Robin McAuley is not only one of the great vocalists in rock but also one of the genre’s great lyricists. Robin has been a guest on the site a few times and is always ready to share the stories behind some of his best songs. He just released his latest solo record called Alive and recently took some time to talk about the record and his amazing career.
Please press the PLAY icon below for the MisplacedStraws Conversation with Robin McAuley –
On if he’s beginning to be more comfortable as a solo artist – That first one was never actually written as a solo record. It was a record that was a collaboration between myself and Frankie Sullivan and another writer called Curt Cuomo. We tried to flog it to the labels but nobody was interested because basically, grunge made its appearance, then soon after that, alternative. So it was a classic rock record, and so it sort of gathered a lot of dust off those years, and a Japanese label, Big FM label picked it up, and it was only released in Japan, and then some people got imports and that sort of stuff. So fast forward to Standing on the Edge on Frontiers, Frontiers actually asked me to do a solo before the Black Swan project actually came about, and I honestly just didn’t wanna do it. I went, “Who needs a solo record from me?” So it sat, we’ve sort of stuck at one on the shelf as well, and we got on with the business of Black Swan, which was awesome. Absolutely love that band. As soon as Shake the World was done. I got the call, “You ready to do the solo record now?” Basically, their whole onus behind it was, to keep the momentum here. I had no idea what to do with it, collaborating with a bunch of people I had worked with in the past to sort of play catch up, if you will, well, this is who I am, and this is what I did. Generation Mind came out and now we’re into this. I’m late with this, actually should have been submitted in June, but I was out on the road with (Michael) Schenker and that got extended and I missed my June deadline and got a smack on the wrist from the principal. But here we are, into the New Year, the second single drops today from the Alive album, very appropriate for Friday, 13 called “Feel Like Hell”. And that has a video as well, and we’re pretty excited about it, Am I a solo artist? What does that mean? It’s a collection of songs from me, let’s put it like that. :56
On Alive being heavier than his previous work – We wanted to do that because Standing on the Edge was purely, “Let’s get together with a couple of the guys from Grand Prix, a couple of the guys from Survivor, and yada yada yada, and put a collection of songs that sort of will dwell a little bit on the past with people that I had written with”, This is completely different, this is still two of the writers out of Sweden that I just love working with, Ulrich Lundquist and Pete Aleknburg, great stuff. They sent me a bucket of songs, Alessandro (Del Vecchio) sent me a bucket of songs and I dwindled it down to 12. I said, “Look, this is what I’m gonna work on”, and he goes, “Sounds good to me, off you go”. So off I went and I demoed everything, and everything pretty much stayed the same, no changes, not even a lyric change, and I’m going, “Are you guys even listening to this?” I started recording the vocals, and my son Casey is on this one on the backing vocals as well as he is on the two Black Swan records, and I think he’s on it maybe four or five tracks or something but just to get him in the studio with me is great fun. Andrea Seveso is absolutely killing it on guitar on this record, it’s just great. We wanted it a little bit more edgy and a little bit more, obviously keep a modern, melodic production, and Alessandro is just really good with that. I don’t know what everything that he does for Frontiers he manages to make my records so a little bit different than the rest of them. Because what’s the point and sounding like everybody else? Because he does so much and he’s so talented, I don’t know, and he’s a dad in the new year, he has a new baby boy and I’m going, “Where did you find time to do that?” But yeah, I’m really happy with it. The players are awesome, and we will be able to take it live this year, we will definitely do the Frontiers Festival this year, and a lot of this stuff will actually see the stage, which I’m especially excited about.3:45
