Tygers Of Pan Tang - Interview
With "Bloodlines" legendary NWoBHM pioneers Tygers Of Pan Tang just released a fantastic album which sounds fresher and heavier than a lot of its predecessors and kicks ass (read review here). I had a very nice chat on a lovely Saturday afternoon with their vocalist Jacopo "Jack" Meille to analyze the reasons for the heaviness and talk about the new band members. I hope you have as much fun reading the interview as I had doing this one!
Hi Jack, how are you doing?
I'm doing fine, thanks!!!
If you take a look at the cover of "Bloodlines" you can get the feeling that a lot of things aren't that good, it all looks pretty gloomy and threatening. It almost looks like a WWF advertisement for saving the tigers because they lose their natural habitats because of the environment destruction. The opener 'Edge Of The World' also doesn't spread too much hope with the dystopian lyrics. Was that your intention as the first impression of the album?
Well, we wanted to have something aggressive but it's about a rebirth of a tiger thanks to its own blood: instead of a phoenix rising it's a tiger's rising. The idea behind it is that the Tygers have been having all through these years so many line-up changes and going to good or hard times, but no matter what, they always found the energy and a way to be reborn and get back on track. It was me who suggested the title Bloodlines as for me it is related to the phrase "Once a Tyger is always a Tyger", so it's a big thank you to all the past members, no matter who and what have caused their leaving. The reason we are still here is because everyone has contributed through the years in one way or another making it possible to be still here alive and well. Regarding the artwork, much credit has to be given to Andy Pilkington who came up with the whole concept of the cover because we actually gave him the info that being a Tygers Of Pan Tang album, we need a tiger on the cover and that the title had to be Bloodlines: that was all. So he came up with this idea and he was good because we haven't given him too many notes or details about it. Regarding the lyrics, they are quite dark because a lot of them are inspired by the strange times that we've been through in the last years. All songs have been written and demoed during the Covid time. Songs like 'In My Blood', 'Edge Of The World' and even 'A New Heartbeat' and 'Light Of Hope' are songs that in a way were inspired by how we were feeling at that time. We were all in lockdown and couldn't see each other, there was no way to travel and we didn't see each other for two years. Francesco joined the band but we all met together in Madrid in 2022 for the first time. If you think about the fact that you have a new member who is writing songs together with you but you have never met him until just two days before we are gonna play our first live gig... now that is strange!
"Bloodline" is a term for family and belonging together, is it a homage to all the fans who stayed loyal to you in all the years since 1980?
Absolutely! If you see the cover, the blood becomes the woods. When you talk about bands like us, the fan base is crucial because we have been here for 40 years but there was a time when we struggled to find gigs and being invited to festivals. We could release albums but nobody would hear them. The audience that we have is very old-fashioned and very loyal and they still buy our albums instead of digital versions. They come to our shows because they want to have their copies signed. We wouldn't be here if there wasn't a demand from the fans to hear the old classics and thankfully also the new ones. So far, the three singles- 'Edge Of The World', 'Fire On The Horizon' and 'Back For Good' got an amazing reaction and we can't stop saying thank you for that. Even for an old band it is impressive to see those figures on Amazon Music or Spotify – there is an expectation for the Tygers and there are still people who want to hear us.
With 'A New Heartbeat' you released one of the songs as an EP already. Was the track meant as a new sign of life from Tygers with Francesco and Huw on board?
The story behind 'A New Heartbeat' is that there wouldn't have been 'A New Heartbeat' if there wasn't 'Fire On The Horizon' because Francesco sent a demo 'Fire On The Horizon' and before I even could say that I like it, Craig our drummer and who writes the lyrics and melodies together with me, he just went within 10 minutes saying "I'm working on that!". Within a very little time he came up with the lyrics and the melody. After a week I called Francesco saying "You have done a song with Craig, I want to write a song with you, too. It's a challenge" (laughs). So he came with 'A New Heartbeat' and I wrote the lyrics and melody very fast and that song really inspired me. I sent the song to the guys, they loved it and we decided to release it as the first single because it shows Francesco's skills. After that we decided to add 'Red Mist' as the B-side, knowing that the song will not be included on the album. Robb and Tom Noble, our manager, suggested that we should do the traditional thing where we play two new songs and two re-recordings of some old songs to introduce the new members of the band. So that's what happened way back then with 'Spellbound' introducing John Deverill and John Sykes and now with introducing Francesco. We also left out more songs on the album that never happened in the past. So we have more songs there waiting and there will be probably one extra track on the Japanese version of the album.
Having them in Tygers now - are you happy not to be the "baby of the family" anymore now?
Well, I've been the baby until 2016. I was the youngest one up to then. Now I'm getting old, meaning Huw is almost my age and Franceso is 40 years old, so he's the baby. We call him "Baby Francesco" (laughs).
With "Bloodlines" you have released a quite heavy album which is a balancing act between today and some reminiscences of the 80s like in "Back For Good" which appears to be a slight glam rock track. Did you plan to be that ambivalent when writing the songs or was that something that happened while writing?
