It is always great news to hear that the hard rocking Black Star Riders are about to release another new record. They are a band that certainly never disappoints, and who always successfully strive to maintain the high standards set by their former incarnation – Thin Lizzy.
This time out, seven years since their ‘rebadging’ and the wise decision to stop living off their band’s past glories and to, instead, forge their own path by playing their own material, the band has brought in two new members to refresh and revitalise their sound. The new album, Another State Of Grace, has certainly vindicated this decision.
Chad Szeliga, formerly of Black Label Society, has taken his place on the drum stool, and gun guitarist, Christian Martucci, of metal icons Stone Sour, has stepped into the breach to add his brand of power and flair to compliment the band’s established musical blueprint.
Working with long-time Lizzy guitarist Scott Gorham and BSR’s vocal powerhouse, Ricky Warwick, Christian has also significantly contributed to writing the songs on the new album.
With the album now due out next month, and with an extensive European and U.K. tour imminent, Christian was happy to talk about his excitement at taking on his new assignment.
The Upside News: Hello Christian. Congratulations on the new Black Star Riders record, Another State Of Grace.
You seemed to have fit seamlessly into the group’s established sound and dynamic. You must be feeling that that the decision to audition for Damon Johnson’s vacated guitar spot has immediately paid off?
Christian Martucci: Yeah, yeah! You know I was a big fan of the band before I came along, and I was on tour with Stone Sour when I got the call about playing with Black Star Riders and I was very excited about it. It was one of those things that was seamless. I did not have to alter my style or change anything about the band at all, it all just worked perfectly.
TUN: And how does it feel to be working with someone of the calibre of Scott Gorham? It must feel pretty good playing with someone with such an impressive CV?
CM: (Laughs) Yeah, throughout the time period I grew up [he was on] some of the first albums I had. So, it is an amazing experience to be able to play with somebody that you grew up watching and hearing – and not only play with them, but also create an awesome album with them. It feels really good – and he’s great and I love playing guitar with him!
TUN: I spoke to singer Ricky Warwick just before the previous album, Heavy Fire, was released and he said that[previous guitarist] Damon Johnson was a really important contributor, telling me that he had co-written ninety percent of the band’s songs on that album. So, I would imagine you had to step up to the plate pretty well immediately in that respect too?
CM: In some ways, yeah.
There were already some ideas kind of kicking around, like Scott would record some riffs and Ricky had some great ideas. So, when Stone Sour was on tour with Ozzy, before we’d go on stage, I’d basically be backstage putting all these ideas together in the best way that I could and, you know, making demos.
And as soon as the Stone Sour tour ended Ricky came up here. He flew up to my house, and he sang on the demos that I’d put together, with, basically, everybody’s ideas [included].
We sent them to everybody and everybody was really excited about what they were hearing. We got together a couple of weeks later, started working on the songs, and then went straight into the studio. There wasn’t a lot of time to be like, ‘Oh my God! I’m playing with Scott Gorham!’, it was more like, ‘Wow! We’ve got to get in here and get this done!’
You know it’s always interesting stepping into a new situation. You never know what you’re walking into. Lucky for me, Scott is just a great, awesome person and everybody in the band was just very welcoming.
It all feels good, you know. It’s band, a real band. There was this instant chemistry. Very cool!
TUN: Is your role in Stone Sour still an ongoing one? Are you currently in two bands simultaneously? Or did you leave Stone Sour to join with Black Star Riders permanently?
CM: No, I didn’t leave Stone Sour.
What happens is that our singer in Stone Sour, [Corey Taylor], is also in Slipknot. So, basically, there was a huge hole in my schedule because, obviously Slipknot’s [recording and tour] cycle is very long. So it was just that, timing-wise, it worked out perfectly, because Black Star Riders wanted to make a new album and go out and tour it and I had all the time to do that.
So, I’m not really super concerned about the two bands overlapping. They’re just so different, and obviously when Slipknot’s out there doing stuff, Stone Sour can’t do anything.
And I can’t think of any better way to pass the time. It’s just like, well, I’m in this cool band, and whilst that band is taking a break, I guess I could make an album with Scott Gorham and Ricky Warwick! [Laughs] That’s a very good problem to have! [Laughs again]
TUN: I reckon so! That’s very, very cool.
Now, I’m interested in what type of influences went into making the new album. Last time around, Ricky was telling me there were some Motown influences on Heavy Fire. Was there any particular feel you found yourself looking for on this new album?
CM: You know, I’d love to tell you that there was but there really wasn’t. It was just the most natural thing, it was almost like the songs were just handed to us in a way, you know what I mean?
I know it sounds crazy, but it felt like it was really meant to be.
