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 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 Robert via Skype in the early hours of 11th June as he was finishing work at his Soundtek Studios in California. We chatted at length about Alliance, his involvement with Carl Palmer and Keith Emerson in the band 3 and the recent revival as 3.2, working on the December People and All 4 1 projects (both of which also include Gary Pihl) and his work at Soundtek Studios.


Check out Robert Berry’s website for more info or the Soudtek Studio website –

http://www.robertberry.com/

http://soundtekstudios.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

 

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NI ROCKS – Hi Robert, thanks for taking some time to talk to Rock Radio NI.

ROBERT – I am so pleased to be speaking with you and I’m sorry that I’ve been booking gigs and getting ready to tour and everything that we haven’t been able to speak until now. But we’re ready!

NI ROCKS – Ready indeed! Your band Alliance released a new album called “Fire and Grace” last month. It’s been ten years since the last Alliance album. How important was it for you to get another album released now?

ROBERT – You know I was so excited that it seemed that there was this window. You know Boston never tours – every seven years they go out! Boston toured four years in a row. I had Greg Kihn and my December People playing all the time; plus my studio is very busy. My 3.2 album came out – Keith Emerson’s last work. It was just incredibly busy during that time and when we got together every year or every two years, just for Alliance purposes, we never got anything finished. We got a lot of ideas and the working parts, but it wasn’t until last year that I called Gary and said Gary we need to do this, it has been going on too long. He goes, let’s make the time; so we made the time! We had so many good ideas – we had about two albums worth of ideas and we honed it down to this. We still have another nine songs that aren’t completed and we just talked yesterday about doing another one next year – wouldn’t that be something? Two years in a row! (laughs)


NI ROCKS – I spoke to guitarist Gary Pihl earlier and he confirmed that the recordings were all done with the band together in the studio. Is that the way you prefer to work?

ROBERT – Yeah. The real magic with David Lauser and Gary and myself is that we do exactly what we like to do. Individually, I have a certain way that I want to play bass for Alliance; and Alliance is much different than Gary’s Boston stuff. And David Lauser’s drumming on Alliance is tremendous – way different than the Sammy Hagar, chugga-chugga straight rock stuff. We all do what we like to do the way we individually want to do it and it matches! It fits so well that when we get together it becomes something. A lot of times a band has to whittle away and work at it – ‘you know that beats not working’ or ‘what about this’ – that’s not the way Alliance goes. What we have to do is have good songs - and Gary and I usually bring the songs in, although David wrote a couple on this album. We bring the songs in and then each guy puts their thing into it in the room and we play it together.

Maybe it’s because of all the years of experience, but it just kind of adjusts and fits and moulds into what Alliance is. I don’t want to say that it’s without much effort, but it kind of is! (laughs). We really just blend. We have similar backgrounds in as far as what we like. Different backgrounds as far as the bands that we’ve been in, but what we like is close. It’s a magical kind of thing in the studio. I guess we should sell tickets if we get together next year and have about a hundred people in here watching it happen because it is really something.


NI ROCKS – You have you own recording studio. Do you find that a lot of bands now do things remotely, rather than getting together in the studio?

ROBERT – I’m actually speaking to you from Soundtek Studios right now; where not only the Alliance stuff was recorded, but the 3.2 album was recorded too. It’s a fairly big place. There are actually three studios. I have a building which has three studios in it – I rent out the first one to another guy who does some work in there. The back one is a very small studio and my son actually has started a studio back there and he is doings some things. So there are always things going on at Soundtek. I’ll tell you a secret – when Gary is here, he likes to sleep in the studio, so I have a bed in the drum booth that folds out of the wall. If you ever find that we’re sleeping here you can walk down the side of the building and scare him to death!


NI ROCKS – You’ve always played bass on the Alliance albums as well as doing the vocals. This time you also play keyboards. Why was that?