On the story behind the song “My Only Son” – I never know that that’s going to happen because I don’t have the Book of Words under my desk somewhere, and usually, the music is what gets me going. I hear a track like “My Only Son”, and then I’m going, “There’s something just about the chord structure on this”, that just is taking me down this rabbit hole over here. The whole concept just started to come to me and then I went, “Is there a situation where you had a mother and some that became sort of into an incestuous relationship?”, and there actually is. In fact, the sun is still here in the California jail, and it’s written about Sante Kimes, Mary Tyler Moore actually starred in the movie playing her many years ago, which was a complete different direction and turn in cinematic roles for her. I think that movie was called (“Like Mother Like Son”) if I’m right saying that. Basically, she married this huge real estate guy who had lots of money and eventually killed him off and saw her way into the White House with some of the very highfalutin people didn’t kill any of those off, maybe that’s where she went wrong. Then she started getting into people who were involved with heavy real estate and killing them off and eventually (became) this lady in New York who owned high-rise flats and brought her son into the mold and basically molded him to be the same kind of evil murderer that she became. They got away with it for a very long time, not being able to be traceable or anything, but they messed up on the last one like they usually do. Anyway, she threw him under the bus. She got jailed, he got jailed and she died in prison, still denying everything that she was any part of it, that it was all him. He fessed up and he goes, “I was on her wing”, and they had a love affair, mother and son. Because of that, he got life sentences as opposed to chopping his head off, do we do that in California, I’m not sure. So it’s basically on a true story, so I read on the stuff and I make sure that I get most of my facts right. I love doing that sort of stuff because now I’m dealing with facts and I have to make it correct, but it makes me read more because now I’m interested, I wanna know about it. The rest of the stuff, my God, Jeff, every day, every day has something new to offer, so they send me all of this information through the media, and I pluck what I want, and I make sure I mix it up, and I create a song out of it, and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. Alive is very much (a testament to) how resilient we are with where our heads have come, post-pandemic, there’s a lot of crazy people out there. Through it all, we have to be resilient. We have to come out and we have to stay, and recharge. All of the artwork is very old Frankenstein stuff, that’s where my head goes. I get completely carried away with stuff, and they ask a really silly question like, “Hey, do you have any ideas for the artwork?” I’m going, “Of course I do!” I love that because they know better than to ask me. 7:02
On always finding a light in the darkest lyric – Because there is always a light, there is always a light. Because in your darkest, darkest moments, I mean, my God, think about the human individual. You put your head on the pillow at night. We’re so different. What goes on in some people’s minds of what just happened in your day or what may happen tomorrow, it’s like there’s a lot of very, very, very troubled people. I always go back and talk about my wife because she works with eating disorder adolescents and most of the time, you think, “Eating disorder, anorexia”, most of them are a much darker place than that. The suicide hotline is open 24/7, that’s a dark place to be, but there is a light, whether you have the ability to pick that phone up and make that call yourself or somebody else knows and does it for you. All of that is super, super important. I love the macabre, I love the old vampire, I love the old Hollywood, I love all of that. But “Immortal Souls” on the Black Swan record was a vampire song, but it was a love song about, “I don’t wanna be in this dark place”. I tried to do that, and you know I love melody, and I love the big bombastic chorus, and so there is the light. I do my best, I have a blast doing it. 11:21
On playing his solo material live – A simple answer to that is, if there’s anybody listening to your show, call me. I need an agent to do that for me. We’ve gone backwards and forwards with the Black Swan stuff, and everybody has the same story, “Dude, I am over here doing Foreigner”, “I’m over here doing Whitesnake and Winger”, and to bring all this together is no easy feat because all of these machines are working side by side. If there’s a free moment, you have to be ready to jump on it, and then it’s not just, “Oh, I’m just going to show up somewhere and play”, there is people coming from different places into that one point A and point B, and then you have to rehearse and then you have to come in and all of that. It’s not cost-effective for the most part is what I’m trying to say. So regarding the festivals, I’ve just been talking to them earlier this morning, we’ll probably go through so much rehearsal and trouble to just perform what, once or twice a festival or something over a three-day weekend or something? We should extend it, we should add to it, create more shows out of it, because you’ll be up and you’ll be hot and ready to go, and a dead squid after that, it seems such a shame. That’s the same with Schenker tours. There’s a lot of work that goes into rehearsing before you hit that stage for the first night. You don’t wanna walk out there and go, “What are we doing?” Make it a set tight and transition one song into the next, and there’s lots of people involved, lighting crews, sound guys, the left