By Martin Popoff
It’s a bloody fight, but I’m constantly finding myself in it, defending the idea that Deep Purple are — and have been for 25 years now — making some of the best records of their long, distinguished career, right here in the Steve Morse era. But it’s also the Bob Ezrin era, with the band’s 21st album, Whoosh!, being the third in a row produced by Ezrin, famed for Destroyer, The Wall, plus records for Lou Reed and lots for Alice Cooper.
If you liked 2013’s Now What?! and 2017’s Infinite, chances are you will devour the sounds and the musings burbling to the surface all over Whoosh!, for it’s a work of a band feverishly creative into their official senior citizen years, and recorded with a certain poshness that is hard to describe, never particularly heavy but always sizzling and electric, rich of taste, regal and purple like heavy plush drapery at an English castle.
Goldmine cornered the band’s two Ians — Paice, drums and Gillan, vocals (the band are rounded out by Steve Morse on guitars, Roger Glover on bass and Don Airey on keyboards) — to give us the goods on where the band are situated as septuagenarians. The answers are both surprising and inspiring.
GOLDMINE: Let’s start with Bob Ezrin. How does he contribute to the band dynamic? How does he help facilitate these records?
IAN PAICE: Every collection of people needs a leader. Doesn’t matter if you’re hiking across the hills or in an army, or you’re in the studio. (laughs) Musicians left to their own devices tend to get sidetracked and a bit myopic about their bit. “My bit is more important than everybody else’s.” You get hung up on getting your bit heard and noticed, and sometimes your bit isn’t the most important bit; it’s somebody else’s. And Bob has a very, very shrewd ear. He just picks out what is important, and you might not initially agree with that, if you think your bit is the important bit. But at the end of the day, when the mix is done, he’s 99% correct. So he’s looking at the whole picture. And he makes sure we don’t waste time trying to get to the solution he would get to immediately — he has a great musical brain. If we’re going around with something that isn’t working, he’ll come out of the control room, and he’ll pinpoint what’s wrong. And he’ll do it in a musical way. He’ll say, “That chord isn’t working” or “That change is wrong” or, “We need a drum fill there.” He’ll make a musical critique of it. Which, again, 99 times out of 100 it’s something that improves the actual track. When we’re onstage, that’s our world. Here in the studio, that’s his world. We are there for a few weeks every three or four years. He’s in the studio 48 weeks a year. If you’re gonna work with somebody that talented, then you have to understand that he’s going to have input, and you better listen to it.
GM: And what has Steve Morse done new this time out?
IAN GILLAN: Steve had some problems recently, physically, with his wrist, in his tendons, and it made it difficult for him to do the style of lightning-fast histrionics that he was so well known for. And so he’s relaxed a little bit. And my God, some of the stuff that is coming out... there’s a solo on a song called “Dancing in My Sleep” where he plays a baritone guitar, an old Danelectro, and it’s one of the greatest guitar solos I’ve ever heard in my life. He also plays a brilliant solo on a song called “We’re All the Same in the Dark.” But in general, I guess you wouldn’t have recognized it as Steve’s style 10 years or 20 years ago. It’s more, I don’t know, laid back. Steve’s a kind of frenetic guy. He’s pretty intense with his personality, but he has a lovely, lovely nature. But this sort of slightly more laid-back style seems to suit him. This blues element that is coming out, I’ve never heard in Steve’s playing before, and he’s been encouraged to do that. And I think that’s part of life’s evolution. It happens to us all. When we’re 20 years old, the world is a different place. But when you reach middle age, you start becoming a little more philosophical about things. Your experiences are different. You can do things you couldn’t do when you were 20. In my first band, in my first interview with the local newspaper, he wanted an anecdote and I didn’t have any. I hadn’t done anything. I hadn’t been anywhere. I could do the pole vault and I could do sports and play football, but I do other things now — and it’s just as satisfying.