ROBERT – You know, unfortunately...I love playing keyboards. I’ve played keyboards all my life. I started as a keyboard player in bands, but bass is where I feel the most comfortable singing. Geffen Records when they first found me said you’re kind of a Sting guy – you play and sing that Sting. I said that’s Ok – I like Sting – that’s good. But we had this great guy with so much history – Alan Fitzgerald, from Montrose, Night Ranger; he toured with Van Halen as the behind the curtains keyboard player, background vocalist; he did all kinds of stuff, he toured with Bruce Springsteen, just all kinds of stuff. He has been on the road all of his life – he never stopped because he was always with a band or supporting a band as a tech, and he just one day said I’m not doing this anymore! We tried to get him to play on this album and he said I’ve sold all my keyboards and I’ll have nothing to do with music anymore! I thought ‘wow, ne really is tired of it’. On the last album I did half the keyboards, but we didn’t talk about it because Fitz was starting to back out of the business and it was just a natural progression for me to do it. If we do play live we’ll get somebody to do the parts. But we’re a guitar band I think. I love the guitar on this new album so much. I think he’s put some genius stuff in there that is more like a 70’s Led Zeppelin album. He’s got some real musical stuff, he’s got some flashy stuff on there too, but it’s not for the flash element; it’s for being part of the orchestra element that I fove. He just brought it alive – I’m really excited about his work on this.


NI ROCKS – We’ll play a track from the album now. Do you want to pick a track and tell us something about it?

ROBERT – I would say that there’s a song on there that is probably, of every song that I’ve written, and I have around twenty albums out – there’s a song called “Time” on this album and it really expresses the way that I feel. It talks about feeling the same as you did when you were in high school or college. A lot of us are still doing what we did. I started playing in bands when I was 12 years old. I started working in the studio, I actually did my first 45 with a band when I was 12 years old in the studio and the guys were like 18. So it turned out pretty good because it wasn’t based on my 12 year old knowledge, it was based on their 18 year old knowledge! It was not bad – I can actually still listen to it. I still feel the same – I still have that energy, I still have the same dreams. I think a person’s success is only judged by if they have met their own dreams; and I’ll never meet mine. I’m always looking to what I can do the next day, or what I’m going to do tomorrow to stay viable as a singer and as a writer. This song speaks to that and the people that I’ve talked to that have heard it have said ‘wow, that’s me. Time - I still feel the same as I did in my 20’s’. So it’s really one of the songs that I’ve written that I feel the closest to over all of my career!

 

 

 

NI ROCKS – It’s been a fairly busy period for you over the last three years in particular. In addition to the Alliance album you worked with Gary on the All 4 1 album in 2017 and last year you released the 3.2 album “The Rules Have Changed”. I’ll talk about 3.2 in a moment, but would you see Alliance as more of personal project that you were more committed to than the All 4 1 album which was a Frontiers Music project?

ROBERT – All 4 1 was put together by Frontiers and I was glad to be part of it. Frontiers is a great label and Serafino has been a big supporter of mine. And Mario over there; I mean there are a lot of people who have been a big support. But it was put together. We all threw in a couple of songs and we never met. Gary and I knew each other pretty well, but we did our stuff separately. The only time we ever got together was to do a video for the first song which nobody in the band wrote! It was written by the producer. I’m used to being a bigger part of something. I like to give 110% and give everything that I can and then we use what we want of it and we throw some out or whatever; but I like to be a big part – like mixing or throwing the ingredients into the stew anyway to cook it up! It was sort of fragmented and I guess it got good reviews, but it was definitely different – it was a project.

The big thing for the last year has been 3.2 with Keith Emerson. That was very close to me and very important to me. I wanted to make sure that the last thing that Keith worked on before he died was worthy of his great reputation and his great playing and the great person that he was. That is very personal to me. Alliance is the band that I should have had in college and still been with – like the guys in Styx. Styx or Night Ranger. Night Ranger are doing great. We opened for them – Greg Kihn opened for them one time last year. Three of the guys are still there and they’re sounding great – they’re still a team. That’s what Alliance is – we could just never break away from our other bands enough to make Alliance the main thing we do. It’s the friendship – it’s the guys you grew up, that you have so much in common with, that you spend your life with – and it’s very close to the heart.


NI ROCKS – You mentioned the 3.2 album. Frontiers of course released that album as well. It started with Keith Emerson but he unfortunately passed away. Was the decision to continue with the album a difficult one to take?

ROBERT – It was very difficult. My dream for 27 years was to do another album with Keith and because a couple of fans had soured him on the 3 album (“To The Power of Three”), telling him that it was too pop and too straight rock – it was like Asia kinda – that’s was Asia did. Keith wanted a piece of that and we did it with 3, but it had a lot of developing to do and stuff, but he didn’t want to do it. So I never brought it up with him; as much as we spent time together and did projects together and stuff. Then one of the companies put out a live album – 27 years later they put out a live album – and Keith calls me and goes ‘oh my god, it was so good, we were a great band’. So there was my opportunity to say, ‘well I always thought so, but I didn’t want to bug you about it. Do you want to do a new one?’ He said ‘ok, let’s do it’.

