Interview: Glenn Hughes


Photo via Glenn Hughes Official Website

Glenn Hughes has a new solo album, and the sound of it is sure to “resonate” among fans of this iconic rock musician. Resonate came out on November 4th on Frontiers Records and it’s being called Glenn Hughes’ heaviest album to date. Last week, before the album was released, I had the wonderful opportunity to speak with Glenn Hughes for an in-depth interview about Resonate, Black Country Communion, Deep Purple’s Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Induction, his musical background and bass skills, plus some hints as to how he keeps the “Voice of Rock” going strong. Bonus little fun fact, during a brief pre-interview chat, I also learned a bit about his dogs – he has four, a long-haired Chihuahua, a mini pin-beagle mix, a pharaoh hound, and a papillon. Now for the interview:

It’s great to hear from you, thanks for calling in. Some of the latest and exciting news with you is of course, your brand new solo album Resonate. This is the first solo album for you in a while, so first off, why did you decide that now was the time to release a new record, what led up to this?

Well, since 2010, I’d made three albums with Black Country Communion with Joe Bonamassa, and I made an album with Jason Bonham called California Breed, and that took about five years out of my normal schedule to do an album. When I’m in a project and writing for that project, I’m…I kind of can do two at once, but I just decided not to overwork myself. I did have open heart surgery a couple of years ago, had two knees replaced earlier this year, so it’s not been an easy ride the last few years. So I decided as I was in recovery early this year, I would make an album – as I was at home recovering from the operations, I found myself in my studio, writing the songs you’re hearing now on the Resonate album. It was a very focused album for me, I knew all the songs were going to be on this album, and I write about…I write about human condition, I don’t really write about fictitional things, I write about what we go through as humans. I’m not really writing about me in general, I’m writing about us as humans. Love, faith, fate, fear, the seven deadly sins, of course, which we have to watch out for…and you know, I write about things that we can connect with, and we can go through together.

Definitely. But I’m so sorry to hear that it’s been such a rough time for you, I mean, open heart surgery, my goodness, I hope you’re doing a lot better now…

Oh! I’m doing excellent. That was actually a couple of years ago. And by the way, the craziest thing was, Chelsea – I told my manager and PR company, I said, “Listen guys, when we do this, let’s not go public with this, okay? ‘Cause this isn’t going to sell any records, it’s not going to bring people out to see me, it’s not going to make any difference, let’s just not.” And of course, six months later, my PR goes “We can announce it now”, and I’m going “What the hell are you doing!”, you know? So it’s something I haven’t felt comfortable talking about because it’s very private, but now it’s general knowledge, so it is what it is. But I’m doing fantastic.

Well, I’m glad to hear that you are better, what a thing to go through. But we don’t have to talk much more about that if you don’t want to –

No, it’s all right.

And the album is a big thing at hand here, so…The track “Heavy” is one of the singles, one of the first songs people have heard off the album, and I’ve been listening to it a lot, it really sounds great. One of the things I like is the way it sort of moves between more of a grooving verse and a straightforward heavy chorus that lives up to the title. Can you talk a bit about this track and some ideas that went into it?

You know, when I wrote that track…see, every track I write, I go, “What don’t I have here, what kind of groove haven’t I wrote yet?” and I said, “If I can cross an R&B verse and bring it into a really straight-ahead 70’s vintage rock chorus, that’s something I haven’t done for a while. So I thought I’d keep the groove going in the verse, keep it kind of straight ahead and then when it gets going into that chorus, we can use the “other” Glenn voice, the powerful rock kind of voice. My voice is an instrument, you know, it’s like I’ve got many flavors to the voice – the whispery voice, the intense voice, the different tenor voice, a soprano voice…like an actor would do reading his lines, it’s something like a character actor, I try and sing from a different angle every time I sing something. Yeah, I’ve got this voice that everybody knows, but I’ve got a few different flavors to it.

The music video for “Heavy” feels almost like we’re getting a look into the studio with you all laying down the tracks – was that the intention behind the video?

Yeah, the thing for me about videos is that – well, they’re important, as you know – and when I’m making a record I like to film what I’m doing in the studio, the cameras are always rolling and it’s easy for me to do it there. I just sort of like to see the images on the screen, where I was, how I was doing with the work, and my buddy Chad Smith was in there with me, and it was a really cool moment to do that. There’s a new video up today called “Long Time Gone”, by the way, it’s the next video and came out this morning, so that’s the next one you’ll probably be seeing.

