As early purveyors of speed, and thrash metal, originators of “athletic rock,” and members of the now-legendary New Wave of British Heavy Metal, Raven’s influence remains towering.
Since their inception in 1974, Raven’s light tower power approach to metal has left fans and scene mates stunned in the wake of their shutter shock. Initially, unlike anything or anyone before them, Raven’s hyper-caffeinated approach to rock music blew the lid off the early era of metal, redefining the idea of “proto” in an era more known for its classic rock and jam band leanings.
Brother John and Mark Gallagher made no bones about their intention, though, rupturing the eardrums of anyone who would listen, influencing and generation of young shredders to come in the process. To say that ’80s speed and thrash were linchpinned by Raven’s ubiquitous sound would be an understatement.
But as the band careened into the ’80s – despite a strong start that included sharing the stage with the likes of Ozzy Osbourne and Whitesnake – Raven hit a wall. Although the band remained intensely creative and consistently inventive, mismanagement by Atlantic Records left Raven in commercial limbo. But true to form, the brothers Gallagher stuck to their guns, hardened their image, and forged forward despite the potential pitfalls.
These days, Raven is still going strong. John and Mark Gallagher are still propelling Raven forward with a head of steam akin to a speeding bullet. And with drummer Mike Heller on board and a boatload of renewed confidence and creativity to boot, the future seems more venomous than ever for one of metal’s most long-running acts.
As 2022 wanes to a close, John Gallagher logged on with ClassicRockHistory.com to recount to origins of Raven, his memories of the band’s ’80s heyday, the importance of Mike Heller to the band’s resurgence, and what’s next as he moves into 2023.
What first attracted you to the bass guitar? Can you recount your first bass and the first song you learned?
I think it was hearing how the bass could make or break a song; hearing stuff like Slade and Free was just exhilarating. My first bass was an Ibanez. It was a weird medium-scale, two-pickup model that actually played great. As soon as I got it, I worked on all the stuff I loved, songs like “Highway Star” by Deep Purple and “Stealin'” by Uriah Heep.
How did Raven initially form?
In 1974, my brother, Mark, and our friend Paul Bowden came over and said, “We are forming a band, and you can play the bass!” All we needed then was instruments… and the ability to play them. [Laughs]. Our first show was in December 1975 at our school. From the very start, we were all about hard rock and heavy metal, and we set that tone early and stuck with it.
When did people begin pinning the term “athletic rock” on Raven?
Our record label coined that term. In fact, the first time we heard it was when we saw it written on the sleeve of our first single. I mean, it fitted in that the music had energy, and our stage shows were and still are full of energy. Plus, we were wearing running tops and armbands, etc., onstage.
What did you learn while opening for Iron Maiden, Ozzy Osbourne, Motörhead, and Whitesnake? What are your greatest memories from those experiences?
Each one was a learning experience, mainly learning the ropes as an opener. It appeared that diplomacy was required in spades, as most of the road crews treated us like scum. However, the bands were friendly and supportive; Ozzy was so cool, and meeting Ian Paice, and Jon Lord was amazing. As for Motörhead, they were so drunk that it was ridiculous, and seeing 3/5 of Iron Maiden playing Eagles songs in the soundcheck was very strange. [Laughs].
What are your retrospective musings on your debut, Rock Until You Drop, and how do you measure the influence of Wiped Out on speed and thrash metal?
I think we did a great job. The songs, the playing, the energy, and the feel were exactly how we wanted the album to turn out. I wouldn’t change a thing! As for Wiped Out, we’d seen the reaction at the live shows to the harder and faster numbers, and it seemed natural to ramp up the energy and speed quotient. It was a very creative period where songs were just pouring out of us. The album and the associated Crash Bang Wallop EP songs were recorded and mixed in just six days. It’s hard to say how much it influenced people, but to have it be so well received and remembered means a lot.
The All for One Tour is notable as Metallica was your opening act. Can you recall Raven’s thoughts on Metallica around that time?
Jon Zazula famously told us he’d secured “The biggest band in San Francisco” to be our opening act for our first US tour. This turned out to be the fledgling Metallica. [Laughs]. We got to hear their demo, which sounded like Motörhead at 78 rpm… perfect! The tour was basically guerrilla warfare with 17 people in two trucks and a six-berth RV. Metallica only had a handful of shows under their belt and was very green, but they were quick learners. As James [Hetfield] told us recently, they would watch us intently every night and take it all in.