We started work on it and Frontiers got really behind it. We worked for a while...and then he took his own life for other reasons. The only good thing in his life actually at that point was that he was getting some good money on a new album. We were writing and recording stuff and talking on the phone very night – just like we are now! I’d be here with my piano on my pro-tools -because I am in my studio. And Keith would play.. (demonstrates) ... something really fast, and he’d go ‘I want to use that for this’. I’d want to put it on the pro-tools at least as a guideline for him.. (plays something slower).. and he’d say ‘there’s a ‘D’ in there’ and I’d say Ok and play it really slow and put it in. Then after we got off the phone I’d try to make it a little faster until I had this outline form of his ideas. Then when he came in we’d do more and work on things. It was really fun and a dream come true for me. So, to lose all that in one swoop was very difficult.

It took me about six months to really feel like I had the energy or a reason to do it, honestly. When it got released I had no idea if people would hate it or love it. I just didn’t know. I had spent so much time doing it and of course it turned out that people really got it. They really felt the whole thing and that was the best gift to me; and I hope in some way that it was a great gift to Keith because he was feeling less than worthy as a player by the time that he died. Even over the last year he would tell me things about shows where he didn’t feel...I would say ‘how did it go, you were in England playing that show’ and he’d go ‘it was ok’. I’d think wow, you’re Keith Emerson, what are you talking about ‘ok’; you’re never ok, you’re always great – with one hand you’re great. So that was hard.


NI ROCKS – You mentioned there the live album that was released. Actually there were a couple of live albums released – “Live Boston 88” and “Live – Rockin The Ritz”. You obviously weren’t involved in the release so how did those come about?

ROBERT – You know it was Carl’s manager Bruce Pilato who brought that to us. I don’t actually know why the record company contacted him. He might have contacted them? You know, I’ve never asked Bruce about that. But he called me up and goes ‘look I’ve checked with Keith and Carl and you’re the last one. If you want them to release this I’ll set it up’. I said ‘sure why not’! I’m thinking wow, Keith is going to let that go out! I found out that Keith just thought ‘well, it’ll be some money in the bank, who cares, let them put it out. We’re getting it in advance and put the money in the bank ’. And that was the same album that he finally listened to that he got so excited about. It was good that he felt that way to start with, and even better that he felt empowered by listening to it later on. So, Bruce Pilato set that up.


NI ROCKS – We’ll play a track from “The Rules Have Changed” later in the Show. Which track would you pick and why?

ROBERT – Oh boy, my real favourite was the first one on there – “One By One”. There are some shorter ones like “Powerful Man” that has a lot of meaning about all the sons of the guys that I’ve worked with – Steve Howe’s son, Keith Emerson’s son, Sammy Hagar’s son, Greg Kihn’s son – they’re all great musicians. Could you imagine being the son of Sammy Hagar and being under the stage when Van Halen is playing to 10,000 people or 20,000 people! There’s a power or thing that you get being raised by a dad – I can’t even imagine how they felt – that’s what that song is written about though. But “One By One” was written, for one reason because Keith wanted to call the album “1” – just the number 1 he’d say, not written out o-n-e. So I started writing this song and it just turned out to be a great piece because the intro was something that he wanted to do, from a Norwegian compose called Grieg he wanted to borrow and it really just sums up what the whole album is about.


NI ROCKS – We’ll play that one later on, but in the meantime we’ll play another track from the new Alliance album now. Again, can you pick one and tell us something about it?

ROBERT – “Don’t Stop The Wheel Turning”, the very first song on the album. A lot of people like the power of that tune. I’ve seen reviews and people talking about it. They say it starts off the album, encompassing what you’d expect to hear on the rest of the album. So I think “Don’t Stop The Wheel Turning” is a good one for you to play.

 

 

NI ROCKS – As we’ve mentioned you’re always fairly busy. It has been quite a few years since you released a solo album. Is that something you think you’ll ever return to?

ROBERT – Well, unfortunately the 3.2 album turned out to be a little bit of a solo album, but it was Frontiers again who put out my “The Dividing Line” album, which was amazing. There used to be...well I think it’s back again... it was called MySpace, like Facebook. Everybody was on it and I was on it and I got this one thing from a guy that said ‘hey I think you’re a great artist and I just wanted you to know’ and I thought ah that’s nice and I looked at it and it said Frontiers Records – this guy works at Frontiers Records. So I jokingly sent back ‘oh I see you work at Frontiers, if I ever wanted a record contract who would I talk to’; thinking no one is going to answer me, that’s just it. Well, I get an answer saying ‘you talk to me, my name is Serafino, I’m the President of the company’. I went oh my god, this is Serafino, the famous Serafino. So we talked and I said ‘Serafino, what kind of album would you want from me’ and he goes ‘I want the album you want to do’. I say ‘what do you mean?’ ‘Whatever it is you want to do; what is it you like?’ I said ‘I’m somewhere between Asia and Foreigner maybe; I like progressive, but I like it to have hook choruses and I like to rock with the guitar a little bit’. He says ‘well that’s the album that we want’ and I said ‘I’m not going to sign a contract with you until I write two songs and I’ll send them to you and you can tell me if you want me to do an album’. I wrote two songs and sent him the two songs. He said ‘these are fantastic, exactly what I want from you; let’s do it’.

And right now I’m so busy with Alliance and 3.2; and Greg Kihn is touring too so I’ve got to do that. And my studio is totally booked, that I can’t think about a solo album. But, in the back of my mind I honestly want to do a concept album of some kind and I don’t know if I’ll ever get to it or not. That’s a major undertaking in so many ways, but that’s a goal of mine – to do some kind of concept album.


NI ROCKS – Another project that you’re involved in with Gary is December People which has released several albums of rock versions of Christmas songs. How did that project get started and what is the current status? Will there be another album?

ROBERT – You know that’s a really....if I ever had a good idea (laughs), if I ever did, I think that is the best idea I ever had. It is putting the most famous songs of classic rock, 70’s, 80’s and 90’s – you take “Stairway to Heaven” - the iconic songs. You take the iconic bands – Led Zeppelin. Then you take a well know holiday thing like “The Night Before Christmas” and you turn “The Night Before Christmas” into “Stairway to Heaven” and “Kashmir”; all these pieces from Led Zeppelin that are iconic and everybody knows. When you go see December People, I like to say you get the joke, because you hear that song and you hear all the pieces put together. Or we do “Angels We Have Heard On High” which everyone has heard (sings the traditional version) and knows that song; but you’ve never heard it done like Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing”. I figured out how to morph these things together, but it’s the real melody and the real words of the holiday song.

When you come to see December People you could sing it the first time. You could sing “Santa Claus is Coming To Town” like ZZ Top “La Grange”, first time you see us! What band can you ever go see for the first time that you know every song and sing ever word? Nobody – right? So there’s the beauty of it. It’s just so much fun to do. The audiences love it, the musicianship is superior on the thing. This is the hardest....well here’s poor Gary who plays in the band Boston and we’re doing “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” like Boston “Long Time” and “Find Your Way Back” (“Don’t Look Back”?); so it’s like a Boston medley; but it has to be the chords of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” and “The First Noel”. It has to be those chords and that melody. Then we have the guitar leads like Boston does, but they are turned inside out so that they appear to be the same thing, but they aren’t because I don’t want to get sued by Tom, even though I know him; he’s going to say ‘hey, you can’t use my lead guitar licks’. So they seem like Tom Scholz’s guitar licks, but they are not. And poor Gary has got to learn them inside out in December People style, and of course he’s a genius guitar player so he does it.

It’s so much fun and I think at some point we might be able to bring that to Europe. I think it would be a big hit there. We have only done it so far on the west coast; well we’ve been back east and stuff – BB Kings in New York City and Michigan in the United States here, But we haven’t put it on the map in a big way, because, again, you can only play in November and December with a holiday band, and we’re so busy with everything else that it just hasn’t come all together on the touring part. But I have a new agency now that is really big into doing these holiday things and we’ll see! My fingers are crossed that something really big is going to happen with it. If you go to my website the December People albums are available. It is really...I’m not trying to sell product, honestly... but it is so much fun and it is so great to have the CD or download them and have them around the house if you like holiday music. This is rocking, like holiday music just doesn’t do!


 

NI ROCKS – We’ll get some on the Show next Christmas. I’d asked Gary about potential Alliance live shows and when there might be a follow-up album. He was certainly keen on both ideas. What are your thoughts about that?

ROBERT – I would love to do that and Gary would love to do that. We wanted to do it this year, but I have my 3.2 band put together to do my 30 Year History in Progressive Rock that is going out on tour in September and October. So there’s just not enough time to do it this summer. Next year we’re hoping that our record company, Escape Music, can get some shows together and maybe even with the 3.2 band, Alliance and I might bring Greg Kihn with me. You know Greg Kihn was big I think in Germany and Italy I think he did pretty well, but maybe it was France. Maybe we’ll get a little package and bring the whole thing over. It’s something that is very important to us, we just haven’t been able to make it happen yet.

NI ROCKS – Gary talked even about trying to do the European festival season and trying to get Alliance to do some of those.

ROBERT – Yeah, that would be the ultimate. If we can just go play the festivals by ourselves and be on the bill with a bunch of these bands that are still around, that would be the ultimate for us. We would just love to do that and our material is very accessible for that hard rock audience. I think we’d fit right in there and maybe play one song from each of our bands anyway.


NI ROCKS – We’ve mentioned quite a few things you’ve been involved with recently. Is there anything else in the pipeline for the next 6 to 12 months that you can tell us about? You’d mentioned the 3.2 tour.

ROBERT – Don’t I sound busy enough? I’m having trouble sleeping (laughs). I really am having trouble sleeping! Everything...this is crazy... everything is so good right now. I’m all about music. My mum sang in my dad’s band. They had a big band and I was on stage. My mum didn’t quit singing with the band until she was almost nine months pregnant. The band didn’t even know she was pregnant she was so little. So I was in a band before I was born. I was on stage and music is my life; it really is. Right now, after thirty years of being in bands and getting to play with some great people I have more going on and more good stuff. The Alliance album I am so proud of, I think it’s our best one ever. The 3.2 thing in my lifetime is such an important thing to have done and to have been a part of. And of course I tour with Greg Kihn and we had an album out a year and a half ago – a new album that was quite good and a very simple kind of album. In the studio I’m producing a band called Tempest which is a Celtic rock band. I’m doing a bunch of songs for people every day. I have a fantastic wife. My kids are doing well. I hate to even say all that because I don’t want to jinx myself. Things are very good, but they’re also very busy and I can’t sleep because I am so excited. So I need to a rubber hammer to hit myself on the head every night just to go to sleep.

The 3.2 – I have a band put together for that and it’s all virtuoso players. It’s very exciting and I’m having to learn everything back to when I played with Steve Howe and GTR, redoing the 3 stuff with Keith and Carl, touring with Ambrosia, I do some of those. My tribute series that I did for Magna Carta records; I don’t know if you ever heard of those. “Karn Evil 9” (on the “Encores, Legends & Paradox” album) and “Roundabout” (on the “Tales from Yesterday” album) was one that well received. Jethro Tull (on the “To Cry You A Song – A Collection of Tull Tales” tribute album) – I did “Minstrel in the Gallery” where Ian Anderson even thought it was a great version and sent me a letter he liked it so much. So that’s all involved in this too and I’ve never played those songs live. So I’m having to learn all those. And with everything else going on I feel like a juggler. Keeping all those balls in the air and because it’s my music and things I’m involved in I can’t drop those balls. I’ve got to keep them up there. It’s a good time.


NI ROCKS – That’s all the questions that I have for you. We’ll finish by selecting one more track from “Fire and Grace” to play. Which one would you want to pick?

ROBERT – Well Gary picked my all time favourite which is “Uncertain”, I think that speaks to a lot of things that are going on. You know what is a real rockin’ song that I like is “Reason To Walk Away”. I used a song that I wrote for Alliance on the All 41 album and it was rocking like this. I like the really up moving stuff. I think I’ll pick that one.


NI ROCKS – Thanks very much for taking the time to talk to us. It’s been really good talking to you.

ROBERT – It’s been great speaking to you. We should have spoken sooner and I apologise for being so busy. I can’t tell you enough how much I appreciate your time and your support for the band and my music and Gary’s music and David’s music. I feel so honoured these days that people are still liking what we do and maybe even liking it more. It’s becoming its own thing out there and more people are talking about it, and you’re a part of that so thank you so much.

 

Last Updated (Sunday, 24 January 2021 02:50)