Yes, I actually just saw that a little while ago, and I was going to ask you about it, can you talk a bit about that song too, “Long Time Gone”?

Yeah! I mean, I knew it would be the last song on the album, it starts off with me on the acoustic and singing in…(laughs) another Glenn voice.

Yet another Glenn voice! (laughs)

And then it gets into the meat of the song, it’s a very melodic song, it’s got that groove at the end, it’s like…each track on this album, Chelsea, it leads to the next one. It’s the only album I’ve ever wrote where I’ve gone in the studio to write it and – normally, I take bits and pieces of songs and finish them during the week, but this time I went in the studio on a Monday and I said, “Okay, I’m going to write an entire song, musically arrange it, finish the lyrics after dinner, and before I go to bed I’m going to record it”. And that’s how I made this album, I completely finished each song in its entirety before actually going into the studio for real and recording it that way. And it’s the first time I’ve ever done it, and I’ve got to be honest with you, it was the easiest thing I’ve ever done, and I chuckle when I say that because making music sometimes is not easy. Especially with the content that you’re singing about…when I was stepping up to the microphone to sing these lyrics, as an actor does when he’s looking at his lines, I didn’t know how I was going to feel as I was singing some of these lyrics I’d written. Because there’s some dark stuff here as well, there’s some deep stuff and some loving stuff, but there’s a little bit of angst on this album. I said “Ooh! I wonder what people will think if I’m a little bit angry”. I’m not really a guy full of anger, but I think I’ve portrayed that pretty well here, so I think people are understanding what I’m doing.

I mean, I know that I’m liking what I’m hearing so far, and I’m glad to hear the process went that well. You also co-produced the record with your guitarist, and this certainly isn’t the first time you’ve produced your own solo record, why is it that you usually choose to take on the production side of things as well?

I wanted to do it on this album simply because I wrote it all, and I knew what needed to be done in studio as far as instrumentation and arranging. Arranging isn’t writing, but as I wrote it, I knew the kinds of drama and the light and shade that needed to be on this album. I knew there was mellotron on this album, I knew I could just hear it, but rather than have a string quartet like I normally do, I wanted to have a more…late 60’s, early 70’s mellotron, a real mellotron. There’s only like six of them ever made, so I wanted to have that on this album, which we did. So, I knew certain songs would start off only with acoustic guitar, and these are the things that maybe other people wouldn’t have heard. You know? And what I’m happy about on this album is that, I realized at 65 years old that I think I’ve finally found my way back home, and it feels good.

Wow, that is great. And it’s cool that you had that plan laid out, you could hear everything right from the start, really makes sense from the production side.

It does, yeah.

You mentioned bringing the mellotron in and going for the 60’s kind of vibe there, would you say that anything about the sound of this record bears any resemblance to, or draws anything from the style of some of your past bands and work, or rather is it something completely unique and new?

It does. It’s analog, I’ve been recording in analog for 12 years, and it’s going back to two-inch tape, it’s going back to…well, like people like to listen to vinyl, you know? I like to listen to analog. Look, when people say “Oh, you’re trying to be vintage”…No, I’m not trying to be, I am vintage! How can you try to be vintage when you’re famous from being in a 70’s rock band? All I’ve done is basically gone home. I’ve never felt comfortable in the Pro Tools world, I never felt comfortable in the millennial years of multiple overdubs and changing the tone of voices, I just want it to be an organic album. There’s not that many overdubs on my album. There might be some vocal harmonies that are extended on this album – something I really wanted to do was have a wide variety of vocal harmonies, which I did. So I did take something from my past, and made it now. I didn’t want it to sound like it’s from 1974, but I am from 1974, so…that’s the way it is.