IP: Steve Morse is one of those few magical musicians who have the technical ability to go anywhere he wants to. You throw a piece of music at him, of any style, and he will throw something back at you, which is wonderful. Like any of us who have some technique, it’s very, very easy to fall back on that. I mean, sometimes I fall back on drum fills that are more complex than they need to be for the piece of music that you’re playing. And again, when we’re in the studio, if any one of us is going the technical route rather than the feel route or the emotional route that a piece of music needs, Bob Ezrin is there to get us back on the straight and narrow again. Steve has this wonderful ability to do lyrical, beautiful runs of music, and sometimes you just have to persuade him that that’s just as good as the super-technical stuff. It’s a side of his music which is incredible. And we have to sometimes push him in that direction: “Look, Steve, you don’t have to do that fast run on that; show us some of those beautiful notes.” Same as anybody who has a surfeit of technique — it’s always there to fall out of you, and sometimes you just have to stop thinking and just do.
GM: Tell me a bit about the lead single, “Throw My Bones.”
IG: Well, it’s very simple. Everyone I know is trying to make a forecast, whether it’s the weather or finances or politics or looking into the future. People with Brexit say, “Well, we haven’t got enough information.” But then it’s, “Wait, what more can we give you? We can’t tell you what’s going to happen.” Throwing bones was an original primitive practice. It was to do with witchcraft and trying to see into the future. And they started painting them with dots and they became dice. So that’s where ‘throw my bones’ became throwing dice, and a game of chance, and all that kind of thing. So it was just a question of sitting there thinking I’ll take my chances. This is what I’ve got. I don’t need that much, so I’m kind of cool with it. (laughs)
GM: And what about this album cover? If you were a volunteer interpreter in the local museum and were telling visitors about this artwork, what would you say?
IG: Well, the album cover is a reflection of the word. It’s fairly abstract. But the concept of Whoosh! was “Whoosh!” is the last word in the song “Man Alive.” It’s a story about an apocalyptic situation. I’ve written stuff about telepathy and empathy, and here a mother clutches her breast at the very moment that her son falls dead on a distant battlefield. There was a powerful image inside my head. “Sun sets in the West, boy has gone to rest, mama clutch her breast.” And then you get the image of “All creatures great and small, graze on blood-red soil and grass that grows on city streets.” It’s all that post-humanity type of thing. And then all of a sudden something’s washed up on a beach. It’s a man. It’s just one man. And that’s the end of it, really, because one man alone is no good to anybody. (laughs) And then “whoosh” is a kind of onomatopoeic word, and it kind of illustrates the transient nature of humanity on the planet. It’s a little subplot. It also describes Deep Purple’s career quite nicely. (laughs) Like over in a second. I mean, 1970 seems like yesterday. And then they took it to the design company in Hamburg and they threw a few ideas around, and we gradually whittled it down, and everyone is happy with where they went. It’s difficult to pin down an abstract concept, but I think they’ve done a good job. It looks nice to me. That sort of dissolving spaceman idea.
“When we’re 20 years old, the world is a different place. But when you reach middle age, you start becoming a little more philosophical about things. Your experiences are different. You can do things you couldn’t do when you were 20.” — Ian Gillan
GM: What is a musical track on here that titillates you greatly? What’s a song you were quite impressed with musically on here?
IG: Well, obviously, “Nothing at All” just had me jumping up and down. When they first jammed it, in Germany — we had a five-day writing session and we came up with a load of stuff — I couldn’t get it out of my head. So I kept pressing for us to include it. And, well, quite apart from the technical aspects of the trade-off between Steve and Don (Airey), and the construction, it had an atmosphere to it that was… what was it? Capricious, I think, is the word. It had a sense of mischief to it. And so I literally wrote a song about a leprechaun. And I wrote tons, more and more verses than were ever needed. But it was too literal and it matched the music too much, and still I didn’t want to lose the capricious nature.
So one day last spring we were talking about environmental issues and Extinction Rebellion, and the idea came into my head, about Mother Nature, the one true God, being an old lady. And quite benign, generally speaking, but ready in tooth and claw, as they say. And when we’re doing all this stuff, I’m not really caring, because the kids are saying, “Hey, come on, you know; we gotta do something. It’s getting bad. It’s getting bad.” And everyone is going, “Oh yeah, close my eyes, it’ll go to way. Never mind, there’s nothing at all, don’t worry.” And then, Mother Nature, the little old lady, smiles, and then she blew all the leaves off my tree. Which is the key phrase that changed it all around. So I started writing about that.
But it still had that whimsical, capricious feeling to the music, which is in congress, really, with the seriousness of the message. But that makes it all the more ironic, I think, and so it worked pretty well for me. I was thrilled with that, and I’m still stimulated by that. When I turn it on, it just makes me smile, the sheer… what Steve and Don do on those riffing sections is magnificent. And the way it comes in and then resolves into the modulation and into Don… I mean, what would you call it? That wonderful Bach fugue in the middle. I hope I’m not overselling, but I love it.
GM: To take you back 50 years with a historical question, over the years I’ve asked everybody this except for you: why is In Rock such a heavy record? It’s essentially music that previously hadn’t existed.
IP: By the time we had done the third record, with (vocalist) Rod Evans and (bassist) Nick Simper, there was an unconscious realization from definitely Ritchie and I, and somewhat Jon (Lord), that our music was actually getting harder. And because we were playing live so often, and we were getting better at it, the ideas were becoming slightly more aggressive. And we needed a different sound at the top. Rod Evans’ voice was lovely, but he wasn’t what I would call a rock and roll voice; it really wasn’t. So when that change came and we got Ian and Roger (Glover) in, not only did we get that voice, we got a couple of songwriters in. And so the shift was sort of inevitable. The amalgamation of those five musical influences, and the way that the musical dynamic was shifting, we had to make a statement and say let’s make sure everybody realizes this is a big shift from the first Deep Purple. I wouldn’t say it was a conscious thought, but there was a deliberate effort. In Rock was very, very hard. And then we heard Mountain’s first record, and we went back and said, “We’ve got to do some work.” (laughs)
“Steve Morse is one of those few magical musicians who have the technical ability to go anywhere he wants to. ” — Ian Paice
GM: What would Roger’s preoccupations be in terms of lyrical subjects versus you? I mean, if an outsider was to try to pick apart what a Roger lyric is verses an Ian lyric, what does Roger concern himself with more than you?
IG: Well, Roger and I have worked together since ’65. And it’s like the odd couple, I suppose (laughs), in that sense. Roger did virtually all the lyrics on the last album. And here, the gates just flung open. I just started scribbling one night and I didn’t stop and there it was, all finished. The first one I wrote was “Drop the Weapon,” which is because I was very moved about kids dying on the street, shooting each other, stabbing each other in London. It’s getting worse and worse. And it was a kind of metaphorical arm around the shoulder: “Hey kid, you know, your pride can take a hit. Let’s drop the weapon. There’s other things we can do.” That came out, and it was just stream of consciousness, and before I knew it, it was all finished.
But to answer your question, I think Roger’s style is more romantic. He’s a much nicer person than I am. In fact I complain about it all the time: “I hate you Roger, ‘cos you’re just too nice.” And, well, he’s the nearest thing I ever had to a brother. He’s more poetic. And he’s very good at narratives. I’m probably more aggressive than Roger, and probably more cryptic. Roger is much more straightforward when he’s telling a story. I tend to bury meanings in two or three layers. Of the songs we’ve written, over the years… I mean, I’ve written 500 or more songs now, and probably half of them are with Roger. Of the songs we’ve written, you know, he’s probably written 30% and I’ve written 30% on my own and the rest we’ve written together. We don’t actually count. If somebody has a good idea, we go with that.
GM: And so in closing, can we look at these three records with Bob as a bit of a unified suite?
IG: Sure. This one particularly is the climax of a trilogy that was the beginning of an amazing journey, at this late stage in our career. I couldn’t imagine so much creative input and energy from a bunch of guys at our age. Not only that, but it’s the best sound we’ve ever had. I’ve made comparisons — there’s nothing like it in our career. So that’s a boost as well. But this little set of records for me is either a nice way to finish up, or it leaves the door open for another one. I don’t know. I don’t want to talk about that. It may be happening in two or three years’ time, but as far as I’m concerned, it’s a very satisfying little group of records.