I was absolutely delighted to be given the chance to interview someone from the band Tragedy when they came to Scotland last weekend. Thanks to their management and their PR folks for organising and helping to make sure it happened!
Myself and my mate Sinclair who was taking photographs went into the venue called The Cathouse late afternoon and sat at the back bar to have a chat. There was a bit of noise due to some sound-checking going on at points so there is the odd bit that is not so distinct but not too much. The first thing I did was thank him and tell him that his band are intrinsic to my writing for this site due to me meeting Rich ‘The Meister’ Dillon one of the 2 original Canadian geeks in Edinburgh at one of their gigs! Then I started asking questions… this is how it went!
CGCM: Can I start by asking how all you guys got together?
Mo’Royce: It all started simply as a dumb idea on paper. We didn’t have any songs that we were working on or anything like that. Then we got a call from a promoter in New York City saying “Hey, I am doing this weekend of shows at this great venue, the Irving Plaza and was thinking that I would kind of like to have a kind of fun funny tribute band, or something like that, for the weekend, what can you guys come up with?” So (I think this is the name) Barry Glibb started the band and we talked it over for a bit, and we had this idea of doing a metal tribute to something distinctly not metal.
We were throwing some ideas back and forth and then he landed on The Bee Gees. I was like “oh man that would be amazing“. So he called the promoter back and said how about a metal tribute to The Bee Gees and the promoter said that sounded great but on one condition that he got to be in the band! We asked what he played and said that he didn’t play anything. So we were like you can be like Robin and stand there with your finger in your ear at the side of the stage (laughing). So that’s how it started.
Still Being Creative
It was kind of a dumb idea and in the next few days we started to work on some demos and the promoter started shopping around the idea and we ended up getting, I don’t know, maybe 3 or 4 gigs even before that based on these demos we made and based on the concept. So immediately we guessed there was something special here. Creatively we were very inspired too. We were really reinventing this stuff too. Neither of us had ever been in cover bands or tribute bands or anything. We really like to be songwriters and creators and this meant kind of writing new arrangements for all these songs that existed already. Then when we got to the audiences it was like an immediate response. So it just took off from there.
CGCM: Were you all in separate bands before you started this project?
Links Between Members
Mo’Royce: Yeah, em, throughout the years everyone in the band had been in a band with someone else in the band! We have had some members in and out throughout the years. Just recently the 2 new guys hadn’t really been in a band before, but actually our new guitarist was kind of a student of Testament‘s Alex Skolnick….
CGCM: (interupts excitedly) Oh I was going to ask you about Alex. I saw a live video from a few years ago and he was playing onstage with you…
Mo’Royce: Yes, yes. So Barry Glibb our previous guitarist was actually teaching as a teenager, at around 17 or 18 years old teaching with Skolnick and then our new guy Gibbon Ass Freehly was there at 12 years old. They were all adults apart from Gibbon Ass Freehly. He just turns up and fucking blazes right… So that’s how it is all connected. Most of us have either been in projects before or in my case doing recording production, so I have produced a lot of stuff for guys within the band. Most of us go way back with each other.
CGCM: Having seen you before I would say the important thing is that you guys can play. If there was no musical skills then for me the joke would quickly wear thin.
Mo’Royce: Not only that, we try to take it another step. Say you listen to a Weird Al record, that is really funny to listen to but it’s not maybe the kind of thing you want to put on… pauses… there is no mood to it, it is just funny. So like in our live shows there is a lot of comedy but we want our music to be something that can, yes, something about it that will make you laugh, make you smile but makes you feel much like the original material. We try to go a little bit further in the emotional realm than most comedy bands.
CGCM: Up to now you have been doing mainly Bee Gees, disco and songs from well-known musicals but is there anything else you might like to try and do or are you happy to continue in those genres perhaps having still plenty of song choices to try?
Choosing The Songs To Cover
Mo’Royce: It’s kind of where our core identity is, I mean it started just as a metal tribute to The Bee Gees. The first thing was doing all their disco hits and we thought that on the second album we could do all their pre-disco stuff and all that, however we started to play that stuff live and we were just getting a vibe from the audience that it wasn’t the same as when we played some disco stuff so we thought what if we do some non Bee Gees disco artists and there was a response.
We were still trying to figure out what our identity was and we could see it was from preferably resourcing stuff from the 70s and 80s and there has to be and it is a rule that it can’t be hard rock or metal to begin with. Ideally it’s going to be something thats a part of the DNA of music culture, so whether you even try to listen to these songs or not you know them.
CGCM: That is very true. It doesn’t matter what you play tonight it is pretty well guaranteed that we will all know every single song whether we wanted to or not (laughing). Can I ask, see when you are working on the songs you choose have there been some songs easier to change than others in the transition to make them metal?
Not All Songs Are Easily Reworked
Mo’Royce: Oh for sure, you know, especially the disco stuff. The Bee Gees‘ disco songs are very dynamic, the songwriting is very dynamic but most disco stuff isn’t. It is often one chord progression and one beat the whole way through. Take a song like “I Will Survive”, which we have been wanting to do from since almost the beginning of the band and it always eluded us, how to do a compelling dynamic, you know, metal version of it because it is the same chords all the way through. It works as a disco song, it is brilliant as a disco song, so something like that we had to completely deconstruct and then reinvent it…
CGCM: I was thinking Queen quite a bit when I heard it…
Mo’Royce: Oh Yes, the first part is definitely “Bohemian Rhapsody” influenced (laughing) (Sinclairmentions that one of his kids had been listening to it earlier that day and Mo was like “NICE“)
CGCM: I suppose you have kind of covered it but how have you found metal crowds reactions to what you do in general?