But that’s a good thing though – you know, analog, vinyl, that whole world of sound has some very special qualities to it that seems to gets lost in a lot of today’s digitally produced albums, so it’s good to know that there’s still some stuff out there being recorded in analog, two-inch tape and everything – really great.
So now, how does your live band compare with the recording in terms of who’s in the lineup? I know you’ve got Chad Smith, you mentioned that he’s a guest on this record, and I believe he’s played on some of your other records in the past…

Oh yeah, he’s played on six of them. So in my band is Søren – my guitar player who I had co-produced this with – Søren Andersen from Copenhagen, my drummer is from Sweden and his name is Pontus Engborg, the keyboard player is all the way from Sydney, Australia, who I’d played with numerous times over the last ten years when I go to Australia, his name is Lachy Doley. In my opinion – I’ve played with Jon Lord and Keith Emerson, I’ve played with the greatest Hammond players – Lachy Doley is in that league, so good, I think you can hear it. His playing on my album is astonishingly brilliant. And these guys are my touring band, they travel with me. So I think it was important for me to have the band that plays on the album play on the road, because we know these songs, and we play them so well together. For me, it’s the only way. I don’t want to have like two or three bands – one band in America, one band in Asia, one band in Europe – nah, no, I just want one global band and that’s the way it works for me.

You’ve been touring solo recently, in fact, you recently toured the US for the first time as Glenn Hughes as a solo act, as opposed to with some of your other bands in the past. It almost seems hard to believe that Glenn Hughes has never toured the US until now.

I know, it’s crazy because, in 1982 I had a number one song in seventeen countries in Europe, and I started to build a really good career over there. I never took my eye off America, this is where I’ve been living for 43 years, but sometimes you have to go where people want to see you, and I was building my European base strongly. And you know, since Black Country Communion, we had success in America, and it was time for me in the last year to take a look at America. We did the tour in August and I’m going to do another one next spring, and then another one next summer, because America’s so damn big you can play two or three tours a year here. So for me now, to play in the country that I love and adore, with the most amazing fans…I mean, my old fans were bringing their kids, you know, it was so cool…and all the shows were sold out, and it was a grand glorious time for me. I was driven to tears a few times because the reception was so remarkable for someone that has been doing it for so long, and again, I felt like I was coming home. Although I’m an Englishman, I’ve been living in America most of my life, so this was important for me.

Of course, many of your fans are excited to be seeing you out on the road lately and also to hear the new album for sure, and it seems like you have a good interaction with your fans especially through social media as well.

Oh, I do. I do. I have a web team that obviously does a lot of stuff for me, but it is me. I get a lot of people saying, “Is this really you, Glenn?” and I’m going “Mm, Yeah. It is.” You know, I get asked every day, “This really can’t be you.” And I just say “It is! It is me! How can I prove it to you?” I can’t really prove it, but it is me. So, I have a strong connection with my fans, I spend at least two hours a day, and sometimes it’s a lot of work for me. But I get asked so many great things, and people ask me for some guidance or whatever, like I’m an Aunt Abby kind of…you know, “Talk to Glenn, he might be able to help”. No, it’s just that I have a lot of time for people – look, man, I’m a human being, I’m just a guy that has had some success, but I’m very much a human being. You know, I’m here to be of service, and I like to carry that message, that really is important.

And I think it’s hard for people to believe because lots of musicians have teams running their social media, that’s probably why you get so many questions of, “Is it really you?!” because oftentimes it’s not.

It isn’t, and you know, I have friends that have teams of people who do all their stuff, and now they’re coming to me going, “What’s it like?” and I’m going, “It’s great! You should try it!” No, I’m kind of joking, but it’s like, I started seeking out my fans, I don’t know…actually, you know, it was right after my surgery from just over three years ago, when I had this open heart surgery. I started to connect with people because it was a huge thing that happened to me, and I just thought it was time to give back, you know? Again, they didn’t know what I’d gone through, but I spent a lot of time recovering from that. When you’re sitting at home recovering…I just wanted to give back some of the love.

And I’m sure you did.

Well, I hope so.

On a different note, Glenn, you were just at Bass Player Live a couple days ago, that’s always been a big event gathering some great bassists in many genres…

Oh right, right!

…have you appeared at that event before?

No, I’ve been asked to go, but at this time of year, I’m always in Europe. Yeah, it was an interesting day because I saw a lot of my friends there, a lot of my friends obviously are bass players. It was good because, you know, it’s packed full of fans that are bass fanatics, and it’s always good to connect with them and also my peer groups. So it’s a good thing.

An even bigger event for you recently was the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction, of course, Deep Purple’s induction – great thing, long overdue! When you first heard that Deep Purple was to be inducted, was that something you had expected at all, something you saw coming at the time?

