Interview with STEVIE MCLAUGHLIN
The Band: Stevie McLaughlin
Answers by: Stevie McLaughlin (all instruments & songwriting)
The Irish guitarist Stevie McLaughlin is known for his riff attacks with the Irish metal band, Sandstone. Now, in order to live out his full musical sphere this talented guitarist has recorded his first solo effort ‘Toy Empires’, hard rock and heavy metal to the bone seasoned with some progressive influences that reward his sound with great taste and variety, highly enjoyable. Moreover, he is in charge of all duties in this debut album and his effort actually pays off. We have had this very interesting chat with Stevie, enjoy it!
Hello Stevie, Toy Empires is your first solo album, when did you take the decision to kick off your solo career?
Hey Alberto, I’ve always recorded songs in my home studio, some songs are intended for use with my band Sandstone and some songs I record purely for the pleasure of creating something. My family and friends have always encouraged me to release some of the songs I record, but I was never sure that it was good enough. In particular I was self-conscious about the vocals. So when I finally found the courage to send my album to Sandstone’s label LMP I was surprised and excited by Limb’s enthusiasm for the album and he offered me a deal which I gladly accepted.
Stevie McLaughlin is known for being the guitarist in Sandstone and Ironheart, how do you plan to balance all that work? How active will be your solo project?
I have not decided yet how to approach this. I am no longer in IronHeart, I decided that I was spreading myself too thinly. IronHeart are a fantastic band and they deserve a full time guitarist who is fully committed to the band. I will potentially be touring again with Ripper and we could possibly add my solo band to the roster. But it’s all still up in the air. I’d love to tour the album and if and opportunity arises then it will happen.
Cool! Of course, in Toy Empires the guitar duties are over your shoulders, but I was positively surprised by your skills as vocalist. I don’t mean you are a supervocalist haha but you do a good job on the micro, we all know great guitarists that ruin their albums singing along…
Yes I was unsure of my vocal ability, and very nervious of the reaction it would recieve. But it is my life’s passion to write and record songs and I do believe there is some extra emotion embued on a song when you hear it being sung by the person who wrote it. I have made a conscious decision that my fears will not define me, I love making music and will make music for as long as I can, the creative process is my favourite thing in life and the buzz you receive from working hard at something.
Have you counted with some collaboration in other positions as drums & bass?
I did everything on the album myself: Vocals, Guitars, Bass, Keyboards, Drums (via electric kit). I also recorded, mixed and mastered the album and even designed the artwork. I wanted this to be a solo album in the truest sense of the word.
Amazing and hard work all the way. How long have you worked in the building of these songs?
It is hard to say. Some of the songs have been around for years and never intended to be part of any solo project, maybe future songs for Sandstone. But once I began tracking the final songs for this album and got inspired and wrote a lot of extra songs. A lot of them appear in the final album. So it’s about a 50/50 mixture between old and new songs.
Being a solo artist is better or worse than playing and composing with a full band?
Both ways of working have their advantages and disadvantages. I love the camaraderie in a band and collaborating on songs can be very rewarding and often produce results that are greater than the sum of the parts. It is a lot more fun working as part of a band. But at the same time you can work faster on you own and even be a bit more self-indulgent. So I like both approaches.
Is there any concept behind Toy Empires, as related to the good cover artwork or something like that?
The original idea I had for the album sleeve was a guitarist standing with his back to us facing an open road alone. This is how I felt when I finally found the courage to record and release my solo album. Then there are references all over the artwork to the lyrics of the album. For example the scare crows are for the song Straw Men and there are burning oil fields and apocalyptic scenes for the song Memories of Eden and so on. I feel that artwork is very important for setting the tone of an album, because I am of the age where I grew up listing to vinyl and gazing in amazement and the wonderful artwork that came with LPs.
As far as the album title goes, I think there is an underlying theme in the album about my relationship with my music and how it can sometimes come into conflict with my real life and sometimes augment life when I am following my passion. When we make music or start a band are we building Toy Empires?
I have a lot of personal reasons for some of the images and metaphors on the album but I would sort of prefer if listeners decided for themselves what it means to them, I feel that in being a bit cryptic in the lyrics it opens things out to allow a more personal interpretation of things.
