Interview/Article by Cameron Arndt
It’s late summer of 2014. By any reasonable expectation the five members of Voodoo Six should have been on a high following the critical success of 2013’s Songs To Invade Countries To record, and the ensuing tour as main support to Iron Maiden. The band had played in sold out arenas all over Europe, to great acclaim. They followed this up with their own, smaller, but no less well received headlining tour in the UK.
Thoughts should have been turning to a follow up record to capitalise on their well-deserved success; however a spanner was thrown in the works when singer Luke Purdie was suddenly forced to leave the band due to illness. The first fans knew of this was when the band released a statement in October that year saying ‘It is with a heavy heart that we have to announce the departure of Luke from the band. He is unwell and will not be able to continue with us. It’s been five years, we have made two amazing albums with him and played countless shows, he always delivered and gave his all at the highest level. We all wish him well and hope he is back to full health very soon. It is a very sad time for us, he was always a pleasure to be around and we will miss him greatly.’
It certainly was a blow, Purdie had gelled with the band instantly on joining in 2010. His down-to-earth, rough-and-ready style far more fitting than the more theatrical bent of original vocalist Henry Rundell. Together the band had released the punchy, anthem filled Fluke? (2010) album, then the aforementioned STICT and – with the patronage of Steve Harris and Iron Maiden – looked set to step up another level. Purdie’s departure put the brakes on everything, however – though the band did manage to fulfill some immediate show commitments with the help of a guest singer, and ended their statement with a purposeful request for singers to audition. Nevertheless a period of uncertainty and a long hiatus followed, during which the band’s growing fanbase could only hope for them to return.
Fast forward to 2017 and that return is finally in full swing. With new vocalist Nik Taylor-Stoakes in place Voodoo Six executed a successful European Tour in 2016, supporting Steve Harris’ British Lion side project, and also recorded their fourth album.
The record, Make Way For The King, will be released on September 8th and followed by a full UK Tour. It seems things are back on track for a band for whom the road to success hasn’t always been easy.
Putting The Band Back Together
‘It was initially a big blow as we’d done two albums that we loved with Luke, and had all the adventures of the Maiden tour and other stuff’ says Voodoo Six’s long-serving guitarist Matt Pearce, corresponding with me via email from the bands base in London ahead of the launch of the new album. ‘He was a great guy and a great songwriter too’ he continues, ‘but it also felt a bit like that lineup had ran it’s course and he really needed to change his life.’
Despite the requests for auditions, and the long time between albums, it seems the new line up came together surprisingly easily. ‘A guy from the label we were with at the time sent us something, he didn’t like the band but thought the singer was great’ Pearce says now, ‘We’d had a bunch of really not great or just not right for it people apply, but we all independently heard Nik and thought, “Ah, interesting!” He was so clearly the best and had something in his voice which was very intriguing. And of course he sounded nothing like Luke. We initially did a couple of gigs with him filling in as he was still in the other band, but we were wanting him to join as soon as we heard him.’
For the singer, things also happened quickly, ‘It was all very out of the blue’ says Taylor-Stoakes today, ‘With Luke leaving and the guys having some gigs booked up they were looking for a temp to help them out while they sorted out what they were gonna do. Their record label recommended me as they thought I would be a good fit, even though I was in another band at the time.’ He got a message from the Voodoo Six bass player/band leader, Tony Newton, and immediately jumped on board, with excellent results, ‘Obviously I was up for it! We did two great shows at the Kentish Town Forum and Planet Rock Stock (after one quick run through the songs beforehand). For me it felt like it clicked straight away. I’m a big believer in chemistry between members more than anything else, and it felt right from the start’
Still, Taylor-Stoakes didn’t expect any more to come of it beyond that one fun week. ‘The two shows were great and we left it at that. To be honest I didn’t think I’d hear anything from them again. I thought they would probably want to bring in a bigger name – and they did have offers.’
That, of course, wasn’t the end of the story, ‘A few weeks later Tony got in touch and said they wanted to work with me, here’s a few new song ideas, what could I do with them… that was the beginning of “Make Way For The King” …so I kinda sloped into the band as opposed to some grand entrance!’