You know, Chelsea, the band was nominated three times in five years. And every time that we – well see, this is funny. I’m friends with the guy from Public Enemy, you know, “BOY!”, that guy. And his band, two years ago, got the nod where Deep Purple didn’t get the nod, and I thought it was hilarious. But let me tell you, the fans of Deep Purple were not happy. We as a band were never, ever angry or disappointed that we weren’t getting in. Look, if you sold 135 million albums, there’s a good chance you’re going to get in. I just said, it’s going to come. Unfortunately, one of our guys died, and it was like he didn’t get a chance to be there and it was a shame. But for David Coverdale and I who came into the band in ’73, it was a great moment, because we’re still the best of friends. It was a great moment for British rock bands because the Hall of Fame is very American. It’s a huge American thing, Hall of Fame, you know, football, hockey, basketball, it’s all American, we don’t have that in Europe. But, there’s only like 330 bands that are inducted in the Hall of Fame. And the craziest thing is, they asked me to become an Ambassador. A week after the Hall of Fame, I went home and my Dad died the day I got inducted and I was going through some serious emotions, you know? And they asked me to come back to be of service to the Hall of Fame, and I’ve been back a couple of times, I took Jerry Cantrell with me to do one of the events, he’s one of my best friends. The Hall of Fame has been nothing but love for me, they’ve been so kind. You know, you hear stories about these people in the Hall of Fame, and I never actually listened to people talk about that. All I can say is that it’s been nothing but love for me coming from those people, from both Cleveland and New York.

You also mentioned David Coverdale, and of course, it seems like you and David have kept a good friendship over the years, you’ve even sang with Whitesnake from time to time, and I’m curious, has it ever come up for you two to consider working on any new music together?

The fact is that because we are such good friends, we…it seems to me that David, he wasn’t doing much, he stopped playing for a while because he had a child a few years ago, and then he came back…but when he came back, he really came back, he plays all the time. I think his window of doing a Glenn-and-David thing may be running short on time. We have spoke about it, but for some reason, we’ve never been able to put it together. And me now, doing this album, and I’m working with Joe Bonamassa this week to get songs ready for Black Country 4, we’re doing that in January. So I’ve got these two albums I’ve got to promote in the next eighteen months. You know, we’re both 65, David and I and I don’t think I’ll ever retire. I just don’t know if there’s a possibility of actually getting it done. We have spoke about it, but we’ll have to see what happens.

That does makes a lot of sense, you do have a lot on your plate between the new album, and yes – Black Country Communion, that’s another thing. I’ve heard some talk that there was a new record possibly coming out, so why did this come about now, what’s the reason behind you all getting back together for an album now?

Well, it’s another story about the Hall of Fame – Joe called me when he saw me on TV getting the award, and he said “Do you want to have dinner?”, and what I’d like fans to know is that Joe and I never had a falling out when the band kind of disbanded in 2012. Simply because Joe was so damn busy doing his wonderful solo work, which he’s worked so hard for a solo career, that I just thought, if Joe’s not going to be able to tour, then I’ve got to go back to doing something else. So lo and behold, we’ve kept in touch over the last four years, and after the Hall of Fame, we had dinner in Santa Monica and we looked at each other and we went, “What about a reunion!” and it was like “…Yeah!”. Let’s go make an “All-killer, no-filler” album, that’s what people say, right? We’ve been writing, he’s been coming over, he’s here all this week in my home. We’ll be done writing on Saturday and then, we’re going to record in January in Malibu, and the album will be out May 20th.

Nice! You already got a release date set.

It is a wonderful thing.

And it’s a good time for it too – You are known as the Voice of Rock, and there’s no question, you absolutely sound amazing as ever – any secrets to keeping up with your voice and keeping it so strong?

You know what I do, I get a lot of sleep, I rest my voice on days off…I remember seeing Steve Perry back a long, long time ago and seeing him on days off not speaking, and I’m going “Okay…how do you do that?” And it actually works. I think it’s like an athlete, we have to warm our voices up, and we have to warm our bodies up, we have to get limber. I’ve got a five-octave range and I like to use the actual range I do on the album, I like to sing like that live. So it’s a case of A, are you getting enough sleep, B, are you drinking enough water, and are you taking care of yourself, Mr. Hughes? Well, I do. I do take care of myself. Let’s just say years ago, I wasn’t taking care of myself, and it shows, but after years and years of long time sobriety, it’s a good way of life, I think I’ve finally got a handle on all of that now.