hand has to know what the right hand is doing, or it’s just gonna look like, “Seriously, guys. How old are you?” I love the slickness and the power of a show, I love it. When all of those things are moving in sync, that’s where the power comes from because now you’re really feeling they’re going, “Whoa! I didn’t see that coming”. It’s very important that you deliver it just like that to get the full impact, and then people will feel the song, they absolutely will feel it. They go, “Oh my God”. And I’m really a stickler for, I want to hear what was on the record. I know people go, “Oh, it’s live. You should embellish it a little bit”. If I like a song and I go to see the band live, I’m going, “Doesn’t sound anything like the record, I’m so disappointed”. Give me the damn song, give me the song that I came to hear. Don’t give me a brand-new version because you can’t play the original. I don’t want that version. That’s just me, that’s just me. I know a lot of artists who go, “Dude I like to put my own thing when I’m live”, and I’m going, “I don’t wanna hear it then”. I want it like I want it. 13:57
On fronting Survivor – That is an excellent question. So the real story of Survivor is I got offered Survivor many times and I refused it many times, as I did refuse joining Michael Schenker many times. There was an original singer before me, and getting back to it, my point, I almost don’t want to hear somebody else’s version of a song that I like. So you put a new singer up on stage and you’re going, “It’s just not gonna be the same thing. It’s just not going to be the same”. So what do you do? What do you do when that’s presented to you? For me, I try to very, very much retain the integrity of what is the song. That’s your job. That’s my job as a singer and not to do my own version of it, then it’s not the same song. I want to try and deliver that to the listener like they want to hear it, the voice is going to be different, but I think if they hear the arrangement, and they hear the song and they hear the melody and they go, “I love this song”.
Funny, you should bring up the Survivor thing. Right before Christmas, I stepped in at the very last minute for two shows in Bolivia, and there’s a great show called Icons of Classic Rock. Alex Ligertwood, the original singer from Santana, and Dave Bickler was singing, and he was covering X amount of songs from Survivor, Dave got sick. I got the call, “Dude, you have to do this”. The funny thing was, I was cutting the video for “alive”Alive” on the Monday night, I got the call Monday on my way to the video shoot, “Can you be on a plane to Bolivia tomorrow?” I’m going, “I don’t know if I’m gonna get finished tonight, and I don’t know if the video director is going to need me for post-production footage, and that’s why I can’t really answer that”. “Please, you have to do this. It’s a major part of the show, and you’re the only one that can do it”. Anyway, we got it finished, we worked extra long and I went, “I have to leave tomorrow, so we need to nail this”, no pressure on anybody, because now I’m already thinking, “Oh, shoot, I have to do this”, but I’m already in the mode for doing something else, plus I haven’t sang Survivor songs years. So I’m on a plane, I come home late at night after the shoot, I’m running to my laptop and making sure that everything I have I can take with me, and so I spent the entire flight, ears on, learning the stuff. I’m going, “Oh my God, the band was unbelievable”. I mean, bam, right on the money with this stuff. The only difference was I had to make them re-learn everything in the original keys. Because Dave was not seen in everything in the original keys. They were going, “Dude, really?” The original keys were played, the tempos were back up to the original tempos, and we came out and kicked it cold, they were going, “Are you shitting me, dude?” I had so much fun. I had so much fun doing it. It’s called Icons of Classic Rock and then we did a second show in La Paz, like 14,000 feet up in the air, I believe, we couldn’t even breathe. Kelly Hanson sings with Foreigner and he keeps the integrity of those songs very much as well. Is it because he does his own version? No, it is not. He sings a Foreigner song the way Lou Gramm would sing a Foreigner song, he does an amazing job. I wouldn’t want to go out and sing “Eye of the Tiger”, my version. Why would you do that? Similarly, we did seven years of Raiding the Rock Vault singing cover songs. What was the main focus? We had four different male singers and a girl singer, the main focus was you have to, all of the music had to be exactly like the record, the singers have to sing it like the record. That’s what made it work. 1,500 shows, seven years and it’s still going. We will celebrate ten years this year, and I think I’ve been invited back into the 10th-anniversary celebration. I think that’s what people see and hear, sounds just like the record. It’s got a different singer, but it sounds just like it. I think that’s what makes it work, so I don’t know if that answers your question, 18:06