Last In Line - Spring 2019
Last In Line’s debut album, 2016’s Heavy Crown, is an incredible record. Former Dio members Vivian Campbell (guitar), Vinny Appice (drums), Jimmy Bain (bass) teamed up with vocalist Andrew Freeman to create a record that celebrated everything that was great about the original Dio lineup. And they absolutely smashed it. Sadly the release of Heavy Crown was marred by tragedy when Jimmy passed away while in his cabin on Def Leppard’s Hysteria on the High Seas cruise. But in tribute to their friend and his love for the Last In Line project, the rest of the band continued and recruited former Ozzy Osbourne and Billy Idol bass Phil Soussan. Now Last In Line are back with an incredible new album. Simply titled II their sophomore release sees the band presenting a sound with perhaps more modern qualities. The DNA of this band ensures that the ‘Dio’ blueprint is still there but II absolutely observes the band breaking new ground. There is something altogether quite uplifting and fresh in the album’s 12 tracks. We catch up with Vivian in LA before he heads off to the NAMM show. Despite being full of a cold, Vivian is unable to contain his excitement for the new album, and his energy is highly infectious. We make ourselves comfortable to hear all about how the record came together.
Well it’s the beginning of 2019 and an incredibly exciting time with the prospect of Last In Line releasing a new album, Last In Line II. Before we talk about the new music I would like to reflect on the huge success of the band’s debut album Heavy Crown. How would you describe your overall experience of Heavy Crown?
Bittersweet I suppose, to sum it up. Given that we were very, very excited about the release of the record, everything was on schedule for the tour – we had a tour booked – then Jimmy (Bain, bass player) passed away, so that really took the wind out of our sails. However, in terms of how the record was received, it was really quite spectacular. The love that we got for the record, you know, people heard it and we got very favourable reviews. There were some people who wanted to hate it who were die-hard Ronnie (James Dio) fans, who no matter what I do they’re never going to accept it, but for the most part it was really well received and that was really heart-warning to us. It was really encouraging. It was the result of that plus I think reflecting upon how much the Heavy Crown album and how much the band meant to Jimmy that we kind of owed it to his memory as well as to ourselves, that we’d taken it that far, that we kind of needed to continue to fly the flag. So although we cancelled the tour, we picked up a couple of months later. We auditioned about a half-dozen bass players, many of whom were very well known and exceptional players, but when Phil Soussan walked in it was pretty obvious that he was the guy for the band and it’s worked out really, really well. We’ve had the advantage now of doing a couple of years of shows with Phil to really get to have him find his place in the band before we actually went in and made this record so he’s really been a spectacular fit both from a component of the live show and as part of the creative 4-piece, because like we did with Jimmy on Heavy Crown, and in fact on the early Dio records, we started from scratch. It’s kind of like ‘made to order’, you know where you go to a restaurant and they make their own pasta or whatever, ‘made fresh daily’ – that’s how we make records! I told Phil when he joined this band and when he started talking to me about the upcoming writing sessions for the record and he started going on about "I’ve got these songs, this song would be great" and I said "woah, woah, woah - slow down. We don’t come in with songs. Just bring in a riff, bring in a vibe, a beat, a title". We kind of grow it from the ground up. I always thought that was the best way to get the flavour of a band:to exploit the chemistry of the band and the different personalities. Phil’s really talented, Andy’s really talented, Vinny’s really talented… any one of us could write a song or whatever but that’s not necessarily what it’s all about. We are trying to create something that’s unique to the 4 of us and that’s again how we approached this record, which is how we approached Heavy Crown with Jimmy and the early Dio records with Ronnie. So it’s a formula that works for us: to grow it organically.
I think a really interesting characteristic about how the band wrote songs together is that it was very old school, and what I mean by that is that the songs emerged and were shaped through band jam sessions. You’ve just explained a very good reason as to why that is: that the band enable the songs to grow together organically. How easy was it to actually do that given each band members’ very tight professional schedules?