Well like I said, it shows, you’re sounding as great as ever. So Glenn, you often say who some of your earliest influences were – for instance, bands like The Beatles getting you into rock music originally, but who or what inspires you in terms of songwriting nowadays?

You know, the older I get…when I get in the car, I turn on Howard Stern, I don’t listen to music anymore. It’s not like I don’t want to listen to music, it’s just I’m so full of bloody music that, it’s not even that I don’t want to be influenced by people, but I mean, I think the last guy that really changed things up…Jeff Buckley when he was around was the last guy that I went, “Well there’s the future of rock’n’roll”. Someone who’s that talented, there’s not many guys or girls that come around that can be that great, you know? And then we lose them, so…I’m always looking for something that is going to change game. There’s so many bands, as you know being in the business, that come and go – they have one record and they’re gone, you know?  Because there’s nobody to have the money to put into long-term promotion like there used to be in the 80’s and 90’s, those things don’t happen anymore, the music industry is not the animal it used to be.

That is a good point. But that’s also pretty cool what you said about how you’re so full of music yourself, it’s kind of like not wanting to have that outside influence, because you’ve got so much coming from inside of you, I like that, that’s a good thing.  

Oh yeah, truly.

Now, I do want to ask you to talk a little about your musical background – of course, you’re most well known as both a singer and a bassist, but you didn’t originally start out on either of those instruments, am I right?

No, I was named after Glenn Miller, the trombone player. Captain Glenn Miller, his plane went down in World War II. The first instrument I played when I was ten was the trombone, and I read music from playing trombone, and then I went to play piano, then guitar, and then bass, and then the last thing I learnt was “Oh my god, am I actually going to sing as well?” I had no idea I was actually going to be a singer, I was 19 and I got onboard late doing that, and of course that is the main thing that people know me for, the singing Glenn. So I’m very very grateful to have took the baton and run with it.

And your fans are grateful for that as well I’m sure, that you went with the singing route. Playing bass and singing at the same time, a lot of people would say that’s a pretty challenging thing to do, which does makes it all the more impressive. Did you ever, when you were first starting out, find it to be a challenge handling both musical duties at once?

Yes. So much so that when I was writing early on, and we were making records, I wasn’t thinking “Can I do this live? Can I actually play this and sing it live?” There’s only been a few times when I have not been able to play something and sing it like on the record. So each time I work now, I make sure that what I play on the guitar translates to the bass which translates to my singing it. It’s very important that everything I write is translated to singing it, very important.

Definitely, but no one would dare question your bass skills – if there’s any challenges, it doesn’t show. And now, I believe there’s a Signature Bass of yours on the way, right?

Yep, it’s Yamaha, we’ve been working on it for quite some time. It’s like a cross between a J and a P and it’s got extra frets and it sound incredible. It’s an old relic bass, it’s so cool and we’re announcing it at the NAMM show in January. We’re still working on it right now, I’ve been playing a prototype for six months and we’re still getting it right. I’m getting all the basses back tomorrow and I’ll be in studio tomorrow giving them a good go-over.  

Cool, sounds nice. So back now to Resonate will be released on Nov. 4th, and you’ll be heading out on a UK and European tour to support the album right away, until you hit the US again next year, how are you feeling looking toward all this?

I’m feeling great. My European tours are going to go on, there’s going to be another European tour next year as well. There’s going to be an announcement soon about an American tour coming up, and…we’re hoping to announce something. I wish I could tell you now but I don’t want to jinx it.

Oh! No, that’s fine. (laughs)

So…something may be cookin’ soon about America. I really mean what I said to you earlier, I want to play America because it’s where I love and live and the response has been fantastic.

Very nice, plenty to look forward to. Well, thanks so much for taking this time to talk with me, Glenn, this has really been an honor.

You’re welcome, Chelsea, hope to see you soon on the East Coast.

Absolutely, I’m looking forward to the album and I’ll definitely see you on tour next year.

You bet. Have a great day.

More on Glenn Hughes at his official websiteFacebook page, and Twitter.

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