You know, I love being that guy who takes bits and pieces of things and puts them together in a way so that they turn into, you know, cool songs. [Laughs] Well, at least I think they’re cool! You know, it was a very simple process!
So, no. There wasn’t really a discussion about that it should really sound like this, or it should sound like that, it was just that this group of songs we had, with these riffs and things, just sounded like Black Star Riders – with some added ingredients, for sure.
The last thing I would’ve wanted to do was to change the sound of the band, and I wouldn’t even know how to.
You know, it was such a natural feeling to come into the band [and play their music]. I didn’t have to adapt to that, it was already in a style that I grew up playing and listening to, so it wasn’t, you know, a challenge in a bad way. It was a challenge in a good way – like, ‘How can we make this as good as it can be?’
TUN: Well, I have to say that the album – from the opening chords of the first track, Tonight The Moonlight Let Me Down – really does spark with energy. It sounds really fresh, which I think must be hard to achieve when the band, collectively, has something like a century or more of recording experience behind them…
CM: [Laughs] Yeah!
TUN: So, your injection into the band has seemed to keep the band’s sound exciting and vital…
CM: Well, one thing that I really loved about it, especially since you mention Tonight The Moonlight Let Me Down, was that that was one of the first songs that Scott, Ricky and I wrote together – yeah, I think it might have been the very first song that the three of us wrote together. Ricky and I might have written a couple of songs before that one came along. But it was just an amazing feeling to think, ‘Wow, I’ve just written a song with Scott Gorham and it’s awesome!’
So, you ‘ve heard the song, and you’ll have heard there’s a saxophone on it. I actually reached out to Michael Monroe [of Hanoi Rocks fame] to see if he’d be interested in playing some sax on the song, and he was very receptive to the idea. So that’s what you hear! Pretty cool!
TUN: You were saying that you didn’t want to try and change the sound, and you didn’t know how you could do that anyway, and I guess that whilst there is that natural process of evolution of the Black Star Riders sound, they still keep echoes of that Thin Lizzy sound too. On the title track of the new album in particular, you can hear that. It sounds a bit like Emerald from the Jailbreak album – only with vocals. Do the band actually talk about keeping a little of that Thin Lizzy sound in the mix to ensure that old fans keep the faith?
CM: You know, we didn’t really have to, because Scott plays the way that he plays. When you play guitar with Scott you want to harmonise with him and he’s a very melodic guitar player, so whilst I’m sure it’s in the back of everybody’s mind – obviously, Thin Lizzy is a very important part of the band – I think instead of trying to make it sound like that, I think it just does because with Scott on guitar, it kind of is that, isn’t it? [Laughs]
Playing with certain people makes you play a certain way – not intentionally, but you are just sort of feeding off of each other – and when Scott plays guitar it makes me think of Thin Lizzy. As it should.
TUN: There seems to be a bit of a theme going on the record – I mean, Soldier In The Ghetto, Why Do You Love Your Guns, Standing In The Line Of Fire, In The Shadow Of The War Machine, does that make the title of the record, Another State Of Grace, a deliberately ironic choice for an album title?
CM: When Ricky was here we were discussing what we should call the album, and he was doing vocals and I asked, ‘What’s the name of this next one?’ Because I just had them labelled, you know, like ‘BSR 01’, ‘BSR02’, so he would name the songs just before he started singing. And when he said, ‘Another State Of Grace’, I was like, ‘That is an amazing album title – you have to use that!’
The other guys in the band liked it a lot too.
That was just another one of those things. I mean, as far as the lyrics go, the lyrics’ theme is more of a Ricky thing. To me it sounds like it’s very Black Star Riders, but he’s digging a little deeper on this album. That could just be a maturity thing, or…I don’t really know what it could be! All I know is that I loved all of his other lyrics too, before this record. He’s just a brilliant lyricist. He’s great. He definitely has that gift – which I don’t! I wish I could write lyrics like that, but it’s too hard!
TUN: I’m always fascinated by the thinking behind an album’s track sequencing. I’ve read a few times that the least impressive track on an album tends to sit second last on the second side of a record – but that theory goes out the window on this disc. In The Shadow Of The War Machine is probably my favourite song on the record. Did the band have much discussion about getting the flow right on the record as a whole?
CM: Honestly? Not really. We kind of recorded the songs, basically in whatever order our producer, Jay [Ruston] was feeling would be best that day. Some of it is kind of in the order that we recorded it. We recorded mostly live and then we would add those little bells and whistles at the end of the day, or whatever.
