Interview: Simon McBride

Acclaimed Northern Irish guitarist Simon McBride is set to release his new album “The Fighter” (his first album on earMUSIC) in March 2022. A 13 date tour spanning the UK and Ireland is set to launch February 26th and Simon was on hand to talk to us about both the album and tour, as well as what it’s like performing with rock icons such as Ian Gillan.

Busy time for you; new single, followed by the new album, and fingers crossed a tour of the UK and Ireland, you must be buzzing that things are finally beginning to start up…

Yeah, it will be fun to get out there again and play, I had a few gigs towards the end of 2021 and that was fun. It gave me a little taster of what I had missed…I haven’t done a full tour in close to three years now so it will be fun to get back out on the road again…do what I set out to do all those years ago! I’m still organising the tour, but in the back of my mind I’m thinking “Is it going to happen?”…but that’s out of my hands. Fingers crossed, and it does look like things are slowly getting back to normal.

We all hoped that 2022 would be an improvement on 2021 with regards to tours getting cancelled, but there is also the minefield now of low attendances because some people are hesitant to go to a gig; it’s quite difficult times for musicians that rely on touring for an income, especially with a new album to push from the merch desk…

To be honest, touring was only part of my career. I was fortunate enough, before Covid, to set up lots of online stuff like virtual learning, and that keeps me going. Touring is part of me though, it’s what I do, and if you are putting out albums then the only way to promote them is by touring them. It is very frustrating with the Covid situation and I can understand venues getting worried that ticket sales might be slow because people might be afraid to go out, especially since they don’t really know what is going to happen until the day. I’ve already had to move a few gigs that were planned for January but the venues wanted to move them to the end of March where things will hopefully be a bit better. The tour was originally scheduled for February and I did move it to March for that reason. I’m hopeful that the tour will go ahead and we can go out there and play…which will be fun!

You mentioned the online side of things, it must be quite humbling that in times of so much uncertainty so many people are supporting you by signing up to your Rockstar Club?

It is very humbling, yes, to be honest…I was very thankful to a lot of people…I teach lessons via Skype, and a lot of my students stuck with me through the pandemic, in fact, some actually started paying me more! They were very good to me through the pandemic, as were people like PRS Guitars who I endorse, they helped me out a lot. The Rockstar Club was something that I started during the middle of the lockdown, I had wanted to do something like it for a while, I’m very lucky…and very thankful to everyone who signs up for it. I think that there were a lot of people who got bored during the lockdown and wanted to do something, and some of them had maybe played the guitar years ago and wanted to pick one up again, or just get better at it. The Club and some other things have kept me going through this whole period of time.

It also must have kept you going mentally?

Yes, well I’m the kind of person that can’t sit on my arse doing nothing! To be honest, it’s flown by! I’m like…”Two years have passed? Already?!” I’m not complaining, I’ve been doing alright.

One of the outcomes of the last few years is the forthcoming new album: ‘The Fighter’. The title itself is quite evocative and can take on several different meanings; what is the significance of the title?

Well, people can take the title, and the lyrics for that matter, in their own way. Basically, it’s about never stopping fighting for what you want. I say to people that it’s taken me 30 years to get where I am today, I signed with earMUSIC about four years ago now and they are a big label, and it’s taken me 30 years to get that far. In this world, you have to keep fighting and that’s what the title is about; never give up.

You mentioned that you have been in this business for 30 years, with you being such an experienced performer, do you still get nervous before you launch new music?

Not really, no. When you release an album, it’s just like someone saying to you “Oh, that’s your album out now”. Nothing really happens, it just goes online to the streaming sites and that’s it really! I’m a fairly confident person, to be honest, years ago I used to get nervous, worried about what people thought of it, but now I don’t care what people think; people are going to like it, some are going to hate it, and some are going to think that it’s just okay, everybody has an opinion…I can’t please everybody so as long as I like it, and I’m happy with it…whatever! There will be people that hate it and that’s to be expected, I don’t mind. With all the stuff that I’ve been putting out there on camera via social media, people have seen me in not the best situations, in here in my studio just playing randomly on my own, not everything is polished.

‘The Fighter’ is the first new music that you’ve released since the EP’s released a few years back, how long have the songs on the album been brewing for?

To be honest, this album has been sitting there ready for about three years now! Again, it’s the mighty c-word: Covid. I had a chat with the label about releasing it during the lockdown and basically, they said that I might as well drive down the road and throw it out of the window! It would have been pointless to release it as I couldn’t tour it, so we sat on it, hence that’s why we released some of the EP’s. The EP’s were never really supposed to be released but we put them out there just to keep things fresh. The album is brand new…but it’s old! I’ve already half-finished the next album!

No hanging around!

Nope, it’s started. I’ve got five or six songs already done, not recorded, but at the demo stage. Let’s face it…I’ve had the time!

The title track itself, it’s quite different from the last track that you released; ‘Show Me How To Love’, it must be important for you to constantly mix it up?

