Amidst the ranks of Metal and Hard Rock legends, Joe Lynn turner stands out from the rest with his breathtakingly intact vocal abilities that have earned him the status as one of the genre’s most iconic voices. Be it with his solo work, Fandango, Yngwie Malmsteen, Deep Purple or his most praised efforts as the frontman of Rainbow, the New Jersey born singer has made an indelible mark in Rock n’ Roll history. As his musical career reaches its 40th year, the lead singers shines as bright as ever as exemplified by his latest effort alongside his bandmates in Sunstorm on Edge of Tomorrow, a brilliant album combining soulful melodies into a modern sounding rock record. Having been granted an opportunity to discuss the album with the man himself, what started off as a quick interview slowly grew into a broader reflection on the singers’ career, the state of music as well as his concerns about todays’ socio-political climate.
Your latest record with Sunstorm marks somewhat of a stylistic shift for the band towards heavier sound.
That was our plan: to make it heavier and more modern-sounding. I think it’s time to heavy-up the guitars. Rated X was heading in that direction. It’s a classic rock album with some great riffs. What we really wanted to do here was to bridge the gap with what I like to call “melodic metal”. That’s term I use, I’m not so sure if the term has been used before but I think it’s very appropriate. It’s not “Heavy” metal, it’s melodic but it’s still got some edgy guitars.
Were there any notable changes in terms of approaching the writing process ?
Basically Alessandro Del Vecchio is an in-house producer for Frontiers whom I’d worked with before on the Rated X projects. He produced it and we talked diligently about how the record should sound. He used an amazing group of guys from Italy, the credits are all on the inner sleeve of course. I was absolutely stunned when I heard the tracks coming back to me, he really did a great job at handpicking the players. They all understood what we wanted, we had skype calls, so I guess technology really benefited us on this particular record.
Could you tell us a few words about the origin of the album title?
Well The Edge of Tomorrow is really something that’s happening right now… geopolitically, socio-politically, environmentally. We’re on the crossroads of change for the world. Anyone that’s awake can see it, what with all of the recent events unfolding. We might be close to all-out war at some point and economic collapse, and the environnement isn’t doing so well at all either. There might be a tomorrow or there may not be. We thought that the title was very fitting, it’s about the apocalyptic theme that is presenting itself to us all currently. We went to Vikos Canyon in Greece, the “Canyon of the Gods” and we found that it represented this idea perfectly from a symbolic standpoint. In the music video we released we see the golden eagle flying for freedom, real freedom, as opposed to what we call freedom now. I don’t think we are free, I believe we are enslaved on this planet. We’d like to wake people up, because a lot of us don’t realise it. It’s really unfortunate.
The song itself speaks from a human perspective and asks the question “Where has it all gone? Where are we right now?”. We’ve payed the toll by listening to the lies coming from the government, politicians and leaders of the world. It’s all told in a very poetic way, it’s not being blatant about it. If you want some more blatancy you can look into my work with Mother’s Army when we actually spelled it out for everyone. No one listened though. The box set only sold about 10 000 copies, and it just goes to show you that no one really wants to know about it. You can get some of these metal bands out there talking about death and the hypocrisy in the world but I don’t think it rings true with the fans. I don’t think the fans take it seriously, they seem to think it’s just fiction, hyperbole or conjecture of metal music. But it’s real, it’s out there!
You can look at the events on Bastille Day in Lyon, we’ve also had stuff happening in the States… it’s everywhere. Europe is collapsing from the invasion of the migrants … We’re not in a good state. “Nothing Left to Say” is another track that adresses this theme. It’s not a new one, Jim Morison and Jimi Hendrix were already handling these issues, but at the same time I think we’ve never been closer.
Do you see these themes as relevant as it’s ever been during the course of your career or do you see it as a recurring situation?
Take Can’t happen here by Rainbow, which earned us a Gold Medal in Cannes for the animated video. I still do that song in my set because it’s relevant again. It’s the same thing, it’s never changed, but I really think this time we’re in worse shape than we’ve ever been. If you look at the lyrics of that song, it’s very telling. This isn’t the worse shape we’ve been during my career, its’ the worst we’ve ever been in my entire lifetime.
So there is sense of urgency with these messages you deliver.
Absolutely, the album isn’t just about doom and gloom though. You’ve got personal love themes, survival themes … but at the same time we’re trying to get a message across. It’s not just fluff we’re talking about. It’s not just in the news but in alternative media, which is where you’ll find more truth than in the mass-media, which is dumbing us down. The mass-media is bought and paid for, they’re trumpeting a fear-mongering existence. They’re making it worse than it is but at the same time reality isn’t so good either. What I’m basically saying is that we’re in the worst state than I’ve seen in the last 30 to 40 years. I travel around and I see what’s happening.
