On 24th May Escape Music released “Fire and Grace”, the latest album from American band Alliance. The band features guitarist Gary Pihl (from Boston, the Sammy Hagar Band etc), drummer David Lauser (from the Sammy Hagar Band) and Robert Berry (from 3, GTR, 3.2 etc). Escape Music boss Khalil Turk gave me an opportunity to interview Gary or Robert and I jumped at the chance to record something with both of them individually. Both interviews can be heard on the Friday NI Rocks Show for 14th June. This is available now from the NI Rocks MixCloud page - https://www.mixcloud.com/NIRocks/interviews-with-gary-pihl-and-robert-berry-from-alliance-on-the-friday-ni-rocks-show-14th-june-2019/ .

 

Gary and Robert both chat about the history of Alliance, going back to the mid 90’s, and about the new album. Each picked three tracks from the album to play alongside the interviews.

 

 

I spoke to Gary at his home in Boston via Skype on the evening of 10th June. In addition to Alliance, we talked about Boston, which he has been a member of for more than thirty years, the Sammy Hagar Band and his involvement in other projects such as Color Three, All 4 1 and December People (Robert Berry is also part of the latter two).

 

Check out Gary’s website - http://garypihl.com/


The interview has been transcribed and posted below.

 

 

Playlist for the Show –

JAILBIRDS – Nothing Good Lasts Forever

SAMMY HAGAR – There’s Only One Way to Rock

Interview with GARY PIHL Part 1 (10min)

ALLIANCE – Fire and Grace

Interview with GARY PIHL Part 2 (9min)

ALLIANCE – Good Life

Interview with GARY PIHL Part 3 (14min)

ALLIANCE – Uncertain

BOSTON – Life, Love & Hope

ALL 4 1 – After The Rain

Interview with ROBERT BERRY Part 1 (8min)

ALLIANCE - Time

Interview with ROBERT BERRY Part 2 (9min)

ALLIANCE – Don’t Stop The Wheel Turning

Interview with ROBERT BERRY Part 3 (12min)

ALLIANCE – Reason to Walk Away

3.2 – One by One

CORMAC NEESON – Do Something Today

 

 

 

NI ROCKS – Hi Gary, thanks for taking some time to talk to Rock Radio NI. I wanted to chat about the new Alliance album “Fire and Grace” which was released last month. Alliance features yourself alongside singer Robert Berry and drummer David Lauser. Do you view it as a band or more like a project that you’ve worked together on for about 25 years; particularly given how rare Alliance live performances are?

GARY – I view it as a band for a couple of reasons. Not least of which is that I was in a band with Dave Lauser for many years in Sammy Hagar’s Band. So we feel very comfortable on stage together performing. And actually Robert played with Dave and Sammy down in Cabo San Lucas a few times and they’ve performed there.  Besides that, Dave, Robert and I are in a charity band called December People that Robert came up with for a few years ago. We play traditional holiday songs, but in the styles of our favourite rock bands – The Who, Led Zeppelin, Santana, AC/DC, the list goes on and on. It is traditional holiday songs, but it sounds like the style that those bands would play in. We’ve been doing that for a few numbers of years now and that makes us feel like a band because we’re out there performing.


NI ROCKS – Are there likely to be any Alliance shows in the near future?

GARY – We keep talking about it. We would love to get to Ireland as well as anywhere else in Europe. You folks have great summer festivals there and we were thinking it’d be great to be on at a festival. Not a lot of people know of Alliance by that name, but it would be great to play on some great shows with some other bands that we respect and know. People come to a festival and they usually figure well there’s some bands we’ve never heard before. Festivals are more open to that – ‘wow here’s this new band I’ve never heard of! Oh, it’s those guys, I know who those guys are.’ I think that would be a great  way for us to debut over in Europe.


NI ROCKS – For anyone not familiar with the long history of Alliance; it’s roots go back to the late 80’s when David, yourself and keyboard player Jesse Harms were looking to form a new band following the break-up of the Sammy Hagar Band. That led you to singer Robert Berry.Timing intervened initially, but there must have been a good feeling about the project for it to come a reality almost ten years later with Alan Fitzgerald from Night Ranger on keyboards? You must have had a good feeling about it!

