Reef - Lead vocalist Gary Stringer talks about the new album Shoot Me Your Ace - Summer 2022
Shoot Me Your Ace is the brand new album from British rock n roll band Reef – and it’s incredible. It’s a hard rocking album but with all the right elements of light and shade and one which truly shows the versatility of every single member of the band. It’s production has an almost 'written with vinyl in mind' quality: you can feel the energy in the room and hear the nuances of each instrument. It’s a hugely cohesive album with its 10 tracks sitting next to each other in blissful symbiosis. This has all been made possible through the fact that the very strongest songwriting sits at the very heart of this record. We catch up with lead singer Gary Stringer on the eve of the album’s release to find out how it all came together. He is understandably in incredibly high spirits, full of excitement and brimming with pride and we find the frontman’s elevated state of mind to be hugely infectious! Creating this album has clearly been quite a journey. We pull up our chairs and the conversation begins...
Shoot Me Your Ace is absolutely stunning! The production is outstanding and the whole record has a 70s vinyl kind of quality to it. Would you agree?
I think everything about the whole package is like that. The music was an absolute joy to create and record. It couldn’t have been any easier. I think Andy Taylor had heard me sing a song with Skindred, a song called Machine, which me and Benji (Webbe – lead singer) took turns in singing lines on. And he had heard this and he liked it. He invited me to Ibiza to sing on some songs that he was working on. I put 3 songs down and came home. Then the phone rang and he asked me to come back. We got to know each other a bit better and I sang another 3 or 4 songs for him, and it wasn’t long before he came to England. I said “why don’t you come to open have a jam with us at Glastonbury Festival this summer?” And he did, he played 3 or 4 songs and then he came down to our headquarters in Somerset which is where we keep our gear and where we play – it’s a fabulous little space. We’d come in 11am and have a coffee and we’d start noodling away and before you knew it it was 7 o’clock. These days turned into weeks and the riffs and ideas turned into songs and the songs coalesced into this album that very naturally was born. We’ve never had two guitar players in Reef but he just seem to work with Andy and Jessie. They never once stood on each other’s toes. We just made this rock and roll noise and we said that we’ve got to record this! We got the drummer in Luke, who was the last piece of the jigsaw. Jesse bumped into him in a lift in London and he knew him from years ago. Luke had gone on to play with Joe strummer and KT Tunstall and Bryan Ferry – he’s a very talented world-class drummer. He came down to our work space on Wednesday and we recorded a demo of 6 songs, he came back on the Thursday and we did another 6, we had Baltic Studios booked for Saturday and Sunday so on the Friday we drove up to London, we set up the kit on Saturday with Andy playing in the band but also had an engineer and he was producing the record and we cut 6 songs on the Saturday and we got another 6 songs on the Sunday. The guts of that record were made in 48 hours! It was an incredible week and that momentum and that energy and that feeling has just been with this project from the beginning. It’s just been effortless musically and I think you can hear it in the music! I re-sang a couple of songs, not everything is live, but most of it is - every bit of the drums, every bit of the bass, 95% of the guitars – I think the boys put a couple of solos on a couple of extra layers – and I sang 3 or 4 again. But the guts of that record was done in a weekend and funnily enough just before we locked down! (laughs!)
The picture you have painted suggests it was all in the stars! Fate was playing it's part in the most beautiful way!
Yeah! I don’t know what to say! It was crazy! And then to be locked down with this great piece of work that you’re so excited about, we didn’t know what was happening at first. It’s been a crazy couple of years, so to be sat on this great record... Every time I’ve played it it has made me dance and it’s made me move. Usually when you make a record, maybe 12 or 18 months later you might be thinking I wish I’d changed that chorus or I wish we done this differently with this, no! It’s just there and it’s just right. I’m really stoked about it!
Well as you said, as well as playing guitar Andy was also sat in the producer’s chair. Did his producer's influence really help to create what you've described?
