A Conversation with Vocalist Robin McAuley

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For nearly 40 years powerhouse vocalist Robin McAuley has been one of the top vocalists in rock music.  From his decades of work with Michael Schenker, thru his time with Survivor and fronting the amazing Black Swan, Robin has consistently put out incredible records.  He’s about to release his solo record Standing On The Edge and took some time to talk about his career. 

Please press the PLAY icon below for the MisplacedStraws.com Conversation with Robin McAuley – 

On why it’s been over 20 years since his last solo record – The first solo record was never meant to be a solo record. It was a collaboration between myself and Survivor guitar player Frankie Sullivan. We were put together by John Kalodner over at Geffen Records. He went, “Hey, you guys should get together. I think something good will come out of it”. So we got together, we wrote a record, and then before you know it, it’s like 1994, you have all of the bands coming out of Seattle and you have all of the turn of the music going on and nobody was listening to anything that was on that record. We tried to give it away. We couldn’t give it away. So I got offered to sing with Survivor in ’94, which I declined because they don’t need to hear me, they need to listen to (Dave) Bickler or Jimi Jamison, anyway, six years on I end up singing for Survivor for five or six years and then a Japanese label, BMF label in Japan heard the tracks and Frankie says, “Here, put it out as a solo record”, and so I did.  Here we are in 2021 and we drop the Black Swan record on Valentine’s Day in 2020. Suddenly it’s March and the world is going, “Hey, we need to start shutting everything down, you need to stay home and you need to wear a mask”, and we’re going, “Huh?”. So Frontier’s call me and they said, “Oh you know, to keep the momentum, why don’t you do a solo record?” I have no interest in doing a solo record. Who would want to listen to a solo record? What would I do? So basically they said, “Well, we just want a Robin McCauley record. You have enough stuff that you’ve done in your past that people associate you with. So give them a little bit of everything”. And that’s how it came about. I reached out to a bunch of different people that I love and love working with.  I started to delve into that sort of “Where do I go?” People want a Grand Prix reunion, they’re not going to get it, so I’ll hit up my old keyboard player (Phil Lanzon), who’s now with Uriah Heep. So we will make a connection that way. Then I’ll talk to Howard Leese because I work with Howard five nights a week on the Vegas show (Raiding the Rock Vault) for the last seven years with fifteen hundred shows or something. So I’ll call Howard and say, “Give me a Bad Company song because you’re Paul Rodgers’s Musical Director. Then I’m talking to Tony Franklin and a couple of tunes from Tony and Tony goes, “Call Tommy Denander in Sweden”, and I’m going, “Tommy doesn’t want to work with me. He works with the gods. He doesn’t need to work with me”. But of course, Tommy worked with Jimi Jamieson from Survivor. There’s my connection. So now I get a little Grand Prix, I mean, I never worked with that Bad Company, but I worked with Howard and I get some Tommy Denanader and a little taste of Survivor. Then Alessandro Del Vecchio, who’s Frontier’s guy. We discuss how to do this. And he goes, “I’ll send you some samples and I’ll recommend some musicians that I use on a lot of the projects here, if you like it, then we’ll go with it”. So he sent me maybe a dozen songs, so I have about 15, 20 songs now to pick from, and I locked it down to the 11 required and he sent some rough demos. I did some rough vocals. I wrote all the lyrics and all the melodies. And then we just needed to find a studio at that time to record vocals, and that’s how we did it. He’s in Italy. I’m here. So it is kind of weird, just me in the studio engineer, Andy Zuckerman who recorded all my vocals and we’d send them back to Alessandro. He didn’t make any changes and he’d send me some rough mixes. I’d make my changes here. And suddenly we have Standing on the Edge great, great artwork. I couldn’t be happier for something I didn’t want to do. 1:01
On working with Alessandro while on different continents – When we were talking, he was going, “We won’t be able to share the love and the hugs because I won’t be in the same room”. And I went, I want to hug you anyway”. Yeah, but seriously, so he said, “But what we will do when you lock in your studio time, I’ll zoom in and I’ll work with you that way”. So when we found Andy’s studio, Andy only had a Tuesday and a Thursday available at seven o’clock in the evening, and  Alessandro’s in Italy and it’s four o’clock in the morning. I’m thinking, “I’m not talking to you at 4:00 in the morning”. So I had my blueprint. I had my lyrics and my melodies all done for all of the songs. Alessandro had heard them and so I just went about my business. I would show up at 7:00 p.m. and Andy would tell me, because, “If you need more than two hours, we’re not going to get it”, and I said, “You’re absolutely right”. So I came in with my blueprint and I was usually out of there by 8:30. So I’m done, recorded, backing vocals done. Send them to the universe in Italy, Alessandro heard them, he goes, “This is great. This is great. I hear no changes. I’ll send you some rough mixes”. You don’t need to be in the same room. I mean, it’s better to get that sort of that connection, but we got it done and I’m really happy with the output, He put amazing musicians together guitar player Andrea Seveso is just killer.  I struck gold with him today. Nicholas Pappapicco on drums. It sounds great. It’s got a modern feel to it, and yet it’s what the labor wanted. They wanted the classic rock and I don’t do anything else anyway. 5:56

 

“Standing on the Edge”

 