GARY – You’re right, Jesse, Dave and I were in Sammy’s band and Sammy got the call from Van Halen. Of course he came to us and apologised and said it’s an offer I can’t refuse, I have to do this. But you guys are a great band, you could find some other singer and plug it in and keep on going. That’s what we actually had in mind and to that end, we were on Geffen Records at the time and Dave talked to some of the folks at Geffen and they told him about Robert Berry. Robert had done the ‘3’ project with Keith Emerson and Carl Palmer as well as working with Steve Howe on GTR. So he came highly recommended from Geffen. But as it turned out, because of my days with Sammy we had opened up the end of Boston’s first tour in ’77 and then we did their whole second tour through ’78 and ’79 and got to know the guys fairly well. When Tom Scholz from Boston found out that Sammy was breaking up the band and going off with Van Halen he called me and said hey I’m working on the “Third Stage” album for Boston, would you come back and play on one more song; we’ve got one more song to be recorded, would you come back and play on it? Of course I said, sure, absolutely! I left from our last gig with Sammy, which was Farm Aid I out in Champaign, Illinois and flew directly from there to Boston to start working with Tom on that last song. But after a few weeks Tom said I think we work well together, why don’t you move back here, we’ll finish this album and we’ll go on tour and see what happens. And I’ve been here thirty-seven years now.

You know how it is with rock bands; you’re never know how long your career is going to be. It had been eight years since the last Boston album, the second album came out in ’78 and here it is, ’86 and eight years later and Tom had no idea if we’d have fans still or not. You think about eight years for a teenager – you’re not a teenager any more. You never know if people are going to like it or not. Thank goodness it went to number one and we did a very successful tour in ’87. Then after that, Tom said it’s going to take me a few more years to make the next album, so if you guys have any other projects you want to do, go ahead and do it now. So the first thing I did was call up Dave Lauser and Alan Fitzgerald, who of course had been in Sammy Hagar’s Band with us, because at that point Jesse Harms was working with David Lee Roth of all people, as well as REO Speedwagon. So we called up Fitz and that’s when Dave Lauser said, oh I got turned on to Robert Berry from Geffen, let’s check him out. So the four of us got together; actually in Sammy Hagar’s basement recording studio, and showed each other song ideas that we had. We just clicked right away and we knew he was the right guy for us.


NI ROCKS – The first Alliance release is listed as “Bond of Union” in 1996 and there was a self-titled album the following year which seems to include seven of the tracks from that first album. What was the story there?

GARY – Yes, I’m trying to remember. I think it was the guys from Mr Big that we knew and their manager Sandy Einstein, I think was his name. I had known Eric Martin through other bands and people in California and when we were putting together Alliance and looking for a record deal, we were also looking for a manager. I had known Sandy and I called him up said if you’re looking for another band. He said he had Mr Big and was kinda busy doing that. I said I know that you guys were very popular in Europe and Japan, what do we need to do to break over there as well; obviously we want to do well in the USA. He said let me turn you on to some folks at Zero Records over in Japan. I’m pretty sure that’s how that all came together. We contacted them and our first record came out on Zero Records in Japan; but the record company went out of business almost immediately. We said guys we’ve got these songs that aren’t going to be distributed because they’re out of business and Robert had met the folks from Escape Records in England. They said lets use most of the songs; there are actually a couple of different tracks between the two albums, but you’re right most of them are the same. Obviously the Escape folks took that and ran with it and we’ve been with them ever since.

 

NI ROCKS – The next album “Missing Piece” came out fairly soon after that. A couple of years later I think; so that was a fairly productive time one for the band as normally there is quite a gap between your albums? Was that simply because you had time off from Boston at that stage and the other guys were free too?