The addition of Taylor-Stoakes was just one in a long succession of line-up changes in the band – which originally included future Judas Priest guitarist Richie Faulkner, and of course singer Rundell – while the most recent singer switch was followed by the departure of guitarist Chris Jones and the recent recruitment of new man Craig Price. This has led to an unavoidable, though by no means unfortunate, evolution in the band’s sound over the years. ‘Obviously the change of singer is a big change’ Pearce muses, ‘Henry was never really right for it but we all loved what Luke brought to it. But Nik has this edgy, more contemporary thing to everything he does. Guitar wise it’s changed a lot since the Richie Falkner days..!’
‘It worked for a while with me and Chris’ he goes on, ‘But I think again that had run its course, this kind of very extreme contrast between his shredding style and my more melodic bluesy approach. I don’t think now that there’s any pretence of being a metal band, it’s very much classic rock really, just trying to craft a great record with good songs and great playing.’
Pearce recorded all the guitars on the new album himself, before the second guitar slot had been filled. The Glasgow-born guitarist seems to take these changes in his stride – and indeed relishes playing with a variety of different people. He seems positive about his burgeoning partnership with Price, ‘We did the British Lion tour together and it was a lot of fun. He fitted really well because he’s not an ego guy and not trying to be too much of a shredder, and got a great sound too.’
As for Taylor-Stoakes, joining a band who were already well established (incredibly originally forming way back in 2003!) proved no problem at all thanks to the organic way it came together, ‘To be 100% honest it was very easy – but only for the fact I came in initially as a favour to help them out, so I felt no pressure at all. It was all very informal. They were all so laid back and appreciative for me coming in at short notice, I was made to feel so welcome that stepping in was just fun, no pressure, no stress…’
So how has the experience been so far?
‘Interesting… Ha! But good… really good!’
Writing The Record
The new album contains 12 tracks of heavy, hooky classic rock. That signature Voodoo Six sound – all buzzing riffs, gritty vocals and furious solos backed by the thick, muscular bass & drums of Newton and sticksman Joe Lazarus – is still very much present, but this time there’s an extra modern edge as well as some more intricate and epic songs – and also an intriguing emotional element brought by Taylor-Stoakes’ ability to convey a sense of feeling and vulnerability in even the roughest rock & roll numbers.
Make Way For The King was written by Newton, Taylor-Stoakes and Pearce. The guitarist relates how the process of composing has evolved through the years, ‘The first album [2006’s Feed My Soul] was pretty much Tony, with some input from Richie. The second one [Fluke?] Tony had pretty much written and then Luke joined and we reworked the stuff a lot. Then Songs To Invade Countries To was very much the three of us working on the songs, and this one is a continuation of that. Riot on the album was an idea that I had that Tony helped with, for example, rather than usually the other way round.’
Much like with joining the band, the new man found joining the writing team to be a very natural process, ‘The writing thing was very smooth and fluid’ Taylor-Stoakes says, ‘As I said earlier, chemistry is so important so if you have that, and are all singing from the same hymn sheet, then stuff just flows. It started with Tony sending me a few riffs, I would send them back to him with some vocal ideas on them, these would go back and forth with Matt also throwing stuff in and before you know it we had a song… then another song… and so on…’
Writing complete, the band jetted off to Los Angeles to record the album with producer Tom Fletcher (Suicidal Tendencies, Ozzy Osbourne, Yes, Jeff Beck, Scorpions, Toto). For the singer it was ‘Like a dream… We went to Hollywood and spent our whole budget on hookers and cocaine’ he says, ‘After several weeks of that we got bundled back onto the plane and somehow had a great record!’
‘Ha… it was actually a very productive few weeks’ he admits, ‘Unfortunately none of the hookers and cocaine actually happened!’
Pearce plays an absolute blinder on the record, spitting out riff after riff and layering spiralling, melodic solos on top. All the more impressive given that at first he didn’t know he’d be the only guitarist on the album, ‘It wasn’t originally going to be that. Chris kinda phased himself out of it, and then the plan was to get a guy we know to do some of the solos, but in the end it didn’t happen and I was stuck with doing all of it! To be honest it was great to be able to get on with it, not always trying to juggle the two styles. So it felt very natural.’