Yes, it is indeed. Just think of our age - we got members in their 60s, 50s and we have Francesco who is more into the heavy stuff. He is a big fan of Iron Maiden and is into NWOBHM. He pushed so much to have a fast song like 'Fire On The Horizon'. He kept on saying that we needed a fast song but at the same time for me, who has been in the band for 20 years, this album kind of sums what I've always been thinking of: I always wanted to find a way to put together the fast songs and the hard rock and the heavy riff of the beginning with more melodic stuff like in 'The Cage'. I always wanted to find a way and it took a while but I think this album, thanks also to Tue Madsen, matched it. I was into rock music when I was pretty young. I started asking my father to buy me records when I was seven years old. I always liked the music nobody liked and was the strange guy. All of a sudden during the 80s, thanks to KISS with "I Was Made For Loving You" and then thanks to bands like Europe, Bon Jovi, Motley Crue, everybody was in love with the music I always loved. So I wasn't any more the strange weird guy and I still have that element in my mind. So whenever there is the possibility I like to put these sounds together. Just as an example, listen to 'In My Blood' which starts like a Black Sabbath song but then the chorus turns into a totally different direction (laughs). That is my fault. So the diversity was intentional because for the first time in the band everybody was open-minded and with Francesco we have a very talented song-writer with whom I can share a vision and he gets exactly what I want. And it is the same way. Sometimes he comes up with an idea and that is exactly what I would do.
With Tue Madsen you got a producer who did a lot of more extreme metal stuff and this is something that obviously influenced your sound, too…
To be honest, I didn't know anything about him when Tue Madsen was proposed by the record label. I didn't know anything about what he had produced to be very honest. I mean I have a huge CD collection but I didn't know him. We sent him a couple of songs and he came up straight away with a mix and we all said "yes"! When it comes down to mixing, he listened to the songs, understood them and decided specifically how to get each songs sounding the best possible. I think he is the first one who kept both elements: it is heavier than the other albums but it is also less compressed so that there is an element of the 70s. It's a very open mix and at the same time: the guitars are in your face and the voice is very clear. I think he has done a great job and he served the songs. There were songs that needed to be more aggressive and songs that have more dynamics like the ballads. So he found the right balance and the right mix to suit the songs.
I've read that it was he who decided to use distorted vocals.
Yeah, on 'Edge Of The World' all the strange effects on my voice it was all Tues's idea. I know some people were not expecting that because they were used to having my voice quite clear but in that case he read my mind because that song is very epic. I am a hard rock singer and don't have that epic style. When you think about epic singers, Bruce Dickinson or Geoff Tate come to mind and I don't have it. I could do it but it's not my thing. When we were recording the song I always thought there was something missing. There is no drama and I wished I could have done something else on the verses. Then he came with that element and I was floored. It was exactly what was missing, that dramatic element that makes the big contrast between the verses and the chorus which is more melodic and more in your face. I think Tue understood perfectly what we wanted. I am happy that a lot of reviews pointed out how good his production was. There was a review from Brazil that said we were sounding too modern but in 2023 a band sounding like in 1981 is not possible. We don't want to because now technology allows us to have a better sound. With no disrespect, some big albums from the 80s were great albums, great songs but the recordings are not great (laughs).
As an Italian, I am pretty sure that you like to cook – what would you say is the perfect recipe for a rock song?
Uhh, well…. For me the most important thing for a rock song is that the minute it's finished you want to hear it again. So the perfect recipe is to have something tasty but not too spicy, not too much because you might get excited at the first listen but then you get bored. It's like with food, if you take it two times you say "it's fantastic", after three times you say "I've had enough". For me the best reward is that somebody hears the record and the first thing he wants to do is that he wants to go back to hear it again at least a couple of times. That's the goal and at that point there will be a couple of songs that you will want to listen to even more. Sometimes you hear great albums or a great single and you think "oh, that's fantastic" but the second time you hear it, it's just like "oh…". I don't want to name it but it happened to me. The other thing is, and that is something I hate about listening to an album, when you can predict the next song. Like the first song is about half-speed, then comes a speed song and now it's time for a ballad. That's another thing that I don't like because you end up following a cliche and the trick with hard rock / heavy metal is that there is always a little bit of a formula but you have to avoid cliches. You have to put in every song that little bit that surprise you in the first place, otherwise they're all the same. Only AC/DC can do that – that's the only band that you want to have exactly the same album every two years. You put it in and say "yeah, it sounds exactly like the previous one. But it's fine".
Besides working in Tygers you are also working as a vocal coach. Would you say that everybody can become a good singer and what do you need for that?
(Laughs) I can say that I have proof of that that 90% of people can sing in tune. A lot of people who think they don't sing in tune, their problem is that they aren't comfortable with the tempo. Sometimes they seem to sing out of tune because they don't go along with the music and if you make them aware that they're not on the right tempo and you put them more together with the music, most of the people from that moment on start singing more in tune. A lot of people also think they can't sing because they can't pitch. And that's not true. Once you avoid that thing, a lot of people can sing. That means right pitch at the right speed and time and they do the breathing correctly. But that doesn't 'make a singer because a singer is not just about singing and doing everything right, it's about having the will to expose himself, to transmit emotions and to make the people believe that what you're saying is what you think. It is similar to the what an actor does when he study and then play his part. You have to be real, meaning once you go on stage and you sing a song about being broken-hearted you have to make the listeners believe you are broken-hearted because otherwise it doesn't work. During a singing lesson you teach about the techniques but it's also about getting to know the student and his personality. If it is a shy person you have to allow the person to get less shy or if it's an extroverted person you help the person to put the energy in the right direction. It's challenging and exhausting because it's hard work but at the same time it's very rewarding because you get to know people and it's like a therapy sometimes. I've been teaching for a long time and am at the same school for more than ten years and I'm really glad when I see that there are a lot of new bands here in Florence and most of them are my ex-students. It's like a new generation which I've been kind of feeding and they make me proud. When they achieve some goals I feel a part of it and it makes me think that I have given a lot to them.
A New Heartbeat
Majors & Minors
Tygers Of Pan Tang
Noises From The Cathouse
Burning In The Shade
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- Den Saakaldte - Pesten Som Tar Over - Sep 29
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