On the overall direction of the record – Everything was custom written for the record. I didn’t give them any direction. I just wanted to see what would come in and I wanted enough material to go there’s a cohesiveness to it. Certainly not conceptual. I had no interest in that. That said, the label also gave me the opportunity to give them some ideas about the kind of cover artwork that I’d like. I said, Absolutely, and most definitely not a photo. I do not want my face on the record”. I have no interest in that sort of stuff, considering the fact that I did want to do a solo record anyway, what a contradiction that would be. So I think the lyrics and the melody came together for “Standing on the Edge” first. That was the first one that I worked on, I was kind of really happy with that one. Then immediately I started thinking, “Oh, there’s the artwork”. I started thinking, with what’s going on in the world, how would gargoyles see this if they were sitting? How would the gods see this if they were up there looking down? They would think, what a mess, what a mess. Then I started taking it from there all the way through, and I tried to create a balance that would be something like reading a book, a beginning, a middle, and an end. If you listen to it in its entirety and you get the last track, “Running out of Time”, my question kind of was first song “Standing on the Edge”, the single that is, “Thy Will Be Done” is the opening and they’re running out of time. It’s like question and the answer. Here’s a chance to make a change and at the end, you’re running out, you get it done? How well did you do it? It’s like a mom talking to their son. Here’s your task Let me know how it goes. You have 12 hours to do it. Let’s see how that works out. And that’s kind of where I went with it. I put on a little journey. I hope people like it and I hope they get the idea in it. 8:12

 

 

“Say Goodbye”

On working with Michael Schenker – I know there are different perceptions of Michael throughout his career because he’s been (up and down). When it comes to songwriting, he is a lot more open than people would ever think. One of the things that. Always attracted me, even though I refused to join them a couple of times, we used to be stablemates, so we were on the same label when he was Chrysalis I was there with my band, Grand Prix, was his quality of playing. Michael will always say, “It has to come from here (patting his heart). It’s very important. You can be a fast player and nothing, nothing from here”. That’s where he plays from. He plays from his heart, soul. You can hear it. His deep sense of melody when he’s gone through all of this stuff that’s just blinding work on the fretboard. And then these melodies come out and you’re going, “That’s what I like”. That’s who Michael Schenker is for me. It’s an absolute treat for a singer. He knows what he wants, especially now. He’s very, very, very focused. I think he plays better now than he ever did, and that’s a statement. That’s a statement because he always played great and he had his ups and downs and blah, blah, blah. In fact, one night on the Schenker Fest, he spoke to the whole band. We were just chatting backstage and he said, “Look, I think I needed to do all of that stuff good, bad, or indifferent to put me where I am now. I needed to make those mistakes. I need to go down that rat hole. Fortunately, I came out of it on the other end and I’m better for it. I wouldn’t be the person I am because of it”. And isn’t that life?  Isn’t that how we sort of meander through the woods? Some of us just never find our way. So I feel particularly lucky. Absolutely. I’m always grateful. Always thankful. I never take anything for granted just because there by the grace of God, we can tell the story. So, yeah, great time. 14:07

 

 

“Big Disaster”

On Black Swan – My favorite record of all time. Yes, the best thing I have ever done. I mean, we talk about Schenker and everything, and I will never, never put that to the backburner. But for me as a vocalist and performing. Yeah, it even floored me…Jeff (Pilson) called me, he gave me the idea. “Reb (Beach) really wants to do this and I won’t be playing bass. I’ll be like producing and I’ll probably get involved with the writing”, and Reb and  I went, “Oh, no, you won’t”.  We’re six songs into the new Black Swan, by the way. So a funny story was they got together, they started shredding in the woodshop and they sent me a bunch of tracks. First track, I come back and Reb’s at Jeff’s studio and we’re chewing the fat and he goes, “So you got anything?” And I said, “Yeah. So this is what I have for this song”, and started playing, what turned out to be “Big Disaster”. How we do it is we get together and we had a one-minute discussion of what the label was looking for, and Jeff says, “Classic rock record”. We would never discuss that after that. We never once discussed it. We just went, “Whatever”. And it just kept coming.  I said to Jeff, “I’m never going to come back with what (they want). It’s never going to be the obvious”. So I started singing down this idea and I hit the chorus and it was “Big Disaster”. Reb stops me going, “Really? We never worked together before and you get an idea and you come in here and you go, “Yeah, dude, here’s the first track and it’s called “Big Disaster”””. I went, “Oh, you’re right, I wasn’t thinking”, he said “They’ll kill us man, are you kidding?”  I think that was it. What we got was a great record, a great record, Pilson is on fire. He’s at 12 all the time. His energy is unsurpassed. You can’t help but just get energized. We had so much fun. I’m surprised we actually managed to record it…Reb goes, “Oh, he could sing anything”. It’s probably a bunch of old Winger riffs that Kip didn’t want to use. Fuck that guy.  I think Kip was responsible for the name. I think it came from him. We were like we come up with some names that were dreadful names.  I think Reb said, “Yeah, I was talking to Kip, but he goes well just call it Black Swan”, and Jeff and I went, “OK, that’s a great name”. Of course, the environment of the time, because what Black Swan actually means on the big scope of things,  when you put it up on the board and I’m like, “Oh, dude it’s like perfect”. People will never get that, but we get it.  I love the artwork, but people are going “It’s not a black swan”. You don’t see the black swan? How do you put a black swan on a black T-shirt? Our slogan actually was no B.S. in Black Swan. 16:50

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