Well, I don’t like to be pigeonholed into any particular genre or style. I’m an ‘80s kid, I grew up in the ‘80s, so my heart lies with the ‘80s rock stuff, and ‘Show Me How To Love’ is a version of ‘80s rock, with the harmonies and the chorus, and the guitar sounds. ‘The Fighter’ is also typical ‘80s rock I would say, Van Halen chord progressions and stuff. Although they are slightly different from each other, both are quite similar as they both have elements of me in them. There’s another track that I do called ‘Trouble’ which is completely different, it’s more of an R&B/Soul thing.

What can people expect from the album itself?

More of the same basically. There are more songs like ‘The Fighter’, so it’s a lot more rock than any of my previous albums. I played with two big rock icons in Ian Gillan and Don Airey, so people know me for playing hard rock, and I thought what the hell, play more hard rock and what’s closer to home for me. As I said, I’m an ‘80s rock child, so I just did what I wanted to do.

What do you take from playing with guys like Ian Gillan and Don Airey, and opening for Joe Satriani?

Every gig that I’ve done – whether it’s opening for someone, or playing alongside them – is a great experience. The Satriani thing was different because I was the support act, and Satriani was lovely, but as the support act you always feel like second fiddle, and I’ve never wanted to be that so that’s why I don’t do many support slots. But playing with Gillan was brilliant because you are playing with rock icons, and times you find yourself standing there in awe a little bit. Then you have to slap yourself and remember that you are playing a gig and to stop being a fan! I’m lucky because I have played with so many names in the industry and nothing really phases me anymore because I’ve realised that these icons and stars are just normal people. They are just like you and me. If somebody was to say to me “Oh, you are going to play with Ian Gillan tomorrow”, then I would be thinking “Excellent, great music, a great gig, and great craic!”.

It would just be football talk anyway!

Pretty much, yes! I know with the guys in Deep Purple it’s just football all the time!

You play as part of a power-trio, with Dave Marks and Marty McCloskey, going back over the decades, who would you say is the ultimate power-trio?

I have no idea! You could look at any big four-piece rock band as a trio because it’s a trio with a singer! Pure trios like Hendrix was a match made in heaven, but if you look at a band like Rage Against The Machine, take the singer away, then those three guys are an amazing power-trio. It’s hard to pinpoint an actual trio because I always look at a four-piece with a vocalist, as a trio. Nowadays, with trio’s, it’s more to do with keeping costs down than anything else! [Laughs]

Very savvy! Now, with regards to yourself; who was the biggest influence on you becoming a guitarist? Was it a family member? A teacher? Another musician?

Nobody in my family is musical at all! My dad loved music, he always played music around the house, he was a big classic rock fan, so music was always on and when that’s bred into you since you were one week old then it’s only to be expected! Influence-wise? Since I grew up in the ‘80s then guys like Joe Satriani and Steve Vai were a big influence, guys like Gary Moore, Steve Lukather, Paul Gilbert, Robben Ford, Eddie Van Halen…the list goes on. I think that today, what comes out of me, sounds like me, but realistically it’s little bits of everybody else.

You have thirty-plus years of experience in the music industry, with the exception of Covid, what frustrates you about it in the current day?

Where do I start?! The music industry has changed so much over the years, and the most frustrating part for me is adapting to the new methods, or approaches, to the music industry. With streaming being the way that it is, the only way for most musicians today to make a living is by touring. You release an album, after all that hard work that went into it, and you would need at least five or six million streams of a song to get what, £1000? It’s ridiculous, but I understand that this is the new way forward, we can all bitch about Spotify and Apple Music, but before, we had Napster and people just took it for free which meant we got zero. So I suppose that it’s the best of a bad situation. With technology advancing the way that it is, we have to move with the times.

Also, if a band needs to tour to survive, then there is the problem of every band under the sun touring at the same time…I remember sitting in the studio with Don Airey and there was a copy of Classic Rock Magazine lying around and he was flicking through it. Most of the last quarter of the magazine was filled with ads for gigs, and Don could not believe it, he’s going…” They’re all out again! They are all touring!”…so I just said, “Welcome to the world!”. It’s constant touring, and you don’t want to burn yourself out. My theory is; you are touring all the time, I’m there on stage to give people a good experience, but if I’m burnt out and don’t feel like playing, then I don’t want to give people that have paid good money a bad experience because I’m feeling like shit. I feel for new bands today because with so many bands vying for the same audience, and multiple gigs on in the same evening, it might lead to new bands packing it in. I played London one night and I discovered that there were seven gigs on that night. I’ve played to four people in a club, I’ve seen Joe Bonamassa doing the same, and if that keeps happening then new bands might think what’s the point and just move on and do something else, and that way we lose some new, fresh, talents. I’ve seen it over Covid, seen a lot of musicians just fall to the wayside…and they are not coming back.

 

‘The Fighter’ is released March 11th, pre-order information, here.

All forthcoming live dates can be found here.

Header image – photo courtesy of Franz Schepers

Interview – Dave

 

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