GARY – You’re exactly right yes. Boston wasn’t touring much back in those days. We usually only toured once we had a new album and of course it’s eight or six years between albums with Boston and so we just didn’t tour much. That was a chance for me to get together with the Alliance guys and do that. That’s why it’s been such a long time since the last Alliance record because I’ve been on the road with Boston. I guess we did four years in a row which is more than the band had ever done. These days with classic rock radio, especially in the USA, people hear the songs on the radio and they want to hear those songs when we play live; so we don’t necessarily have to have a new record out. Especially mature bands like us where folks want to hear the old songs as well as any new songs.


NI ROCKS – Before we talk more about Alliance we’ll play a track from the new album now. Do you want to pick a track and tell us something about it?

GARY – One of my favourites is “Fire and Grace”, the title track. That song really came together in the studio. We had gotten together over the last few years here and there, working on song ideas. We only work on songs together when we’re all together in the studio. We don’t want to be a band that e-mails track back and forth. You can do that around the world of course; but we really enjoy that process of being in the studio, being in the same room together working on the songs. That’s, for us, where the magic happens and that was one of those songs. I had a guitar riff and Robert had a melody and words and Dave had a cool drum beat. We just started playing it and that’s what happened. First take – done, we’re finished. It just all fell together and I often say that I wish our fans could see that process of taking just the small germ of an idea, and bang, all of a sudden it’s a full fledged song just like that. That’s magic to me and that’s the fun bit about recording.

 

 

NI ROCKS – The new album “Fire and Grace” was released on 24th May through Escape Music here in the UK. That label has released all the band’s albums since the self-titled release in 1997. How important has that extended relationship been over the years?

GARY – I think it’s important. Khalil and Barry at Escape have been very supportive of us (laughs) and not bugged us by saying c’mon you guys gotta get with it; you’re taking too long to make that next record. They’re always very supportive, like what we’re doing and know to give us the artistic freedom that we need to do it.


NI ROCKS – Prior to “Fire and Grace”, there’s a gap of over ten years to the previous release “Road To Heaven”, and before that another ten years almost, back to “Missing Piece”. Apart from the members being involved in other projects or is there anything else that determines when the time is right to get the guys together? Is it purely down to other commitments?

GARY – Exactly, yeah. It’s tough to get four guys together that are in other bands working on stuff. It’s always I’ll be on the road or he’ll be on the road. Because we want to be in the same room at the same time, that’s what the issue was. We could have sent the tracks back and forth, but it would just not have been the same. Maybe they would have been good, maybe they would have been better, I don’t know, but for us being there in the same room is what really makes it happen.


NI ROCKS – You’ve already answered my next question then. The band members do live right across the USA from California to Boston. So you do get together in the recording studio and don’t do the e-mails back and forward!

GARY – Yes, Robert has his own recording studio that is basically state of the art. Plus he has a lot of great vintage stuff there. So that’s the place. We love the sound of that studio.


NI ROCKS – So it’s recorded in Robert’s studio. Who does the final production then?

GARY – Robert certainly has the final say on things but we all, as we’re working on songs, will come up with a rough mix at least while we are all there in the room. We’re 95% there and Robert will tweak things and make sure the bass guitar in this chorus is load enough, or too loud. Fine tuning I should say. But we’re definitely all there for the main part of mixing.


NI ROCKS –Is there an established process now then for writing songs? Do they all come together in the same way or do different songs come together in different ways?

GARY – Yes, they usually are all different. The “Fire and Grace” song was something that we all contributed on the spot. Usually one of us will come in with some bit of a song idea – a verse and a chorus. And sometimes that will change and it doesn’t matter who makes the change either, or who brings in the song. I’ve brought in songs and our drummer Dave will say play the guitar differently here; even though he’s the drummer, I know he’s got a good idea. So whatever he says, I’m going to try it! He’ll say that’s not the chorus, this is the chorus here and change that to the verse and go minor here, so yeah sometimes the songs change quite a bit once we bring them in. That’s usually the process. On this album there are a couple of songs that are mine and a couple that are Dave’s and the rest are Robert’s and the collaboration of all of us. Now that the record is out, I was glad to see that we’ve got a lot of good response from all of the writers – people have mentioned the songs that individually we had brought in. Somebody asked me what the difference was between the first album and this album and I said that I hoped that we were all better players. But the real thing to me is that with the first album we had all these songs and we liked the style of songs and where we were coming from. And we were searching for that Alliance sound. I think that from “Road to Heaven” to this one we’ve got it. We know what Alliance sounds like. We could take any song – give us three chords and we’ll make it sound like Alliance! That’s the thing that came out to me this time.


NI ROCKS – You’ve worked with Robert Berry on a number of projects over the years including December People and more recently a project called All 4 1 that released an album through Frontiers Music in 2017 called “The World’s Best Hope”. How did the writing and production for that album differ from “Fire and Grace”?

GARY – All 41 is the way that we pronounce that, rather than All 4-1, but you’re exactly right, it’s a play on The Three Musketeers, all for one. But we didn’t what to make it so obvious, so we call it All 41 (laughs). That really was a project band. Our last Boston album was on Frontiers Records and Robert had done his solo album on Frontiers, so we know those folks. They approached me to put together a project band, so we went through names of a lot of people and ended up with Terry Brock, who is a terrific vocalist, and Matt Starr, the drummer from Mr Big. We were looking around for bass players and I said how about Robert Berry? and they said yeah, we’ll do that. I said what songs are we going to do because the four of us are all song writers? They said we’ve got a staff writer Alessandro Del Vecchio here in Italy where Frontiers are based, and he has got a lot of songs that he thinks will be a good style for you folks to do, but if you have any of your own songs please submit those as well.  So Robert submitted two and I submitted two which are on the album and the rest are written by Alessandro. We tried to choose songs that sounded somewhat similar for that style and in that sense it was more like Alessandro’s lead on it, as that was the sound he was going for and we tried to be in tune with that.


NI ROCKS – Are we likely to see another album from All 41?

GARY – I’d like to; and as a matter of fact we got together.....we did not see each other for the making of the album, we sent the tracks back and forth, but we did actually get in one room together when we did the video for the first song. As we were playing along with the track – we’re actually playing and singing along with the music and everybody is a great musician – we’re saying we could do this! We could plug in and go play somewhere – we know these songs. We half joked about it, that we’d love to do it, but again everybody is in other bands and it’s hard to make that happen.


NI ROCKS – So there might be something else! We’ll play a track from “The World’s Best Hope” later in the Show. Do you want to pick a track and I’ll play later in the Show?

GARY – Wow, anything at all. I don’t have real favourites. Anything you want to play would be great.

NI ROCKS – I’ll play the track you did the video for. I have the album, but can’t remember the name! (“After The Rain”)

GARY – Yeah, I’m not good with the names of songs. I’ll go yeah that song, the one that starts in A Minor! So when people come up and ask me about some Boston song or Sammy Hagar song that I’ve played a million times I’ll say which one is that, oh that one sure!


NI ROCKS – Getting back to Alliance - we’ll play something from “Fire and Grace”. Do you want to pick another track to playand tell us something about it?

GARY – Yeah, one of my other favourite songs is a song that Dave wrote called “Good Life”. It’s an up-tempo, fun song to play and people seem to like that one a lot too.

 

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NI ROCKS – You’re obviously best known for your time with Boston and before that with the Sammy Hagar Band. I was reading an interview in which you described Tom Scholz as the smartest guy that you know. What do you think has made the relationship with Scholz so special over the past thirty plus years?

GARY – You know I’m just thrilled to be in his orbit as they say. When they put together those lists of 100 great guitar players of all time he is always in there, but he is also in the list of 100 greatest keyboard players of all time. There is nobody else in the world that is on both those lists. Then you throw in 100 greatest rock songs and “More Than A Feeling” or some other Boston song is on there. He designed the amplifiers that we still use on stage today. He is a really special guy. I met him because we were on the road together. I was in the opening act; so I’ve been on every Boston tour. For the first two tours I was in the opening act.