Their First Metal Festival Experience
Mo’Royce: When we started playing we weren’t really playing in the metal scene in New York City, you know there’s a rock scene there, and for a minute when we first started there was a new funny tribute scene happening but that only lasted a year or 2.
The first time we felt we were really playing for a metal audience was playing at Bloodstock, that was our first metal festival and we were looking at the lineup and thinking that is was crazy and wondering if the crowd would want to kill us (laughing hard), but it was so much fun. Something funny happened as we were walking out to the stage, the band before us (Ravenage I believe, they play folky black metal) are walking off and we are all in our sequins and everything and they were walking off in their furs and skirts and stuff like that and they are looking at us wondering how we could ever hope to be taken seriously (lots of laughter)
CGCM: Yeah the thing about Bloodstock Festival is that the crowd do like to have a lot of fun and laughs, you know they often dress in outlandish costumes for bands trying to be as silly as they…
Mo’Royce: It’s brutal and silly and that is perfect for us…(everyone laughing)
CGCM: Although you have mentioned a bit about this before I was still wondering about the connection with Alex Skolnick. Is it just due to teaching situations that you have the link?
(At this point the drums are quite loud so I am trying to transcribe as best as I can…)
Mo’Royce: Yeah, Barry worked with him and you know everybody wants to be in Tragedy you know? (laughing). We were playing on a bill in New York where we recorded with him and then we were playing at Summer Breeze (a German metal festival) at the same time as him and he joined us onstage for that.
CGCM: Have you had anyone else famous join you onstage?
Being Joined Onstage
Mo’Royce: Well we had Moby back in the day… (struggling to think with soundcheck going on, we are all laughing at the situation…) when we were playing regularly that was much more of a thing. Now we tour it’s not so, em, it’s harder to work it out…
CGCM: Is there anyone you would like to jam with?
Mo’Royce: Oh man! Sure, if I could put it out there, Jack Black, but one of my dreams did come true. We were touring with Steel Panther and Michael Starr came and joined us onstage. We also got to join them onstage as well. That was so great. Man, what a singer that guy is. It is funny as he always jokes about using tracks all the time but that dude is 100% live and fucking nailing it, every nuance, night after night. We watched them in soundcheck and they are just kind of riffing and they started playing Bee Gee songs and the guy just nails everything.
I then tell him how on the second time I saw Steel Panther they were mucking about trying to play Rush but with one member getting upset as he couldn’t do it as it was too technical. No doubt he could do so, but as a fan of Rush I appreciated the respect they were showing. Mo’Roce was laughing as I was telling him.
CGCM: It is interesting to hear that he uses no backing tracks. I mean at the moment there are a lot of arguments going on about what actually constitutes a LIVE performance.
Mo’Royce: There are some keyboard tracks but the lead vocal is 100% live even though he jokes about saying stuff like “I only played about 30% of that live, pretty good for a guy in his 70s”.
CGCM: Even years ago I was in a venue where I was working and in the soundcheck there was over half an hour of checking vocals with absolutely no one on stage… I wondered if anyone was going to sing at all…
A Look At What Constitutes A Live Performance
Mo’royce: It depends, it can be a creative choice, that’s what I think. I mean we only put sound effects on tape otherwise we are 100% live. There is nothing musical on tracks for us. However, if there is something like say you have a band but no keyboardist, you had one in the studio for recording but not in the band and there is a great keyboard part you would want that in there live too, or say a choral part or something. I get it.
We are blessed as we have 4 amazing singers in the band so we can do the big backing vocals live, but if you are in a band with great players and a great singer and he does all the backing vocals in the studio then maybe you have to put that on a backing track. People can feel what they want about that and I don’t blame them if they think that sucks, I understand that but I also understand people trying to put on the best show they can and maybe resort to something like that.
CGCM: Personally I don’t mind within reason, I mean I have actually seen at a gig where a band member is not plugged in and you are hearing his instrument and I stood wondering what is the point of them even being there. I think where a band has used extra musicians or even an orchestra or choir then of course I expect that to be on tape. But for me, I want to see the players actually playing and the lead vocals being sung by the singer. That is kind of important in my view. I love the fact you have so many singers, which is handy if you are covering bands like The Bee Gees.
Mo’Royce: Yeah we are “The Bee Gees of metal” or as I like to say “we are the Eagles of life metal” (laughs all round).
CGCM: Do you all have specific ranges?
Mo’Royce: We do but it is kind of funny as I am both lowest at times and highest a lot of times. However, we all have very different ranges and indeed very different sounding voices but the blend is where the magic happens.
CGCM: I tell him about another band who all sing and on their tour bus they do vocal harmonies for fun and practice and immediately Mo’Royce goes “We all just drink whisky on ours, that and steroids” and starts laughing.
CGCM: So what are your plans for the future?
Mo’Royce: Well we have another 3 weeks left over here, lot of dates left in the UK then France, Spain, Portugal and Germany. Then we are back home for a couple of weeks and then we go back out in the US again for 3 or 4 weeks with this band called Beatallica so really busy few months for us.
Once again on behalf of CGCM a huge thank you to those who helped organise the interview and to Mo’Royce himself for being so generous in his time. We wish him and the guys all the very best for the future.
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