DATE OF INTERVIEW:
20th August 2009
METAL DISCOVERY: Trends come and go in the rock and metal scenes, of course, but a lot of the retro stuff seems to be back in favour these days. Have you seen your own popularity dip and flourish over the years with the changing trends, or have you always maintained a hardcore fan base?
CHRIS TROY: I think there’s definitely that hardcore. I think it’s always difficult to know what your fan base is though. I think now it’s becoming a lot easier with the advent of MySpace and even Facebook and things like that.
(Chris Troy on the importance of Japan in Praying Mantis' career)
"...without Pony Canyon and that Japanese fan base there, I wonder if, probably, we may not have survived."
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
MD: Of course, you can get direct feedback from the fans.
CT: Exactly, but previously you just had the fan pages, and I think it took us a long while to get onto the electronic scene, which is stupid really - we should’ve made it a lot earlier. We didn’t have a decent website for a while. Now, though, it’s sort of developed, and we do get good feedback. And certainly, now that we’ve got the MySpace and that webpage, and with the new album people are writing and saying “definitely, the best ever”. It’s good to hear those comments as you know you’re doing something right.
MD: You’ve mentioned Japan already, but how important a country has Japan been in both your early and renewed career as they seem to have remained loyal in supporting Praying Mantis over the years?
CT: Yeah, without a doubt. I think with ‘Time Tells No Lies’, obviously it sold okay in the UK and Europe, but it did do very well in Japan at that time. In a way, that did generate that initial interest in Japan and it never really waned. They’re always buying the albums and after…particularly when we did the 1990 thing, it really sort of shot off and, since then, I really think we’ve continued with….well, I think this is album number nine, or possibly ten. But really, without Pony Canyon and that Japanese fan base there, I wonder if, probably, we may not have survived. So I think it has been a very, very important market for us.
MD: Quite pivotal in your career then.
CT: Very, and it’s a shame in a way that it had to be them…you know, not that I’m criticising them at all, but it would be nice to have a better home fan base.
MD: That seems to be true of so many English and British bands that the main bulk of their fan base is in mainland Europe or Asia or wherever. It seems to be a weird British thing that we kind of embrace other bands of other nationalities more than our own.
CT: It seems that way. The ones that have bucked it really, and the only ones I can really think, is Maiden. Even Leppard…well, I suppose they did do well. I think it’s waned a bit now in this country.
MD: I think they headlined one day of Download this year so I think they’re still…well, it’s hard to gauge at a festival, I guess, as people are there to see the other bands as well, but I think they play arenas still in this country, don’t they?
CT: I think so, yeah, you’re right. It did seem to go, but then it seemed to come back a little bit as well, so it’s, as you said, it is cyclical, the markets, and you hopefully just have to rise to the occasions when you can. You do a few duff shows, a few dud albums and people soon forget. There’s tough competition out there now nowadays!
MD: I saw your set at Bloodstock last year which was really impressive - how was the whole festival experience for yourselves?
CT: It was good. I mean, that, I think, was quite pertinent to that earlier point because I do think that probably people were expecting a heavier set maybe from us, and you did see them being relatively inquisitive with the four part vocal harmonies and things like that. But we’ve done quite a few like that, particularly in Germany where it’s quite, you know, not death metal, but pretty hard stuff, and then we come along mid-way or three quarters of the way into it and just deliver that set, and initially they looked a bit perplexed, but then it actually goes down really well, because it’s a break. [laughs]
MD: Yeah, I think diversity in a festival is always a plus point because if you go to a death metal festival then it’s one death metal band after another and becomes a bit tedious, or if you go to a power metal festival it’s the same sort of thing, so I think something like Bloodstock it’s good to have a band like Praying Mantis on the bill because it offers something different along with all the other genres like thrash, death, power metal.
CT: Yeah, and I think that was certainly the case there. My only criticism, not of the festival itself, but I thought the sound system could’ve been better. It’s always strange with those things because it’s very directional. You tend to just go outside the field of the main PA and it becomes quite weak, whereas that type of music, you really do need the power there. It’s funny actually, the power tends to come more in the evening. I don’t know if it’s to do with the atmospheric aspect with the sound, but it tends to be, always in the evenings, that much better.
MD: I guess with quick change-over times as well, you’re always doing it instinctively and hoping to get a good sound through the monitors as well, and…
CT: Oh, you do, it’s incredible because, as you said there, you never get a sound check at these things. You see the bands setting up, you don’t know what the monitors are going to be like, and it’s just that very first note of that first song, and sort of just hope. You know from that first note what the rest of the set’s going to be like! [laughs]
MD: I remember your sound being one of the better sounds of the day though….from memory! I’ll have to read my reviews again! But from memory, it was a pretty good sound. When I was researching this interview, I was taking a look at my photos from that year at Bloodstock, and I took one of the crowd from the photopit, and they all looked so young…like 15, 16, 17. Do you think you’re able to attract a new, younger generation of fans?
CT: I think so. I think it’s a case of, even the harder-edged metal, I think that may sort of ease off again. It just seems to be going through that stage now. I love the melodic element, and I think people really do…it does appeal to a really large range of audiences, and that is the benefit of that type of music…so sometimes with sufficient exposure. We’ve been told with this album that some of the songs on it, with sufficient exposure, it should, theoretically in America and everything, it should go off on its own steam. But you’re up against so much competition and, nowadays, record companies are not going to come up with the amount of money that you need to really, really expose it. It’s too big a gamble, so they just won’t do it. So you’re left between a rock and a hard place unfortunately.
MD: Do you get the same buzz playing live now as you did in the band’s early days?
CT: Probably more so actually. When you do have that good sound onstage and it just is all happening, it’s just an incredible feeling…it is a superb feeling. I love playing festivals, even nice indoor things, but there’s something about a festival with the outdoor atmosphere playing to a sea of heads that is an incredible feeling. So you can never take that away - I’ll probably be doing that with a zimmer frame in the future! [laughs]
MD: Many years ahead hopefully!
CT: Yeah, well, probably not that many! [laughs]
MD: Did you see the Anvil movie?
CT: No, I didn’t, but I still want to see it actually. I’ve heard so much about it, and I’m desperate to see it.
MD: Ah, it’s phenomenal. It’s kind of Spinal Tap for real…it has the funny elements, but it’s very moving as well. It kind of makes my next question redundant - I was going to ask if you can identify with any aspects of their story in terms of experiencing a degree of fame and popularity in the eighties and then having to rebuild your popularity within the scene.
CT: Well, it’s funny, because I’m aware of the story and I must see it, you know, it’s something I’ve got to put at the top of my priority list.
MD: It’s the best thing ever!
CT: Have you ever seen Spinal Tap?
MD: Of course, yeah.
CT: [laughs] I mean that’s just a phenomenal film as well. But yeah, to a degree, obviously the first album was quite a hit and probably more so than I actually thought it was because we never thought we made much of an impact in America, and sometimes when we do these festivals in Germany and these American bands come over and, you know, we introduce one another, and we say “yeah, we’re Praying Mantis”, and they say “ah, hi guys, I’ve heard a lot about you”, and you’re thinking, how?! We’ve never played the States; as far as we’re aware we’ve never sold that many albums over there.
MD: That’s a big compliment then.
CT: It is, and then you’re actually curious as well. You’re thinking, well how are they hearing about us?! But certainly this time around there seems to be some sort of resurgence for the band, and hopefully we can build on the momentum that appears to be growing all the time.