Talking about the songs in this Toy Empires, firstly I will call the attention on the diversity in the track list: heavy metal, hard rock, power metal and even some progressive touch
Yes I agree, I am a bit all over the place style wise. However I won’t apologise, because I feel there are 2 main reasons for this. Firstly, I don’t have any intention when I write songs, I don’t have a audience in mind. I’m not trying to fit into a genre or sub genre. I just write songs for the sheer pleasure of the creative process. Sometimes I feel like writing a simple hard rock song and sometimes I feel like writing a complex 10 minute prog metal opus. I follow my musical instincts and desires. Secondly I try as much as possible to blend all the eclectic styles that influence me, but I love hard rock, tradition heavy metal, thrash metal and prog, I could never honestly decide that I will exclusively deal with one of these styles at the expense of all the others.
If I have to mention some great songs I would say the progressive rock of Depletion and of course the metal pandemonium you unleash in Memories Of Eden, a ten minutes epic song
Of course I am very attached to all the songs on the album, but I do believe there is something special about Memories of Eden. Maybe because it deals with an emotive topic that is close to my heart. In the song I imagine what future generations would say to us if they had the chance. How they would challenge or shortsightedness and selfishness when it comes to how we left them to deal with the environment and a legacy of dept. So I get angry in this song and I think that’s what drives it. This is one of the oldest songs on the album, I have been writing it on and off for a long time. Depletion is one of the songs I talked about before that was written at the last minute while the album was being recorded. I thought it had a really haunting melody and I had to include it. It’s one of those very special times when a song goes from an basic idea to a completely finished song in a matter of hours.
The inspiration of the moment. Other songs as Apocrypha and Toy Empires have a more modern approach, with some groovy style which is not so much my taste but you always deliver some great riffs and outstanding solos that make that every song counts in the album
I think all of us have been disappointed when we hear a song on the radio and like it and then buy the album only to find it is the one good song on the album. It feels like you’ve been cheated and that record companies are just trying to milk you for cash. I never want to be seen in that way, I want all my songs to be special and I work very hard on every detail. I am a pretty unknown artist and if someone buys my album, then I’m aware that they chose to buy my album instead of buying something from a more well known established act. So I want people to know how much I appreciate their support and want to go out of my way to make sure they get their moneys worth. So I won’t release an album until it is perfect in my mind, if that means I only do a few and they take a long time to finish then that’s fine. But I will not release anything until I feel it is complete in every detail.
Something that is truly and utterly confirmed when you listen to Toy Empires, no cheating here. And talking about riffs, some songs deliver great powerful riffs, something we had already tasted in your other bands, how do you work on that? Kind of a trade mark?
Thanks, I’m very happy that you like my guitar work. Of course the guitar is my main instrument and my number one passion. I try to make the guitar parts count. While I love shredding, I love melodic emotional playing even more, so I always try to make sure the guitar parts are serving the emotional narrative of the song. If the song calls for total nuclear grade shredding then I will take joy in providing that, but when it just requires a few notes in the right place I also take artistic pleasure in that.
No need to talk about the great solos you include in every song, you have a big feeling for melodies
Thanks again, you’re making me shy with all these complements about my guitar playing LOL. I am from Ireland, and I grew up surrounded by the folk traditions of Ireland. This has had a very profound affect on my musical tastes. I understand the heartbreaking beauty of an old Irish ballad that can make your hair stand on end. Plus there is a great tradition of fantastic and melodic blues guitarists from my area such as Gary Moore and Pat McManus. This has caused me to always feel that melody is the most important thing in music and can really drive the emotional impact of any genre of music.
So, with this great debut you feel exhausted for some time or you plan to continue your solo career with new albums in the future?
I am not exhausted at all, I am filled with ideas already for the next album, and I feel blessed that I am in a place in my life right now where I have the time, good health, and motivation to carry on doing the thing I love most; making and recording music. Currently I’m working on a set of videos for the album and hopefully I will continue to be lucky enough to make music for a long time to come.
We will pay attention to those videos. Any chance to see you playing live these songs? In that case you would sing also or you would hire any vocalist, say for example Ripper Owens with whom you have already played?
I guess there will be another Ripper tour coming up soon, and I hope to be involved in that, but nothing to announce right now. I would like to sing the songs myself live if I get the chance and I have a pool of great musicians who have already offered there services for a solo tour should the opportunity arise. Here’s hoping it comes together because I’d love to take this out live.
It would be fanatstic indeed. Thank you very much for your attention Stevie! And congratulations for your great debut
Thank you for your high praise and interesting interview.