That’s been probably the most difficult aspect because we’re all busy with other things and we don’t have a blocked set of time. The same was true with Heavy Crown. We don’t have like a window of time, like a month or whatever, to go write and record an album. It has to be done piecemeal. So we would go and write, we’d have say 3 or 4 day sessions when we were free, we’d go into in a rehearsal room and we’d write musical ideas. Now Phil, Vinny and I are in the Los Angeles area but Andrew lives in Las Vegas. Everyone was in on the initial sessions but the majority of the time the 3 of us would come up with musical ideas, a musical bed, and chop it into what we felt was a decent arrangement. We’d record every rehearsal session and we’d send it on to Andrew and Andrew would write the lyrics to it. So that’s how we work most of the time. We do it (songwriting) for about 3 days and then we kind of we put it aside. Then when Jeff Pilson, who produced the record, was free from his Foreigner schedule we’d go into Jeff’s studio and start recording some of the tracks. It was all done very, very, piecemeal over the course of a year or so. To be honest it got really, really confusing and really difficult to keep up with what was what, especially because the titles were changing all the time. You had Idea Number 1 or Fast Song or Slow Heavy Song in F# or whatever the titles were initially. You had to give them some sort of a title. We actually gave them really stupid titles related to home purchasing because I was buying a house at the time (laughs!) and experiencing all sorts of issues. The initial song ideas were like Black Mould because it sounds like Black Dog by Led Zeppelin. We had Apartment, we had Arthur Roof… so anything that was sort of home, or moving or home work related. But when Andrew got the songs and he started writing lyrics then the titles would start to change. So these files were flying around – the demos – and the names were constantly changing, and indeed a lot of the arrangements were changing because Andrew didn’t always accept everything we sent him as an arrangement for a song. A lot of the songs on this record are a lot more complex than on the Heavy Crown record. They have the arrangements that go places. A great many of the songs go places that our songs on Heavy Crown didn’t. They take a little sort of left turn and then come back again which is one of the great things about this record. It really sounds like a band’s second album which is one of the reasons I wanted to call it II, to bring home that point that this is the second album. It really sounds like a coalescence of the band’s sound. Were really gelling and we’ve really found our place, and that place is to make the songs that bit more complicated I guess and a bit more interesting. But it was kind of confusing because the titles kept changing and even right up to when the album was mixed and we were trying to sequence it, I’d still have to go back and look at the title of the song and think ‘Which one’s that?’ and go back and listen to it and go ‘Oh yeah, yeah, yeah!’. So it was hard to keep up and especially because we are all involved in our day jobs and we go off and immerse ourselves in that, and then we come back to Last In Line. It’s a really, really great record and I’d love to next time, or at some point with this band, create a future where we can have a block of time to sit down with these guys and make a record from start to finish the traditional way. It would be so much easier!
Let’s talk about the new music. We’ve been teased with what the album is all about with 2 tracks, Landslide and Year of the Gun, and what absolutely incredible tracks they are. Overall there appears to be an overall more modern rock sound emerging that still respects the past but perhaps allows Last In Line to move forward with its own identity. You’ve mentioned yourself exploring more complex arrangements. Do you think that’s a fair comment to make and what was your vision for this record?
Well, we didn’t have a preconceived notion, that’s never been anything we’ve had, even with Ronnie back in the Dio day’s or Jimmy with Heavy Crown. We don’t go in intellectually thinking about what kind of a record we are going to make or what kind of songs we are going to write. We really just feel it, you know, and go off our gut. I think the modern aspect of the sound comes mostly from Andrew. He’s a decade or so, maybe more, younger than the rest of us so he’s influenced by a different genre of music as well as early Dio. He was a big fan of the early Dio records too. He doesn’t write melodically and lyrically the way Ronnie did, so that’s what’s taking Last In Line away from the Dio aspect, you know? When Vinny and I play together, and this was even more so when Jimmy was alive, it is the sound of the Dio records because quite frankly that what it was: the 3 guys who played behind Ronnie. Phil doesn’t play like Jimmy. In someways he’s cut from the same cloth. He was playing with Ozzy back in the 80s and was a contemporary of Dio and he’s gets the sensibilities of what we’re about but Phil is a more complicated bass player, or a more musical player than Jimmy was. Jimmy was much more fundamental. Phil tends to play more like Geezer Butler and like John Entwistle did in The Who where he’s filling in the gaps musically and doing little riffs and stuff as opposed to just nailing down the back beat with the drummer. So it’s a different kind of thing and that makes it more interesting and more complicated. Phil likes to play riffs so maybe that’s one reason why we kind of got to this stage as well. I’d say that particularly Andrew’s influence because he doesn’t melodically and lyrically write like Ronnie did. So Ronnie was very old school in that