He and I had a passion for electronics and of course he had some homemade gear that he was taking on the road, so I would always be bugging him – how does that work, how do you get that sound over here? We got to talking about that and I had built a few amps and pre-amps over time. In fact I still do that – I built a couple of tube amplifiers that I used on the last Alliance record. That’s my hobby and passion and I’m looking for my own sound. As much as I love the Boston sound or the sound that I used with Sammy Hagar, I wanted something completely different for Alliance, so I built my own tube, as you call them valve, amplifier to use on the record.

But back to Tom, we started off with that bond between us about electronics and gear and all that stuff. It just seemed to work well and I started working at his electronics company when I first joined the band. He had started the company called ‘Rockman’; you’re probably familiar with the products, but the first real big product was the headphone amplifier. Even when I was still in the Sammy Hagar Band I helped Tom demonstrate some of those products at a trade show – open only to music store owners and purchasers who would buy the equipment, not open to the public. I went there to help him demonstrate some of the stuff and it was just natural that once I joined the band I started working at the company with him. That was the other thing that bonded us together – we were trying to make our own amplifiers there and trying to figure out if other people would like them as well; and they seemed to as they sold well.


NI ROCKS – The last Boston album was “Life, Love & Hope” in 2013. Is there a timeline for the next album?

GARY – (Laughs) Not really! Tom is very prolific of course as a song-writer, but he’ll work on songs, he says, for months sometimes, recording and then he’ll say it’s not quite right, it’s not good enough. I’m either going to put it away or throw it away! So there is no telling when the next one will come out.

 

NI ROCKS – We’ll play a track from that album (“Life, Love & Hope”) later in the Show too. Again, I’ll let you pick one?

GARY – I certainly like the title track “Life, Love & Hope”


NI ROCKS – A few years ago you also released an album with Color Three which featured now former Boston bass player Kimberley Dahme and Boston drummer Jeff Neal. Can you tell me something about that project as there’s very little information online about that band and the album “Paint By Numbers” seems to be impossible to find anywhere – digitally or physically!

GARY – Yes, I’m glad you know about that, because you’re right, not many people do. Obviously we were in Boston together and Tom had said it was going to be a while before the next record comes out, if you folks want to do anything go ahead. We had found Kimberley Dahme as a guitarist / singer with the Tom Hambridge Band. I hope I don’t digress here too far, but we were looking for a singing drummer and somebody told us about Tom Hambridge. He has won a Grammy I think, or has been nominated for a Grammy, as a producer; so he’s a great musician and a great singer and drummer. So went to check him out at the place he was playing and thought he was wow he is really good; but Tom said who’s that woman playing guitar and singing? She sounds great. We went over and met her and that was Kimberley Dahme. When we were putting the band together to do the 2003 tour, Tom had called her up and she just fitted in great. But instead of guitar, Tom said do you play bass and of course Kimberley said I can learn! Obviously, being a guitar player she knew the instrument, but she picked up bass and did that for those couple of tours. That’s when Jeff Neal also joined the band in 2003. The two of them were new members at that time. We got along well, as a rhythm section, or whatever you want to call us.

Kimberley was a singer-songwriter in her own right and in fact one of her songs ended up on the “Corporate America” album; that she sang, so she was the first female vocalist with Boston. When Boston wasn’t touring she’d be off doing her own gigs as a singer-songwriter and sometimes she would want to put together a band to do a larger show instead of just her and an acoustic guitar. So Jeff and I did some gigs with her as her back-up band. We said she wrote some great songs and they’re not necessarily like Boston songs at all. Jeff was a great musician and had some song ideas and I said lets the three of us put something together. We’re not looking to sound like Boston, even though we all play in that band. We wanted to have our own, I guess I’d call it an Americana sound, perhaps not different from John Cougar or Tom Petty – almost folk-rock, almost like The Eagles kind of sound. A bit of blues, a bit of folk and rock mixed in and a little bit of U2 if you can believe that (laughs) for story-telling. U2 have such great stories to their songs. Those were our influences coming into that.

