DATE OF INTERVIEW:
20th August 2009
METAL DISCOVERY: How you doing?
CHRIS TROY: Good, good, not too bad thank you very much.
(Chris Troy on the euphoria of composing a good song)
"...that is a superb feeling when it occurs. It’s better than sex, you know...well, some sex anyway!"
Praying Mantis onstage at Bloodstock Open Air, Derbyshire, UK, 15th August 2008
Photograph copyright © 2008 Mark Holmes - www.metal-discovery.com
Interview and Photography by Mark Holmes
Originally considered to be part of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM) movement, Praying Mantis forged a style and sound that was, and still is, more readily assimilated to the melodic hard rock genre. Experiencing a degree of success during the early eighties, the British rockers, formed in 1974 by the Troy brothers, bassist Chris and guitarist Tino, temporarily disappeared from the radar mid-80s (after a couple of band name changes) before re-emerging with their erstwhile moniker in 1990 for a tour of Japan as part of a NWOBHM package. However, despite numerous lineup changes over the years (including ex-Iron Maiden members Dennis Stratton and Paul Di'Anno) they have remained prolific in their recorded output since those pivotal Japanese shows, and 2009 sees the release of latest album 'Sanctuary', hailed by many as their best work ever. During a forty minute phone conversation, I chat to bassist Chris Troy about this new release as well as how he regards their place within the current scene, and the band's eventful history which seems to be full of lost opportunities, including the revelation that Praying Mantis could (and perhaps should) have become as big as Def Leppard. Read on...
MD: I’ve heard the new album, which I think is fantastic.
CT: Thank you.
MD: I’ve read some critics' reviews hailing it as your most accomplished, best work to date. Is that something you’d personally agree with?
CT: Funnily enough, at the beginning, I didn’t think so but, I think now, it’s beginning to sort of settle in with that sort of thing. Without a doubt, across the board, they have all been really, really good reviews. I mean, you’re never going to satisfy it a hundred per cent, like with anything in any walk of life, but the vast majority between eight or nine out of ten of them really, really do like it so I think we seem to have hit the nail on the head somewhere along the line…either by fluke or by judgement after all these years! [laughs]
MD: I think it’s kind of a weird thing when critics say “ah, the band’s best work to date” because it sort of undermines everything else you’ve achieved before with the other albums…but obviously a compliment too.
CT: Yeah, but when it’s for that specific album, you don’t mind. In certain ways, when a lot of people say it doesn’t quite match ‘Nowhere To Hide’ three or four albums ago, it just puts you a little bit on a downer because, like anything you do, you obviously aim to better it. A lot if people have asked - “why such a long time since the previous album?”. You know, it is a big gap, it’s six years, but in certain ways I think that really helps. It almost gave you the time to sort of look back and go away from the music element to cleanse it effectively and come back really refreshed. In a way, I think that sort of worked. It wasn’t purposefully done like that but I think the end result has probably been a result of that sort of action.
MD: Well yeah, you’ve obviously done something right as the proof is in the reviews. Do you ever get nervous before unleashing a new album upon the world in terms of how it will be received?
CT: Yes, I think always, because…probably not as much as a huge band because, effectively, when you are really large, it can actually make or break you. So many times a band are doing well and they release an album and it’s crap, and…
MD: ‘St. Anger’ didn’t do Metallica much harm!
CT: [laughs] Even on the poppy side, Robbie Williams had that. I think it was the really poppy one a few years ago and it just seemed to kill him, didn’t it.
MD: Of course.
CT: It just seem to destroy him, and he just sort of went into hiding after that. So I think so, and I’m hoping that we’re starting to get on a bit in life now as well, so we can’t really afford to do a bum album. I personally put a lot of work into the writing, and the new members have contributed a lot as well; I think they’ve injected some fresh blood and some fresh ideas in helping how the songs have turned out, so that’s a really pleasing development.
MD: ‘Sanctuary’…is that your first release on ‘Frontiers’?
CT: It’s the first worldwide release on Frontiers because normally we were under the Pony Canyon label based in Japan, but some of the European territories were actually covered by Frontiers. But this time round - and I must admit, I have to give them full credit - it was actually them that contacted us. They said “well, isn’t it about time you did another album”, and they started pushing it, and I said “no worries, I’ve got songs in the pipeline”, and they continued to push us. And then, in the end, we agreed that there would be so many songs on this album and they literally vetted them. They did actually say “we’d like to go through the production process - you give us the demos and we’ll hopefully, together, work on what we believe to be the best product.” So, overall, it was not so much a factory, but it is almost like a quality control type of thing which I think worked really well.
MD: There’s quite an impressive roster of bands on that label. I looked the other night, but can’t remember who was on there now, to be honest, but I remember thinking there’s some big names.
CT: There are a lot actually, it surprised me. There are some big names like Journey, Toto…Primal Fear - obviously not in the same league as the other two but there’s quite a few big ones.
MD: Primal Fear who, of course, you shared a stage with at Bloodstock last year.
CT: Yes, yes.
MD: On the same day as well I think, wasn’t it.
CT: It was indeed, yes. I can’t complain in this day and age as well, because CDs, right across the board, are dropping in sales now people do MP3s and everything so, really, one has to question the role of what a record company does now, and what they will be doing in the future. And they must question that themselves, really! [laughs] You know, sales, they must be down seventy or eighty percent and, somewhere along the line, something has to give. It’ll be a shame when that happens, really.