way, very soaring melodies. Ronnie’s lyrics were very fantasy based, you know, medieval. That was his gig and that’s what he did better than anyone else. Andrew tends to write about more contemporary events. Without being specific, he doesn’t write love songs necessarily and he doesn’t delve into the fantasy realm like Ronnie did. That’s the lyrical aspect. As far as the melodic aspect, he just has a more aggressive approach I think to how he punctuates his melodies. I think that’s probably adding to the more modern element that’s in the music. The next song that’s coming out, there’s a video for a song called Block Out The Sun, that’s going to be the opening track on the record and that’s very old school heavy. I mean it sounds like Black Sabbath. It’s just a mean song. It’s not a fast song, it’s just as heavy as fuck! The lyric is very contemporary but it’s more in the mould of what people might expect from say Vinny and I in the Last In Line project. But there are others which are more uptempo: Year Of The Gun is one of our more uptempo tunes. There’s a few others you’ll hear on the record that really are reflective of what I was talking about earlier:more complex arrangements that take these left turns and go off. I’m not so sure they would sound modern but some of them actually remind me in way of early Zeppelin sort of arrangements, because we have really soft little intros and then we go really heavy, take a left turn and comeback. It’s an interesting record and I’m very, very proud of it. I honestly couldn’t point to any one of the songs as my favourite. I’m very, very pleased with it. With Heavy Crown, even as the record was being released, I knew that there were 3 or so songs in the record that I wasn’t that fond of, that I kind of looked at as filler album tracks, and the II record I don’t feel that way about any of the songs. I’m so very genuinely excited about this record.
We talked about Phil a moment ago and him joining the band following the very sad passing of Jimmy. When you were looking for a bass player, and of course you mentioned earlier that you auditioned a number of bass players, was the intention always for the person who came in to be a full member of the band? To explain this question a little further, on the release of Heavy Crown you were already clear even at that point that there would be a second Last In Line album. Was it always the intention that the person who came in wouldn’t just be fulfilling the live and touring commitments but that they would also be a full member for the second album?
Yes, absolutely. I really believe in including people. I think you get the best out of people when you make them happy and when you appreciate them. I’ve had a very colourful career as you know – I’ve played with a lot of bands and a lot of artists – so I always felt that, like a record producer for example, when you walk into a studio with a record producer, if that person has a very positive energy and is very upbeat and friendly and encouraging, you’re going to want to give your best and they bring the best out of you. If you walk into the studio and the producer’s a dick (laughs!) you’re just going to do your bit, get paid and leave, you know? As it relates to a band, you want to feel like you’re part of a team. With the early Dio band, if I may take a diversion here, when the band was formed Ronnie told Vinny, Jimmy and myself that even though it was his record deal that we were recording under, and that they were going to call the band Dio – which made sense because he was the famous guy – we were writing and creating as a band. He said "You’re going to get paid $100 a week" which is what we got for Holy Diver "but if we’re successful by the third album I’ll make it an equity situation". So we were a team and we were encouraged and we were all for one and we were working together because we felt we were included. The reason I got fired from the band was because when the third album came along I was the first one to go to Ronnie and say "Hang on, do you remember when you said…". Anyway, we don’t need to beat that old dead horse but that’s part of the vibe. When we made those early records we were investing in them with Ronnie. Everyone would stay in the studio, we’d all be offering encouragement to each other. You want people to feel part of something, you know? That’s vitally important so it was always my intention that whoever came in and took over from Jimmy would be a part of it. And the personality is important too. You can be the greatest musician in the world but if you’re a dick I don’t want to work with you. So that’s a big part of it. I knew that whoever came in I was going to respect on a personal level because otherwise I wouldn’t have them in the band. We have great fun together! Vinny is, aside from being one of the greatest drummers ever, he’s a lovely, lovely human being. He’s funny, he’s great to be around, he’s positive. Andrew can have his temper tantrums at times (laughs!) but that’s maybe typical of a lot of lead singers – maybe that’s part of their DNA, that’s what they need – but he’s also a very, very funny guy! And Phil is super funny too. We have fun together and enjoy each other’s company, and I think that’s important of any band because you spend 22 hours of the day or whatever not on stage. You’re only on stage for an hour and a half or 2 hours, so if you don’t like someone you’re in a band with you’ve got to put up with them the rest of the day. You don’t necessarily need to talk to them while you’re on stage but the rest of the time you’re in a dressing room, you’re in a van, you’re in an airport lounge or whatever. It can be hard work so personality and temperament is very, very important. But yes, he was always going to be part of the band.
