARY 2018 UK DATES
PLANET ROCK 48-HOUR TICKET PRE-SALE
WEDNESDAY 2nd AUGUST 2017 AT 9AM FROM www.planetrock.com
Wolverhampton Civic Hall
Tuesday 2nd January 2018
Tickets: www.eventim.co.uk, www.ticketmaster.co.uk
24 HR Box Office: 0844 844 0444
Venue: 0870 320 7000
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North Street, Wolverhampton, West Midlands, WV1 1RQ
London Hammersmith Apollo
Thursday 4th January 2018
Tickets: www.eventim.co.uk, www.ticketmaster.co.uk
24 HR Box Office: 0844 844 0444
Venue: 020 8563 3800
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45 Queen Caroline Street, London, W6 9QH