MD: Yeah, it’s an interesting point about CD sales plummeting and a band like yourselves, and other kind of veteran bands from the scene, I guess your sales maybe don’t plummet as much as newer bands because if you have an older fan base, they’re probably more traditionalists who want to buy something to own rather than MP3 files or something.
CT: I think so, exactly. I mean, as you say, if you’ve been brought up with the CD element in your mind, I think you tend to keep to that. It’s sort of innate, isn’t it - it’s something that you grew up with and you keep. I think it’s quite nice, even to just have a look at it, your album collection. But whereas it’s just all chucked onto…you know, it’s good to have ‘em both; it’s nice and easy for playing, but I think that the real fan will probably have both as you say. They’ll buy the album, and then transfer it onto MP3 for easy playing.
MD: I’m only thirty six now, but still within that generation where I like to have something physical to own rather than just download something and put it on my iPod…which I do have as well, like you say, it’s good to have both, but it’s always nice to have something to own with the artwork and whatever else. Praying Mantis are regarded as being at the forefront of the NWOBHM movement in the early eighties…
CT: In a way! [laughs]
MD: Well, one of the bands…but, in recent years, your music is more often than not labelled as melodic hard rock. Do you regard your music as changing in this way, from metal to more rock oriented, or do you think it’s people’s perception and labelling of the music that has changed?
CT: So many people, actually, even said at the time “were you really ever part of that NWOBHM sort of tag?” [laughs]. In a way, I probably would say maybe no. It could be that at that time there was Maiden, there was Saxon, there was Leppard…it’s really weird actually, I read this review recently where Leppard said they never were strictly a part of it and I thought that was a bit of a real slap in the face because I remember we were playing the same sorts of clubs as them up Sheffield way, and I remember them tagged as part of it, and the press helped them immeasurably to go up the ladder, and Neal Kay and the Bandwagon, that was always synonymous with the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. And they said “oh no, we weren’t part of that”, and I thought that was a nasty thing to say because, truthfully, it’s what catapulted them to success. In a way, them and Maiden, obviously they were the lucky ones and went from strength to strength. We were sort of pushed into that category and, don’t get me wrong, I think it was great to be part of that category as it did help us a lot, but I think people were surprised when they came to see us. I think they were expecting a lot more sort of heads down, you know, real sort of thrash and…[laughs]. They were surprised but, I think a lot of the time, they were pleasantly surprised by the harmonies and the melodic element of the music. So, I mean, nothing’s really changed at all in that 30-34 years. Obviously, hopefully it’s got a bit more mature with some better production and things like that, but the basic foundation, I think, is very much as the original ‘Time Tells No Lies’ album.
MD: Yeah, I mean like with the new album I can hear some heavy metal oriented stuff in there with the riffing and whatever but I describe it more as melodic hard rock with some metal elements, rather than a straight metal record as such.
CT: Totally agree, yeah.
MD: Would you say you’ve had to adapt in any way in terms of attitude or whatever else to exist as a band in the current scene, or do you have the same outlook and mindset as in the early days of the band?
CT: I think at one point we did try to change. I think it was on ‘To The Power Of Ten’…on one of those albums we did try to make it appeal more slightly to the European side of things and it didn’t really work. Then we sat back and thought, what’s the point of this - we’re trying to do something that we’re not good at. We’re trying to literally be part of the production line and produce something that isn’t really within our capabilities and I thought, this time round, we just do what we do best and what comes naturally. That’s the best way; this one was just totally natural. There’s no contrived element about it - we just said, this is what we want to do. I love it when a song comes together and you get the little hairs tingling at the back of your neck.
MD: A more organic approach to song writing rather than contrivancy then.
CT: Exactly, and that is a superb feeling when it occurs. It’s better than sex, you know! [laughs]...well, some sex anyway! [laughs]
MD: When you reformed in 1990 for that Japanese tour of the old NWOBHM bands, did you ever consider for a moment the longevity of Praying Mantis in that you’d still be releasing music and playing gigs in 2009, or was it only ever meant to be a temporary reunion?
CT: It was definitely only meant to be a temporary thing, and I think it surprised everyone how well that went down. It was phenomenal. Even now, when I look back at that time…because it was amazing just going up and down the country to the little clubs up North and being in the back of a transit. You know, five or six people in the back of a transit, freezing your balls off on a cold January morning or whatever, and then this suddenly came about after a few years. In a way, let’s face it, it was very much dwindling for Mantis, and then this came along. We went over with Paul Di’Anno and Dennis Stratton, ex-Maiden members, and we were flown over by…it wasn’t first class, but it was a really nice plane. We got there and got picked up from the airport by what I call these pope-mobiles with the open top roof, and got ferried into central Tokyo which, in itself, was an amazing experience. And then we were doing larger than Hammersmith Odeon type gigs where each one was packed to the rafters. We were getting four or five encores a night. We had to repeat songs, you know, we’d already played everything that was in the repertoire! All of us were just knocked out with it; it was just unbelievable. So, from then, there was just so much interest, we just knew that we couldn’t drop it, so…
MD: So you got back into the vibe of doing the band again.
CT: Yeah, absolutely. It’s just a shame, in a way, that it really didn’t work out with Paul Di’Anno. Dennis obviously stayed in the band, but I think there was just too much negative vibes between him and…actually, particularly between him and Dennis. There just didn’t seem to be any amiability between them; there was just no love lost at all. To be honest, it may have spawned something even stronger had we kept that unit together because it was phenomenal and I would’ve liked to have seen, you know, had we stayed together as that unit, where it could’ve gone to.
MD: Happy memories…
CT: Very happy memories!