The video to Landslide sees you playing your new Gibson signature custom shop guitar, and can I say what an absolutely beautiful guitar this is! How did this collaboration with Gibson come about?
This is a very timely subject because I’m about to leave this afternoon to drive down to Anaheim which is south of LA for the NAMM convention. It’s a big once a year convention with thousands and thousands of people. So I’m going tonight to go to a Gibson cocktail reception and then tomorrow is the first day of NAMM and I’m going to the Gibson booth. So a long story short, I started on a Les Paul. Rory Gallagher was my first guitar hero and he was a strat guy, but by the time I had any means to buy any sort of proper guitar I’d discovered Gary Moore and my other guitar heroes were Gorham and Robertson from the classic Thin Lizzy line up, and Paul Kossoff from Free. They were all Les Paul players so I really, really wanted a Les Paul. I eventually, when I was 15 years old, ordered a gold Les Paul standard from a little tiny music shop in Northern Ireland and I waited for what must have been about 6 months, and then one day I got off the school bus and went in and they said "Good news and bad news. We have a Gibson Les Paul but it’s not a standard and it’s not gold." Now, I was 15, I’d waited 6 months and I was very impatient. It was a wine red Gibson Les Paul deluxe. I hated the colour but I looked at the guitar and thought Scott Gorham from Thin Lizzy, he plays a Les Paul Deluxe. If it’s good enough for Scott it’s good enough for me! So I bought the guitar, I had to pay it off over a year and a half so I worked every weekend, every school holiday, but it was worth it. I was really, really invested at that time of my life and focussed on wanting to be a guitar player. I took the guitar home and took sand paper to it that night. I’ve always had a thing against shiny new guitars because Rory was my guitar hero and his guitars were always beat up. Within a month or so of having the guitar I had it repainted matt black. I put humbuckers in, I re-fretted it, hanged the machine heads and all the hardware etc. I still have that guitar – 72987537 – and that’s the guitar I play with Last In Line. For years and years and years I couldn’t get a return phone call from Gibson. I started with a Les Paul. I did the Holy Diver album and tour with that early Gibson. By the Last In Line album and tour I was using Charvels. I was seduced by the pointy headstock and whammy bar strats that everyone was playing at the time. So I played pointy headstock guitars in the 80s for many years. When I joined Def Leppard 27 years ago I did the first tour playing Hot Rod Anderson strats but it kind of made more sense that by the time we were recording the Slang album, which was my first studio album, to go back to a fixed bridge guitar – a Les Paul – because Phil (Collen, Def Leppard guitarist) played Hot Rod strats with whammy bars and it just gives a different flavour. Within a year or so it just felt a lot more natural to me physically to play a fixed bridge guitar so I’ve been doing it ever since. Ever since then I tried to establish a relationship with Gibson but for many, many, many years Gibson’s kind of been in the wilderness when it comes to supporting guitar players. Their business model was very out of control and they were trying to expand their business into other areas. Their guitar branch wasn’t focussed on supporting the artists. Anyway, in recent years I managed to establish contact with someone at the Gibson Custom Shop and we discussed last year doing this custom model which we did and pretty much exactly the time it was released Gibson went into bankruptcy because their whole business had kind of over-extended into home electronics and things like that. Now, you might think this is a bad thing but I actually view it very, very differently. I view it as a very positive thing because what Gibson have had to do as a result of the bankruptcy is restructure their business and to sell off all their home electronics and all their other satellite businesses that were bringing them down financially, and they’ve had to go back to focusing on their core business which is making guitars. So as result the quality of the guitars is coming up, and as an artist I am now receiving full, 100% support from the guitar company that I use. It’s actually a good, good time and I’m going to the NAMM show tonight for a cocktail reception to meet the new Chief Executive Officer, the Chief Financial Officer and all the different people, and they’re all guitar geeks! They’re all people who genuinely play guitar and have collections and stuff, so I’m really excited to meet them. And it’s a great time to be with Gibson. The custom guitar was a limited run. I believe they only made around 300 or so. It sold out right away and that was great! The quality of them is exceptional as you’d expect from the Custom Shop. And that Dio era Les Paul that I told you about, 72987357, they’ve made a couple of prototypes of that for Epiphone and I get to see the first one tonight. I believe that’s going to be coming out some time in 2019, and I’m very, very excited about that because that’s the guitar that means more to me than anything. That’s the guitar I learned how to play on. It’s not the best Les Paul that I have but if the house was on fire, that’s the one I’d grab and run out with. So I’m excited about that and the Epiphone one is just the first one. We’re going to talk about possibly doing a Custom Shop version of that too which will be really high-end. So it’s a great time to be with Gibson, you know, and it’s totally come full circle because for years and years and years I just got no love from them at all.