Do you pay a particular attention in keeping your projects from bleeding into each other stylistically? If so, how do you do it?
Sunstorm has always been a classic-rock project. I thought the record trilogy would’ve been enough, but Frontiers wanted us to continue since it’s been a successful project, so we really had to come up with the goods on this one. This lead us to modernise the classic-rock sound. Classic Rock can tend to “lay there” sometimes, people don’t pay attention to it. This time people have really picked up their heads and said “Wow, this record is something different. It’s got something new, modern and exciting to it!”. Then you’ve the Mothers’ Army project, which was something else. Rated X was a classic-rock project in the true sense of the term. I’ve also got this secret project that I’m working on now, which is going to be completely different from what I’ve been doing. I think people are going to be either surprised or shocked, maybe both. I’m working with a very well-known producer in Sweden, we have to keep it under wraps until we meet and start working on some more tracks. I’m constantly trying to do something relevant, and this is going to be out of the box, but again, it’s still “me”. I haven’t done anything like this before. It’s going to change people’s opinions and make them say “Wow, I didn’t know he was able to do that!”. Some people have a narrow limitation but I have a very wide expectation of myself in terms of writing and vocal performance. It’s going to be darker, heavier and “alternative” in a certain sense. It’s sort of an “alter-ego” I guess, something I haven’t been really known for. I don’t know where it’s going to end up, when you’re creating something you sometimes think you know where it’s going but you never really know. I write for what is expected or possibly “unexpected” from a particular project. This current Substorm record is not the same Sunstorm we’ve put out.
Given your musical upbringing rooted in Soul Music and Motown R’n’B, have you ever considered going into a more full-on Funk or R’n’B project or would you only use your style of vocals in the context of a rock track?
No, you’re absolutely correct, I would. I’ve always been saying that I want to do something like that. I had some tracks in the can way back in the day that were covers of Temptation. I’ve got a bunch of writing that is more soulful and funky, and it’s always been sitting around, I never did anything with it. Year after year, you’re expected to be who you are, there’s a time to change and there’s a time to be steadfast. An artist can get lost by being too “artistic” and too varied without having any signature at all. I’ve seen that happen to many great singers, players, writers… They just end up allover the map. You end up confusing your audience and losing them. To quote Spinal Tap, there’s a fine line between “clever” and “stupid”. There really is, you can really hurt yourself if you’re too varied, so you have to have some kind of “center” to circulate around, I think. The new project I’m working on has that center, but the vocals will probably sound very different than what everyone is used to or expecting. People don’t know I can sing darker, deeper, heavier and people don’t know that I can sing, like you said, Funk. You bet I want to get into that, and maybe I will, but as far as trying to find an audience for it, I’m not sure people would understand where I’d be going with it. My brother Glenn Hughes is fantastic as what I can the “white Stevie Wonder”, but it’s fallen on deaf ears. He’s had a few albums that have really been funky and soulful and there is a certain amount of people that love it but not the masses, they expect him to do “Burn” and songs like that.
So I guess, you like to regard your entire career as one entire cohesive entity then and brace your audience for your next move.
In a way, yeah. I’ve noticed they don’t like change too much, they feel uncomfortable with it. When I joined Deep Purple, that was a change and they felt uncomfortable with it, yet we put out a great album called Slaves and Masters. To this day, more and more people are praising it as one of the finest albums, including Ritchie Blackmoore praising this album as an incredible piece of work, which it is. At the time though, there was such a backlash, they just didn’t get it. I don’t even think they even listened to the music properly, they just ran from it. Nowadays I see more and more people getting this album to me to get it signed, saying what an amazing piece of work it is. It was almost like it was ahead of its time. The same goes for Mother’s Army, which has some fantastic music and messages, with some of the best playing and singing you’ve ever heard. Nobody got it though.
What has been your main criteria when it comes to auditioning or lending your vocal skills to a particular project?
Integrity. A lot of people will sing things for money but I think whatever I’ve done so far, whether it’s Magnus Karlsson’s one-off pop track, Black Moon from Spain or even Avantasia, has always kept a sense of integrity. Avantasia is actually a great example. There’s a real heavy metal piece that I do on The Mystery of Time record, but I’m pretty sure no one even knows it’s me. My own wife didn’t know it was me and she’s got quite musical ear. But to get back to the question, integrity is what I need to lend my vocals to a musical project and I think everything that I’ve done has followed this ethic. Whether people like the album or not, I try to stick to it.