We all came in with our song ideas and worked on them. One unique aspect of that album is that it’s just the three of us playing and singing. There are no over-dubs. In other words there is one guitar, drums, bass and vocals; that’s it, there is no rhythm guitar while the lead is playing, it’s just three instruments at a time and one, two or three vocalists at a time and that is it. We did that for a couple of reasons. One was that we just enjoyed the sound that we were having, just the three of us; and of course we said that when we play live, there it is, it’ll be exactly the same as the record because there is nothing else different about it.


NI ROCKS – What plans do you have for the remainder of 2019? Is there anything that you’re working on that you can tell us about?

GARY – As a matter of fact, a friend of mine here locally is a great singer-songwriter. His name is Tim Barrett and he’s a great singer and song-writer. I was helping him make demos of his songs. I don’t know how much of my history you know, but ever since I was in Sammy Hagar’s band I enjoyed recording, in fact even before Sammy’s band, I had a little bit of recording equipment. When I joined Sammy’s band I got some other, semi-professional recording equipment and had that at home. Luckily my wife didn’t mind me spending my money – instead of furniture, I was buying recording equipment. I set that up in my living room and had my friends from other bands come over to record and help them make their demos to try and get a record deal and all that.

As it turned out somebody from every band that I recorded in my living room went on to make gold records! The biggest of course was Nightranger. We did a whole bunch of songs in my house; one of which was “Sister Christian”, one of their biggest hits. Also Mitchell Froom who went on to be a great producer for Paul McCartney, Los Lobos and Sheryl Crow. A couple of guys from the Starship, that were not in the Starship yet and joined them; it goes on and on. Paul Taylor who went on to play for Alice Cooper and then Winger. I enjoyed doing that. I’m making this a long story! That was in California.

Here I am, back on the east coast with a friend of mine Tim Barrett, a great singer-songwriter, making demos and a great friend of mine Tommy De DeCarlo, from Boston called me up and said I’ve got this deal with Frontiers Records and I’ve written a bunch of songs and it’ll be coming out, but I need a couple more songs. I said check these out! I’d been working with Tim and because he was a friend of mine, Tommy and Tim had met. We sent him over a couple of songs and he said they were great; so those two songs will be on the next Tommy DeCarlo album.

NI ROCKS – Do you know when that is out?

GARY – Yeah, I’m not exactly sure. I thought they said June or July.

(Note – the DeCarlo album “Lightning Strikes Twice” was released on 24th Jan 2020. It includes the tracks “A Better Day” and “Rock n Soul”, co-written by Tim Barrett and Tommy DeCarlo).


NI ROCKS – I know the last Alliance album is just out, but what about the next album? Any guess on when that might appear?

GARY – It all depends on how much free time we have. Again, we feel like we’re on a roll. We’ve got the sound and we know what to do. Give us three chords and we’ll turn it into an Alliance song. I’m hoping that we’ll be able to do that again this year. I’m not touring with Boston. I know that Robert is busy in his studio and Dave Lauser is doing some other session work as well. We’ve talked about perhaps getting together this Christmas season to do more charity work. Every show we do with December people is a benefit for a local charity – usually a food bank – so it’s nice to be able to do that at that time. It wouldn’t surprise me that if, when we get together in December, that we do the same thing as we did last year and work on some song ideas and maybe have enough for the next album.


NI ROCKS – That’s all the questions that I have for you, but we’ll finish by playing another track from the new Alliance album. Again, can you pick a track and tell us something about it?

GARY – The song “Uncertain” is a great track. Robert wrote that one and a lot of people seem to like that one. It’s a long ballad and has a lot to it. One thing that I’ll say, about I think all the songs on this album, and I think most of the songs on the previous album as well, is that we try to have a positive message. There is so much negativity in the world – politics, religion, strive, war, crime throughout the world. We try to find the good, because we know there is so much good in people or in most people. We try to find that and sing about that in our songs. That is something that I’m proud of, for this album in particular.


NI ROCKS – It has been great talking to you, thanks very much for talking to us. Good luck with the album.

GARY – Thank you so much Nigel. Thanks for taking the time to talk with us.

 


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Last Updated (Sunday, 09 February 2020 07:40)