Your tour started in San Jose, California on the 17th of January and so far you’ve played 3 shows (San Jose, Fresno, Sacramento). You will of course have been playing some of the new material. What has the audiences’ reactions been to the new music?
It’s hard say, it’s really hard to gauge. Obviously there’s a very high recognition factor for the Dio material. We played 3 new songs on these shows and had a total of 15 songs. We played 3 new ones, 3 from Heavy Crown – so a total of 6 original songs - and then we were playing 9 Dio songs. We also opened the show with Landslide, but I don’t know. It’s really, really hard to gauge the reception to it. It seems to be good but I really honestly have no way of knowing. There’s also a certain edginess when you play new songs: they’re not as well settled in the DNA as some of the older songs are. It’s a lot more mental for us as players – we’re thinking about things a lot more so that also contributes to the fact that we’re not as cognoscente of what’s going on around us!
Just focusing on the live shows, you will be playing just over 40 dates over the next few months ending on the 12th of May in Pennsylvania. The whole band does of course have commitments to other projects, and you have mentioned yourself the day jobs people have, but one thing that is evident with Last In Line is the passion through which you all deliver the music shows that this is a hugely important venture. Do you wish you could do more shows? Are any more dates planned, perhaps in the UK?
Yeah, I do wish we could do more shows. This is a side-project for all of us but it’s a very, very serious side-project. When I’m not working with Def Leppard I’m working with Last In Line. It’s means a lot to me as it does the other guys. We have the dates you mentioned in the US until the middle of May and then I go off and start with Def Leppard again and we have to down tools with Last In Line but we are trying piggy back a couple of Last In Line shows in the UK around the Def Leppard schedule. In fact we’re going to play Download the same day Leppard does. Last In Line, we’re going to open the main stage. So I will open the main stage with Last In Line that day and then I’ll close it that night with Def Leppard, and in between I guess I’ll have a nap! (Laughs!). Now 2 nights before that - I believe that’s the Friday night that Leppard and Last In Line play Download (Friday 14th June– Ed), on the Wednesday, a couple of nights before, we’re going to play a club show in London, but those are the only 2 shows that we will be able to fit in around that schedule. Then I go off and finish up with Leppard, then Leppard’s doing Canada after that and then some other stuff. But from about October, November, December I’m free again from my Leppard commitments and we are looking to hopefully bring Last In Line back to Europe at the end of the year, around that time.
In terms of recording the album you have again chosen to work with Frontiers SRL. This seems to be quite a winning partnership. What is it about Frontiers that keeps new and established artists heading their way?