We did a song a day. That gave us the opportunity to come back the next morning and listen to what we had. I think we were all sort of taking mental notes – you know, like this song should be first, this one should be second, kind of thing. But again, just like everything else with this record, there were no arguments about it or anything, it was just natural. Everybody was really for what’s best for the whole band, which I think is super cool.
TUN: Have you had much opportunity to test the new songs out in a live context yet?
CM: Nope. Not yet. Only when we were doing pre-production.
Before we went into the studio, we rented a rehearsal room for a few days and kind of got acquainted with each other and also with the new material. We just played the songs over and over again until, you know, we were like ‘This is feeling really good now, so let’s move on to the next one’, kind of thing.
TUN: Are you looking forward to extending your involvement with the band to going out on tour with them?
CM: Oh absolutely. Yeah, absolutely. I’m going to do whatever needs to be done to keep the band out there! They don’t really need me to do that [laughs], but I really want to.
I’m really looking forward to touring this album, for sure. And I intend to do the entire thing.
TUN: I was playing through some of the material from your former bands, trying to figure out the evolution of your guitar sound and how it came to be so suited to the Black Star Riders’ sound. It became pretty obvious, even going back as far as [your early punk band] The Strychnine Babies, and then Thousand Watt Stare, that your playing has always managed to strike a really good balance between that aggressive power and that really appealing sense of melody which Black Star Riders must have also heard in your playing and made them think you’d be a perfect fit. Is that balance between power and melody something you’ve always aimed for?
CM: I think that the power comes from all the punk rock stuff that I was into when I was younger – and still to this day – and I guess, if anything, my style is a mixture of classic rock from, you know, the seventies and that kind of punk rock sort of stuff – Motorhead, and stuff like that.
That’s another thing that Ricky and I have in common, because we both love a lot of punk rock. And punk rock and rock ‘n roll, for a long time, went kind of hand in hand – you know stuff like the Dead Boys and bands like that. I’m a fan of the more rock and roll kind of punk stuff.
TUN: And you also worked with Dee Dee Ramone’s band for a while – that certainly gives you plenty of punk rock cred, doesn’t it? If you didn’t already have it before, I mean!
CM: [Laughs] Well, if that doesn’t do it, I don’t know what will!
Yeah, I was in a band with Dee Dee for a long time. You know, working with Dee Dee was my first experience of working with one of my idols. And in a lot of ways, everything about that experience has definitely helped put me where I’m at now, for sure.
TUN: And I’ve also noticed that this year you have also played on the Altitudes & Attitude album, with Frank Bello from Anthrax and David Ellefson from Megadeth. How did that opportunity come about?
CM: Same thing really. Jay Ruston, the producer of Stone Sour and Black Star Riders, he was mixing that album – I’m pretty sure he produced it also, but if he didn’t, I apologise!
I had played with Frank previously, just for fun, and Jay asked me if I’d be interested in laying down some guitar.
And I was like. ‘You’ve got to be kidding me!’ And I didn’t know, throughout the whole time, you know, that Ace Frehley was going to be on the record, and all these other heavy hitters!
I’m very proud of that recording. That’s one of my proudest achievements, I’d say. Apart from all of the stuff that I mentioned that I was into before, I grew up, for the majority of my life, and throughout the eighties, on Megadeth, Anthrax, Slayer, Metallica – you know, all of those bands. They had a huge influence on me, as I said.
And in some ways, that naturally helped me when I joined Stone Sour, because you know in punk bands there are solos and stuff like that, but they ‘re not like the blazing fast, ‘shreddy’ kind of stuff, but I think, from being a kid growing up and playing along to those records, that when I did have to play the more aggressive kind of modern metal, I was able to adapt to it because the muscle memory, somehow, was still there. Which was cool.
TUN: That’s really interesting.
I guess there has to be one last obligatory question – when are Black Star Riders coming down to tour Australia? Has there been any discussion of world tours or are you just planning on playing the usual European and American circuit?
CM: Well, I know, for now, that to start off with that we have a pretty extensive tour of the U.K. and Europe.
Personally? Well, I would love to come back there [to Australia] and play there again because I love it there. If it works out, I’ll be happy!
TUN: So will we!
CM: So, there are no definite plans yet, but like I said, I was just there, twice, on the last Stone Sour tour and I love it there, and If we can make it over there I’ll be the first person on the plane!
TUN: So when future tour plans are discussed make sure you name check Australia!
Congratulations on the new record once again, I’ve got my advanced copy in the car and have been driving around with it cranked up on full volume! And thanks for taking some time out to talk with The Upside News.
CM: Thanks you so much – and I’m glad you like it!
Black Star Riders’ fourth album, Another State Of Grace, will be released on Nuclear Blast on September 6.