I’ve heard that you had briefly joined Foreigner for a short while.
That is true. It was around the Say you Will era. I had gotten a call for Bad Company, Foreigner and Deep Purple at the same time, it was astounding. I did about a week of rehearsing with Foreigner. I know all of the guys, Mick Jones especially. I worked on the Billy Joel Storm Front album with Mick, and that’s when he came up to me with the offer. I was literally in the band but then Lou decided to come back. I know Lou Gramm, he’s from New-York State New Jersey, so we played in the same bars and whatnot. I guess he felt threatened, because he knew that I could handle the job. Now they’ve got a very capable singer, a friend of mine called Kelly Hansen who’s been doing great for the last few years.
I’ve had a very varied background in music. God bless my father when he told me to listen to everything. I listen to Jazz, Country, Rock, Gospel, Soul, R’n’B, which gives me an unlimited style and I can thus also imitate while still remaining original. It’s pretty unusual and I think it’s a gift, I don’t really pat myself on the back for it, I’m thankful and blessed. When I covered “Back in Black” at his 60th birthday, Brian Johnson told me “Fuck off mate, you might as well sing it!” (laughs). That’s how I learned to sing; imitating everyone else until Roger Glover gave me the biggest compliment of my life when he told me “Joe Lynn Turner has found his own voice”. It was then that I started to notice other people like Joey Tempest had started to follow my stylings. They even gave me credit for that and it’s a big compliment.
Have you been keeping up with some of the more recent musical acts ? If so, what is your input on the more recent developments in music? What bad trends or good trends have you been noticing in music today?
I’ll answer by paraphrasing one of my favorite poets, Henry Charles Bukowski: “God has made many musicians but not much music”. I think that says it all. There’s a lot of copycats and the trends are just one more metal band after another copying each other and it just gets worse and worse. Of course there are some absolutely prolific ones who are still standing. You can’t take away bands like Muse and Rammstein. There are some real heavyweights out there, but a lot of the rest are just copycats. The trend is metal, let’s face it. I like metal, I just went to the Rammstein concert in Moscow and had a blast, but what I mean is that there’s “metal” and then there’s metal. There’s Judas Priest and theres… whoever. Nowadays everyone with a computer and a program can make an album and not all of it is good. Guys like us are inundated with this music, and to get to a diamond you need to shovel through a lot of dirt. There are also a lot of bands out there that haven’t made it and that should have. You’ve got Dynasty from Sweden, whom I also use as a backing band sometimes and another band called Skintrade with Matti Alfonzetti singing. I’ve never understood why they haven’t “made it”.
The music industry has also changed considerably. Given the new ways with which music is found, listened to, promoted and sold, major record labels have changed their criteria when it comes to which record album to push at the forefront of the promotional campaigns… Do you feel like the new acts are being selected in the “right way”?
No, not at all. It’s being cloned and manufactured and “cookie-cuttered” in a lot of ways. Let’s take the example of a different genre. Let’s take “Rap” and Kanye West. I think this guy has absolutely zero talent. I don’t know what people see in him really. I have no idea why he fills stadiums, at all. He’s just an arrogant, egotistical clown. I don’t think he has that much message, he can’t sing… I don’t understand any of it, and people seem to drool over this guy. At least Beyonce can sing. One people I really like is Anastasia. She’s great. She can sing, she can dance, she looks great… she’s a talent. Some of the other stuff I don’t know where it’s coming from. The business itself has really ruined it because once again the corporations have entered into it and homogenised everything.
The Kanye West phenomenon seems to be more related to the character than to the actual music itself, which is a lot easier to make money off of than music, especially nowadays.
It’s not art, is it? We used to have art and music and now there seems to be very little of either, it’s just celebrity. Celebrities are created, inflated and deflated, they come and they go, leaving nothing. I don’t think that’s going to go in a time capsule. I don’t think someone’s going to find this in the year 3055 and think “Oh my god this is great!”. It’s just not going to hang in the Louvre. They’re killing the art, and for good reason: they don’t want us to think freely, they don’t want us to be individuals anymore. They want us to have a complete herd-mentality. This gets us back to geopolitics, social equations and whatnot. Then you’ve got todays’ state of affairs in the music business, where the sales of CDs has been taken away from us. How do we feed our families if that revenue stream is gone? Only the collectors buy the CDs, otherwise people just go online and download every single cut from the album. Isn’t that nice for them. I have never gone into a restaurant and not paid for my meal. I don’t understand this. Why is art slagged off like this? They’re also taking it out of the schools, they’re not funding it as well as they used to. I know, I work with kids. There’re no music programs in these schools so the parents have to pay separately for “School of Rock” or something like that to get their kids an education in music, even if it’s just going to be a hobby. Music gives the student a deeper understanding of life, a grasp of concept and all things “of a higher nature” shall I say. They’re killing it. There’s a message there to really learn and rebel against.