There aren’t a lot of record companies left, you know, the demise of records and physical media in general has kind of gutted the industry, but Frontiers are actually very, very passionate about rock music and new music and the older bands doing new music. They are one of the very few players but I genuinely do feel that Serafino (Perugino, founder) and Mario (de Riso) and the guys who run the company are really, really big rock fans. They genuinely get excited about what we do and they love this new record, I mean they are all over it. On a professional level it’s a work in progress. Even between the Heavy Crown release in 2016 and the release of the II album here, there have been numerous changes within Frontiers and their personnel and their expansion, they now have more people working in the US. I’m happy for that because there’s not always been a lot of support in terms of marketing the record so we as the artist need to cover a lot of that ground as well. It’s not enough to write the songs, make the record, do the videos and do the press and go out and do shows. We also need to work the business side of it to cover where Frontiers has been lacking but they’ve realised this and they’ve picked up in recent years and expanded their business. So it remains to be seen. I’m hopeful they can be more supportive of this record than the support we got across the board for Heavy Crown but having said that I don’t think that it was any malicious intent, it was just a certain naïvety I think, especially with regard to the American market of how things work. So we’re all learning as we go with these things but I do genuinely feel that with Frontiers that their heart is behind it. They believe in the band, they believe in the music and I’m 100% certain of that. I just wish that I could have more of their money to help sell it! (Laughs!). We just hired a radio promo person here in the US to get us more spins on the radio. We don’t make money doing this at all. It really is such a labour of love but you’ve got to speculate to accumulate, as they say, so we’re having to take what little profit we make from this to kind of reinvest in it to make it grow because we believe in it too!
You have also teamed up with Pledge Music where you are able to offer fans some fantastic exclusive items. What made you decide to go down the Pledge Music route? Was this, as you suggest, the band working the business side of things?
Yeah, I don’t really understand how that works. We’ve been fortunate that there’s a talented young chap out of New York who actually works with Def Leppard a lot running the Def Leppard social medias and he’s very tipped to the Pledge Music campaigns and he’s run a few of them for other artists. So he came on board and talked us through the whole thing and the feedback has been really, really positive on it apparently. I really don’t know because I have no experience of it, I have no idea how we are doing but apparently if this feedback is to be believed we’re doing pretty well with it. Like everything that we do with Last In Line, we invest in it, we put the work in and try and make it as personalised and complete as possible.
To ask perhaps what may seem like an obvious question, what made the band decide to name the album II?
One of the reasons we wanted to call the album II – and I realise it’s not the most creative title, it’s been done a bunch of times going back to the 70s - but it really does sound like he band is coming into its own. So that was a good reason I thought. It sounds like a second album, it sounds where everything has coalesced and come together. But another reason I wanted to call the album II is because I wanted to simplify the title. When we started doing this back in mid-2011/early 2012 or whenever it was, we had no ambition to be making records and writing new music. That was never the intent. It was just Vinnie, Jimmy and myself and a young Andrew Freeman who we’d just met just going out and playing the early Dio stuff, just around LA doing regional club shows for fun and that’s why I didn’t give any thought to the name of the band. It was literally in the rehearsal room the first time we discussed doing this, when we heard Andrew sing, and we thought ‘This would be fun, let’s go do some shows’. I immediately thought ‘Yeah, let’s call the band Last In Line’ because it made perfect sense. It was the name of the second Dio album, Ronnie had passed away about a year prior, so Jimmy, Vinny and I were the last in line. It made sense at the time that that was the name of the band, but like I said back then we had no thought that we were going to be writing and recording new music. When we put out the Heavy Crown album I did sense that there was a certain amount of confusion with people. Like is Last In Line the name of the band or the name of the album? Is Heavy Crown the name of the band? Our logo, the ‘L I L’, I’m really trying to steer the band recognition toward the logo more than the name Last In Line to break away a little bit more. Obviously we’re very connected and very tied in to our legacy of the original Dio music and we’re still going to be playing that. We are still going to play Dio songs from the first 2 albums – the first 3 but most likely the first 2 – but now we’ve 2 albums of original material so we’re playing more and more original music too. So that’s another reason. I wanted to try and simplify and streamline the recognition of the band and I didn’t want to complicate things with another name or title for the album. I know people are going to go ‘Oh, II. That’s been done countless times’ but I do have my reasons. I just wanted to streamline things and ‘LIL II’ kind of looked like something a little bit easier to digest.
Finally, what else does 2019 have in store for Last In Line?
Just as many shows as we can play and then pushing this record as much as possible!
As our conversation draws to a close, we reflect on what an incredibly exiting time it is to have a new album from Last In Line. The teased tracks Landslide and Year Of The Gun are simply superb and have done much to accelerate our hunger for more!
Last In Line II is available now. Check out www.lastinlineofficial.com for more information and in the meantime enjoy the video for Year Of The Gun below.