Despite the opportunities the band have had to taste the big time over the years, the sessions in LA seem to have been something else entirely. Taylor-Stoakes describes the experience, ‘We recorded at Mothership Studios which was actually in Steve Vai’s house! It was a crazy set up, sort of a four storey house and the second floor was this incredible recording studio.’
‘It was such a great environment there and everyone was just performing out of their skins’ he goes on, ‘The amount of things that were done first take was mind blowing. We just got on a roll and kept going!! We originally planned on getting the whole thing done and recorded in just over two weeks but – as usual with these things – sometimes certain areas take longer than expected and we ran out of time. Matt and Joe luckily had just finished their parts so they headed home and me and Tony stayed on for another week or so to get the vocals, backing vocals and finishing touches on it. It was unreal and, although we were in the centre of Hollywood, we didn’t see that much of it as when things are going well in the studio you just don’t want to leave!!’
Make Way For The King
With the record hitting stores in a matter of weeks, and advance critical praise being heaped upon it already, how do the band themselves feel?
Pearce compares MWFTK to the group’s previous efforts, ‘Well we’ve done a few different things, some interesting time changes and changes of mood that we haven’t done before. I think every album I’ve got more involved with the writing so this one it’s much more collaborative than it was in the early days. But there are a couple of old songs we’ve reworked on it, some real epic stuff so that side has always been there.’
For his part, Taylor-Stoakes is pleased with the results of the sessions, ‘I’m really happy with how the record turned out, I genuinely feel there are no filler songs and every track is so strong!!! There are many real high points for me, like I love the lyrics to Falling Apart and what that’s all about. I love the riff to Let Me Walk and the whole of Electric, it’s all so strong and well written it’s very hard to pick one stand out point….buuuuut…. if I had to, I would say that Amen just blows my mind every time I hear it! I think that’s a very proud moment.’
Rock And Roll Traffic certainly agrees with this, with the expansive, showpiece mid-album cut noted as a particular highlight in our review. Pearce, too, acknowledges the power of the song, ‘Amen, I remember us recording this in LA, the second half where it builds, it just worked so well. We were playing it for ages and when we finally finish Tom Fletcher says “You just don’t want that to ever stop!” It’s a big tune – worked great live on the British Lion tour!’
With Make Way For The King finally about to drop on September 8th, the next stage is taking it on the road. The band are doing this immediately with 12 UK dates kicking off at The Underworld in London on the day the album comes out. It’s something Taylor-Stoakes can’t wait for, ‘The live shows were what sold me on this band from the first time I played with them, I’ve played with some great players and really great bands in my time but from the first 20 seconds of the first song on the first gig I did with them I knew this was next level and something really special,’
For Pearce the new album and tour are a chance to add to the huge collection of great memories and achievements he’s already had with the band, ‘There’s been many highlights, the Maiden tour was something so mind blowing. That first arena gig in Lisbon, it’s still so fresh in my mind. Then on to stadiums, playing something like Lead Me On in a stadium, which was what we always thought it would sound amazing in! And it did…’
‘For the future’ he says, ‘We just want the chance to build the momentum, to get out and play to people, not thinking much beyond that right now. Getting a lot of people to hear the album, that would be cool – and even cooler if they buy it!’
The band’s new lead singer is particularly looking forward to one thing in the next year, ‘For me personally it’s festivals!! I love playing festivals, I love the atmosphere, I love watching all the other bands, I love that the crowds aren’t just there for you but you have to leave an impression. I love just hanging out for a few days watching other bands getting all hyped up and smashing out an awesome set!! So my hope would be to play lots of festivals next year!!!’
It’s been a turbulent few years for Voodoo Six, but once again they’ve come through. With Taylor-Stoakes slotting in seamlessly to the settled axis of Newton, Pearce and Lazarus, and Price bedding in rapidly to his role, could this finally be a chance for the band to hit an extended run of success?
Something has certainly kept them going through the adversity and, listening to the new record you have to surmise they’re all the stronger for the problems they’ve faced.
Pearce considers what’s kept the band together all this time, ‘I know we aren’t reinventing the wheel but I think what we do is get a good balance between some really hefty riffing and great tunes and energy. So it’s kinda classic and modern at the same time. And despite all the shit that happens sometimes, when we get together and play, that energy just makes it worth it.’
Make Way For The King is released September 8th via Cadiz Music.
Voodoo Six Tour Dates: