Fabulous Flip Sides – Toto - Interview with Mick Devine

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We discuss the new solo album from Seven’s lead singer Mick Devine, how Toto has influenced him, and the “sons of Toto” band called ZFG which includes Mick’s son Josh as their drummer, after years of touring with One Direction.

By Warren Kurtz

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GOLDMINE:There are singers who we idolize, who have lost their voice, but that is not your case where you bring a great power to ten songs on your new Hear Now solo album.

MICK DEVINE: I have a theory that if I kept up singing the way I did in the late 1980s and early 1990s I probably would have lost it by now, too. I had a little bit of a break and now my voice is stronger than ever, fortunately.

GM:Please share your journey with us from Africa to the UK and the band Seven.

MD: Sure. I was born in Boulware in what was called Rhodesia at the time and is now Zimbabwe for the past 40 years. My dad was born in Zambia and my mom was born in South Africa, both from English backgrounds. My grandfather was Scottish. I grew up in Zimbabwe until the time I was seventeen. I tried to play in a number of bands but there really wasn’t much of a music scene and the country was in a war. I went through the whole independence war with it becoming Rhodesia-Zimbabwe and then Zimbabwe. As a young white male there wasn’t a lot of opportunity left so I had to, at that point, leave. So I literally drove to South Africa, lived in Johannesburg and started my life. There was really a very popular South African pop band called Face to Face with awards and No. 1 hits and they broke up and relocated to the UK and were looking for a drummer and I was a drummer at the time. By chance, they saw me playing at a club and asked if I wanted to come over to the UK and I said, “Yeah, why not?” So I moved to the UK and that is where Seven was born, with South African and English guys, and that is where I met my wife, too. Seven did a number of tours as an unsigned act with Richard Marx and a number of different pop acts of the day as their opening act. Frustratingly, we were playing at a time in the UK where melodic rock just wasn’t fashionable any more. We were signed to a label and had two singles out which didn’t quite crack it on the charts and the label dropped us. I had a very young family and knew that I had to cut my hair and get a job. We had quite a wealth of material when the band was together but only recorded those two singles with John Parr as the producer. We shared the same manager at the time, John Wolfe, who was the former tour manager for The Who. So nothing more happened with Seven for 25 years until Khalil Turk, who owns Escape Music, got in touch with us, and asked if we would like to the release the material that we should have released all those years ago. We recorded an album of the old songs, just updated, and it was a great opportunity, a lovely thing to do. It was really well received across northern Europe, where that kind of rock market is. Then Khalil had us do another album of new material, which has a very European rock style, and it received good reviews. That is where I met Steve Morris and began writing with him. He suggested that we keep on writing together after the work on the second Seven album was over and we wrote a heap of material, which brings us up to the new Hear Now album on Khalil’s Escape Music label with Brian Anthony as its producer and multi-instrumentalist.

GM:On the opening number of Hear Now, called “Strange Voices,” Steve Morris’ guitar is so powerful and it is an interesting balance with the beauty in your voice.

MD: Ha ha. That is an interesting mix, isn’t it?. Steve has been around a long time, is a phenomenal musician and a perfectionist. He lives in Liverpool and I live in a place called Market Haborough, which is in the middle of the UK. He will email me a backing track and all I receive is his piece of music. I take what I hear. We don’t discuss it. I add the melody that comes natural in my head and then I write the lyrics and record it in my home studio and send it back to him and then we begin to go back and forth on the song a few times and finally end up with a track that we quite like. There are a couple of tracks on this album that began as rock tracks, transitioned to being bluesy tracks and ended up being country tracks. It is a lovely experience. I laugh when you say that he has that real power, because that is true, and I have a little bit of a softer edge.

GM:For a country track, “Hope Rising” is one that, to me, sounds like a country rock guitar driven song. I even go back fifty years ago with Joe South’s “Games People Play” in terms of that guitar style.

MD: Yes, that’s right.

GM: “Standing in the Middle” is very melodic.

MD: Yes. I had written a “Standing in the Middle” with Steve intended for the second Seven album and I sent it back to South Africa to Keith McFarlane, my guitarist in the band, and he came back with a different guitar melody. I went with that and tweaked the lyrics, so it is the only song on the new album with a melody that I didn’t write.

GM:I know that you are a Foreigner fan. “Life Goes On” is the song that I think gets you closest to Lou Gramm’s voice.

MD: Thank you. I wish! I think I saw him do “I Want to Know What Love Is” on “Good Morning America” on TV and he sounded just like the record with power and that gruff sound. What a voice.

GM:Speaking about voices, your high notes on “Home” are just so wonderful and that one reminds me of Steve Walsh from the band Kansas.

MD: Thank you. I love Kansas. It is great to be compared to them. What a singer he is. It is all the stuff I grew up with, really.

GM:Then there is structure in the songs. The choruses jump out at me on “Live Forever” and “So Much Better Now.”

MD: I think for me, that when I am writing the melodies, I am trying to get whatever feels natural and I’m a real melody person. I can write any genre of music if it has a great melody to it, right across the spectrum. I try to make the choruses as memorable as possible because it is really what you want to build to and link it with a little bit of rise from the bridge. The chorus has just got to take you somewhere else. “So Much Better Now” is quite a personal song yet the chorus does really jump out and for a ballad that is quite interesting to do that.

