Former Skyclad frontman Kevin Ridley is back with an ambitious new solo project and a 6/10 rushonrock rated album to boot.
Calum Robson caught up with the folk metal pioneer to find out the inside track on Flying In The Face Of Logic and lots more.
rushonrock: Away from Skyclad, what kind of musical freedom has your solo project given you?
Kevin Ridley: I would say that the obvious thing for me is that I don’t just have to do the ‘metal’ thing. Sometime ago the band (Skyclad) decided to do more metal albums after doing several ‘unplugged’ tours. So I would say that doing this solo album has allowed me to explore the acoustic side of things a bit more and to continue with some of the themes and instrumentation from the acoustic tours. I’m also free to include different themes for the lyrics and a lot of the songs here are more personal, as opposed to socio-political or whatever.
rushonrock: Would you say there are fewer boundaries?
KR: Well you would like to think there are fewer boundaries but it’s surprising because you have to be aware of your audience and who you are; in terms of the music industry because you become known for doing certain things and for having a certain style etc. I think it would be very difficult to just release something completely different, something that might alienate your fans without being sure of picking up a new audience, so you have to be aware of where you stand without being too constrained by it.
rushonrock: Touring and recording the last two Skyclad albums overseas in Italy, your debut solo album is the ultimate homecoming, but you say it’s a continuation of the themes from A Semblance Of Normality. What was it that reinvigorated this passion for the North East around the time you recorded that record and the time you began putting together solo songs?
KR: Well actually I also mixed most of this album in Italy, with the same engineer (Dario Mollo) in the same studio Skyclad used. With reference to the above, I think you also tend to stick with a lot of what you know in terms of industry contacts and so on. It is, however, the subject matter that makes this album different and what ‘reinvigorated’ the passion for the North East was that for the first time in Skyclad’s history all of the band were from (or based in ) the North East. Following a major band split (in 2001) I thought we should examine what it was we were about and go ‘back to our roots’ so to speak and look at the notion of ‘identity’ – though in the case of ‘Semblance’ it was more about the sense of ‘Englishness’. My album is more ‘local’ than that as it talks about my ‘life and times’ in the NorthEast.
rushonrock: The album seems positively charged with a much more reflective tone and rightly so – it is your return to the place you grew up. Could you tell us a little bit about how you grew up and what developed you personally as a musician and a writer?
KR: The period in question here started in the early 1970s when I was a teenager in a small Northumbrian mining town. These ‘formative years weren’t particularly different for me I don’t think but it was the time that I first picked up a guitar, mostly after watching the ‘glam-rock’ bands on TV. However, one of the bands I saw was Lindisfarne and I remember being blown away by how different these guys looked to the likes of Bowie and T-Rex and I think I tended to veer more towards the singer-songwriters of the era (Paul Simon, James Taylor etc) after a while rather than the bands and I still see myself primarily as a singer-songwriter.
rushonrock: Lyrically De Profundis (Back Home Again) vents a genuine surprise at returning to the north. How absorbed in travelling and working did you get?
KR: I think that, despite being based here in the North East, I was involved in production work across the UK and then touring across Europe. By the mid 90s I was involved completely in metal and rock music and didn’t even own an acoustic guitar. But then, by doing the ‘unplugged’ tours etc, you come to realise just how far you’ve moved musically. But I have to point out that though the song ‘De Profundis’ is autobiographical (about my school days) the sense of ‘coming back here’ also refers to a state of mind and not just to where you live.
rushonrock: It must have had a particular impact on you when you came back. What made you initially return to the North East?
KR: As I said, I was always based in the North East but most of the record companies I worked with were foreign (mostly German) and the gigs and tours tended to be in Europe as well. I suppose it was the band split and reorganisation that happened in 2001 that brought the North East back in focus and I was keen to explore some of the music from the region and use instruments like the Northumbrian small pipes.
rushonrock: What’s one of your fondest memories of being a budding producer and musician in the North East?
KR: Well as an engineer/producer there’s always a chance you get to work with one of your heroes and for me it was to work (briefly) with Alan Hull. They say that meeting your heroes can be a disappointment but in this case it was fine – not anything life-changing (it was work after all) but nice enough. However, I think I got a great deal of satisfaction just from working with bands and artists who were releasing their first albums because you were helping people realise their ambitions. This also applies to me, of course, the thrill of being signed to a label for the first time and having your first single on the radio and so on – it’s not all about famous people.
rushonrock: In regards to the album title, what does it refer to? What does it mean to you personally?
KR: I think it basically means that I am going to do things I want, the way I want to do them and in my own time – whether the world is waiting or not.
rushonrock: In future do you wish to stick purely to North East rooted themes or will you roam off in other directions?
KR: I think you always tend to draw on what’s around you, so people and events in the North East will probably feature in future songs but I’m not going to consciously limit myself as writer and just concentrate on certain themes. There are songs on this album that look at other issues and I think the next album will cover a more diverse range of topics.
rushonrock: Have you made any plans to tour?
KR: I am looking at several options for live work, indeed one of the reasons for doing this solo album was to do more touring and, having played a few solo shows, this is something I’d like to pursue but I will also be looking to do some touring with a full band later in the year.
rushonrock: What’s next for you as a solo artist?
KR: In the short term, that would involve promoting this album but I have already started writing material for a follow up album and, hopefully, that one won’t take five years to complete; now that we are up and running.