Walk me through Raven’s shift from Neat Records to the major label, Atlantic.
We broke from Neat after our third album, All for One, as we’d pretty much outgrown them – nothing was happening promotion-wise. We’d hooked up with Jon Zazula in the states for our initial US dates in 1982 and our first headline tour in 1983. From there, we made the break from neat in early 1984 and headed for the States with the intention of getting a major agent deal and a major label deal. Ultimately, we did so with Premier Talent and Atlantic Records, respectively.
I’d wager that Raven’s signing with Atlantic Records helped open the door for Metallica and Anthrax to follow. Would you agree? What did Atlantic’s courtship look like, and was there any trepidation?
Well, all three bands were basically signed after the same show. We headlined over Metallica and Anthrax at Roseland in NYC in August 1984. It was a sold-out Manhattan gig with three unsigned bands, which was kind of unusual, to say the least. But many record company A&R types were there, and we actually got signed by a guy called Larry Yasgar – the “dance guy.” I’m told that the “rock guy” was in rehab and unable to be there, but this set the tone for a company that had no clue what to do with us. But that aside, it really seemed great until the second album, when all the big talk and coercion to be more commercial fell flat.
What were some of the most significant differences in recording The Pack is Back for Atlantic? What led to the change in sound, and what prompted your departure from Atlantic?
Although our initial idea was a “high-tech metal album,” it was a slightly neutered commercial outing. Atlantic probably viewed us as “Bon Jovi meets KISS,” and although they had promised a large video budget to promote this venture, they balked at our proposed video idea and pretty much sunk the ship there and then. We did some soul-searching and decided to please ourselves and damn the consequences, hence the Mad EP and the Life’s a Bitch album.
Describe the process of Raven shifting its image to a more hardened one after the band left Atlantic.
Rob Hunter, our drummer, left the band in mid-1987. We’d already decided to ditch the Atlantic deal and go with an indie label. Joe Hasselvander came in on drums, and we did the Nothing Exceeds Like Excess album for Combat Records. We continued the harder approach from the last two records, and while this album was generally well-received, the climate was weird. It appeared a band had to be glam, hair metal, or thrash, and we were none of those. So, we metaphorically rolled up our sleeves and toured, toured, toured.
The ’90s were tough for rockers, but Raven seems to have always maintained a devout following in Europe. How integral was Europe to Raven’s fortunes during that time?
After a six-year gap, we returned to Europe in 1989, toured with the German band Kreator., and signed with their management. We recorded an album called Architect of Fear, and an EP called Heads Up! in Germany. Those did fine, and so we did a number of tours before the grunge virus hit Europe, too. Once that set in, we got a Japanese deal, did the Glow album, a Japanese tour, and a live album called Destroy All Monsters/Live in Japan. But by 1997, things were changing again, so we did a very successful European tour with Hammerfall and Tank opening up for us. That was the start of the next shift, I’d say.
Pushing forward to the present day, Raven’s current lineup seems stronger than ever. What makes Mike Heller the perfect complement to yourself and Mark?
It really feels so strong now. With his enthusiasm and ability, Mike has been a real shot in the arm. Joe had to leave due to heart issues, but it was time, and he really did not want to be out on the road anymore. But when Mike officially joined the band in June 2017, we ended up doing 150 dates for the rest of that year, so it all worked out.
I’d say that 2020’s Metal City was Raven’s strongest album in years. What had led to the sudden uptick in inspiration?
Doing Metal City was quite a process but a huge step forward for us. We started this with our comeback album in 2009, Walk Through Fire, but I’d have to say the addition of Mike on drums turbocharged this uptick. The only change in attitude is being more ruthless in ensuring the new album kicks the ass of the last album!
Tell me about your latest record, the compilation Leave ‘Em Bleeding.
This album is basically the last album on our desk with SPV, so it’s a compilation of tracks from the previous three albums, along with all the extra tracks from these albums and one exclusive live track.
What’s next for you and Raven in all lanes?
We just completed a new album for our new label, Silver Lining, which will be out in mid-2023. We are being inducted into the Metal Hall Of Fame in January. We will be celebrating the 40th anniversary of our All for One album with a U.K. tour in March, playing the album in its entirety. We’ve got dates in Australia, Japan, Europe, and the US to follow later in the year, so it’s gonna be busy!
John Gallagher of Raven: The ClassicRockHistory.com Interview article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2022
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