GM:You and I are also fans of April Wine’s Nature of the Beast album with “Just Between You and Me” and “Sign of the Gypsy Queen.” That album ends so perfectly with “One More Time.” Likewise, your ending choice of “Game Over” is such an exciting pop rock finale on your new album.

MD: Thank you. The interesting thing is, from all the songs we had written, Khalil wasn’t fully satisfied. He said, “I need a new opening song and I need a new closing song.” So we wrote the opener “Strange Voices” and the closing song “Game Over” literally a couple of weeks before we mastered the album. They were the last two songs to write and Steve just pulled it out of the bag. The great thing about “Game Over” is that the album begins with a rock sound on “Strange Voices,” goes into a bit of a blues vibe, a bit of funk, a bit a of a country vibe, and then rocks it up again at the end with a little bit of an edge with “Game Over.”

GM:Stefanie Johnson’s background vocal comes through so nicely on that song.

MD: Yes. She’s got a lovely voice. She’s a really interesting girl and she is smashing it, doing a great job and does a nice job on “Life is an Open Road,” too. Most of the backing vocals are my voice but she brings something to these songs to make them sound more real.

GM:One more song from the album to discuss is “One More Way,” and that one has almost a Whitesnake-like melody.

MD: Ha ha. Great. What is so funny is that I think I am sure we plagiarize without knowing it. It is what is coming into my mind when I come up with the melodies, so there will be inferences from what I have been listening to or have in the past. I just feel that I want the track to take me where it needs to go.

GM:You told me that you have used Toto’s album The Seventh One as a vocal warm-up.

MD: Yes. Back in the day when I was in Seven and touring. On days when we weren’t performing I would sing the entire album of The Seventh One. I would get in a room, put it on, and stretch my vocals with it. It is high, clear, strong and powerful, and I feel that if I am coming into the studio and I am going to record, and I want to warm up, I may start with a ballad and then sing their “Pamela,” which really kicks it.

GM:In the UK, “Stay Away,” from the album, was the flip side of “Pamela.”
MD: “Stay Away” is just about as high as you can get. That chorus really soars and with “Stay Away,” when I hit the notes, I feel is the song where I sound most like Joseph Williams from the record. With Toto what is amazing is when I was living in Boulware, when I was young, we would mostly get American music and my brother and I were just avid Toto fans. So to go full circle to see them live and see my son Josh play as their opening act is just awesome and surreal.

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Toto

Flip side: Stay Away

A side: Pamela

UK debut: 1988

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GM:I have heard Josh on ZFG’s new song “Special” and he is so solid.

MD: He is a prodigy drummer from a very young age. We were in a studio in Birmingham and he must have been three and I sat him on my lap and he had pestered me that he wanted to play the drums. I played the bass drum pedal because he couldn’t reach it and he literally held the beat. It was open handed playing and he just had it. So we got him a drum kit when he was four and got him some proper lessons with a really great teacher. By the time he was fifteen, he was winning competitions. He was taken to Frankfurt and got sponsored ever since by drum and cymbal companies. Then he literally got a call one day after One Direction had just finished doing “The X Factor” and received a call to go to London for another TV show to play for One Direction. He loved it, got on with the guys really well, and a few days later he got a call and they asked if he would audition for the UK tour. We drove him to London and he got the gig. Then One Direction came to the U.S. as an opening act and pretty much got kicked off the tour because fans wanted to see One Direction instead of the main act. So One Direction set up a U.S. tour and they called Josh who was literally eighteen or nineteen. He left home and came back occasionally for the next five years. He traveled the world first class with what became probably the biggest pop band in the world at the time. He has played everywhere and has met everybody.

GM:My wife Donna and I just saw Niall Horan from One Direction on “Saturday Night Live,” perform two songs, and this was one of the most enjoyable musical performances we have seen on the show in years. What a learning experience it must have been for Josh.

MD: He learned discipline on how to control his drumming. He learned focus because they were playing to tracks. The stages were so huge. The keyboard player was fifty meters from him and there were no amplifiers on the stage, so he learned to play like a real professional. After those years he moved to L.A. because he loved it there. He managed to get a green card and move to the states and by chance met Trevor Lukather at a studio session he was doing. So he and Trev just literally hit it off, like brothers from another mother kind of thing. They had common backgrounds and shared an apartment. With ZFG, they called Sam, because Trevor had grown up with Sam Porcaro, as sons of Toto members Steve Lukather and Mike Porcaro. Sam is a phenomenal bass player. They just got together to jam. They had seen Jules Galli singing somewhere around the scene and invited him. So there was Jules on vocals, Trev on guitar, Sam on bass, and Josh on drums and they just started jamming together and it just worked. Jules’ voice is just stunning. They wrote some tracks and it went from there. It is really rare to get that background and skill, especially at their age. A full length album will come out at some point.

GM:In the meantime we have your full length solo album, where I enjoy every song. What a year it has been for the Devine family. Congratulations.

MD: Thank you. Cheers!

Direct Link to Mick Devine on Escape Music:

http://www.escape-music.com/ESM335.htm

Warren Kurtz is a Contributing Editor at Goldmine, writing the In Memoriam and Fabulous Flip Sides series. “Warren’s Fabulous Flip Sides” can be heard most Saturday mornings, in the 9 a.m. hour, Eastern time, as part of “Moments to Remember” at wvcr.com or iHeart Radio – search WVCR.