I think music should be the messenger to address the issues of our current day and age. That is why I don’t like much of the Death Metal music, it’s such a negative culture. I played the Rewind festival in England, which is basically 80s’ and 90s’ acts. Everyone there is positive, with painted faces and flowers in their hair, reliving that era. Then I go play Wacken and it’s nothing but death, depression and darkness. It was so blatant last year, it really woke me up. To have such a large audience of death-oriented, depressed youth is not healthy.
If you come to look at the history of Heavy Metal music since its inception, we can nevertheless see that these subject dark, grim matters were present since the very first Black Sabbath record. Are you saying that the current metal scene has been taking things too far?
Well take Master of Puppets by Metallica for example. That album said it all. Master of Puppets, to me, is present day subject matter. Throughout their career they’ve written about different stuff as well, and I find it to be much healthier than stuff like Venom and whatnot. It has degenerated. That’s my opinion. I would imagine that any person within a positive mindset would say the same, because we don’t need this desperation and negative culture in our lives. We need to uplift people. Art must always give you an inspiration to reach higher. When I walk around the Louvre, it’s inspirational and lifts me higher, it gives me a higher purpose. I’m not sure a lot of these Death Metal bands know one side of a pentangle from another, but they’re cashing in on it and they’re inciting the kids, who take it back to their room in mom and dads’ house. They don’t develop, they degenerate, and I don’t think that its’ going to lead to a healthy civilisation. We have to look down the road 20, 30, 50 years from now. I’m not saying that we need to suppress freedom of speech, but at the same time I think it’s indicative of a state of the world and the state that people are in. Anyone can lie in the mud and not try. I hope something happens about it soon that will pull the kids out of that. Maybe we need a Messiah (laugh), I don’t know.
Do you see this “degeneration” you speak of as more of a symptom or a catalyst?
I think if we had more positivity, if we had actual leaders rather than beggars, thieves and murderers, maybe these kids wouldn’t be so lost, so desperate, running around in Miltons’ Paradise Lost. They’d have something to look up to, but they haven’t. So that’s where it starts. There’s a saying that says : “If the head of the fish stinks, the rest of the fish stinks.” And that’s exactly it. We’ve created this and allowed this to happen with our “power to vote” which doesn’t really matter anymore, none of that matters. You’ve got these leaders like Hollande and Obama and it’s just insane. So we need to make change, and in order to make change we need to make people aware of what’s wrong.
Last year marked the return of Ritchie Blackmoore’s Rainbow to the stage, featuring all new members. Were there any talks about having you back in the band, and would you be interested in rejoining the band?
No. I tried approximately two years ago to make an authentic Rainbow reunion, one that has meaning and purpose, with actual members of Rainbow and actual Rainbow songs. A lot of people haven’t had the chance to see Rainbow and it would’ve been great for the existing fans and the younger audiences. I wanted to make a 2 hour extravaganza to celebrate this amazing band, with Dio songs, Bonnet songs, Turner songs… you name it. Unfortunately, my words fell on deaf ears with management over there in the Blackmore camp and he ended up doing this. I have no comment about this because it’s pretty obvious to all what it is, and I’m very sad about it. I’m not disappointed, I don’t have any sour grapes and I want to make that clear. A lot of journals were trying to say I’m pissed off. I’m not, I just think what he did is embarrassing. That’s all I have to say about it.
To finish off, could you name one of your favorite albums, movies and books?
One of my favorite albums is Jimi Hendrix’s Axis: Bold as Love. It’s an incredible album, it’s got some incredible lyrics, messages and so on.
Apocalypto is one of my favorite movies. They call Mel Gibson crazy but the guy is a genius, I’m sorry. You have to be crazy in this world in order to be great.
I was a literature major so it’s pretty tough to pick a favorite book. I majored in Shakespeare and I’m actually reading Faust again right now. I could get into Durant The Story of Civilisation or Lolita by Nabokov. Lolita is fantastic; it’s juicy, revealing and truthful. There are so many though: Perfume by Patrick Süskind, Last Exit to Brooklyn by Hubert Selby Jr., stuff by Jean-Paul Sartre, Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson by Georges Gurdjieff… I could go on for hours.