Well he chose an engineer that he knew really well and he chose the studio and we were all set up so close. So the whole band is in the same room. No one does that these days. We’ve always recorded live and usually you will end up overdubbing parts but not many people set up in the same room because if one person in the room messes up the take is gone. So if there is a bass blip or the guitar goes to the wrong chord, that’s coming through on everyone’s mics. So everyone in that room was on fire! The band were on fire! You’ve got a drummer who’s world-class. Jacko played out of his socks! There wasn’t one single bass overdub – absolutely incredible! And with Andy we had a songwriter who can do pop and rock. We connected over AC/DC. We know he made his living in a pop band but we connected over AC/DC and Power Station. And he can shred! He’s a great rock n roll player. He fitted in with us perfectly. So Andy was in the room as well, and along with the engineer he set up the sound, tested the sound, found the sound he wanted using the right combination of amps and guitars when deciding where the microphones should be. He was producing but he was playing too and there were just something very, very special. I think with Andy, he wanted that performance. He didn’t mess about with it. He got it right from the get-go, we recorded it live and I think the results speak for themselves.
And it's great to hear how naturally the record evolved in the studio.
Yeah, I think the fact that we played together as a band for 4 to 6 months, writing and jamming and understanding how each other played, Andy would then have made a decision on how to record this band and the way he did it with us it worked so well. In fact we had two songs left over, an acoustic ballad which we had written and recorded in that weekend – we did 12 songs but when they released 10 – and had like a soul ballad as well. We clipped them off. The record before Revelation, we had all sorts on there. We had R&B songs, gospel choirs, heavy metal songs and all sorts of different styles of music on that record. And that was really cool and it was really exciting, but for this these 10 songs together made this rock and roll sound and that’s why we lost those other 2. It just felt right to have these 10 songs punching. Even down to the artwork with Andy Mold, this illustrator who Jack had gone surfing with, he has represented this record perfectly. When you were playing with these guys were playing so well they are pushing the boundaries! We are talking about world class players. Luke Bullen could play in any band in the world. They could all play with anyone in the world and we just hit something so special. I’m in the room with them singing and I’m just thinking this is pushing reality! It’s almost superhuman and it made me start thinking about graphic novels and super heroes, but not like demons and dragons, just humans performing. That came out in the lyric, and when Andy Mold did the artwork it just connected. The album is a wonderful piece of art: the music, the sleeve, the artwork. It’s as good as it gets and I’m really stoked!
Let’s talk some more about Luke Bullen because you’ve talked about him being a world-class drummer and he absolutely is. His work with the likes of Joe Strummer, Bryan Ferry, Addict, Zanderman and KT Tunstall also demonstrate how wonderfully versatile he is. It’s wonderful that Jesse bumped into him in the lift. At what point did you know that this was the person for the band?
Well, what was funny was if we go back to me saying he came down on the Wednesday and by Sunday we had the album finished, we had never played with Luke before we got together on that Wednesday. I’d never met the guy. We were being introduced to Luke that day, we were going to play with him for 2 days. Jessie was so confident that’s why we booked the 2 days in London and we were hopefully going to get 2, 3, 4 songs. We were trying out. We were trying to find the missing piece. We worked with a couple of drummers when we were are working the songs out and they were great but we were still looking for that missing piece. So we didn’t know on that Tuesday night what was going to happen on Wednesday. Then we’d done 2 or 3 songs in an hour. These were just demos and try outs, this is why we’ve got the kit setup in our studio in Somerset – it’s lo-fi, it’s recordable and we are listening to this guy work and he’s learning the songs as he goes – that’s the standard of drummer that he is. Again, on the Wednesday he’d done 6 songs! And then he did another 6 on the following day and we were thinking 'my god, this weekend is going to be really exciting!’ Even on the Friday as we were driving up we weren’t thinking we were going to be doing 12 songs in 2 days! It doesn’t work like that! We had a list of about 3, 4 or 5 songs that we were going to start with and by the end of the first day we had nailed all those. We were calling out songs to continue just because the standard was so high. It just gelled!
He is such an enormous talent. Chain him down Gary! Let’s focus on the music. You released the title track Shoot Me Your Ace 6 months ago on 29 October. This hard rocking track is stunning and an incredible way to open the album, and I love the supporting video! The lyric ‘I’m torn in the middle’ has never been more literal or appropriate as the band play in the centre of the Demon Drome with motorcycles circling around you almost at arm’s reach. Was this one of the most nerve wracking videos you’ve made? Could you even concentrate on the music?
It is funny because we’d bumped into the Demon Drome guys a couple of times and Jack got quite friendly with them. We’d see them setting up their Wall Of Death at festivals here and there, and we would go and see their Wall Of Death show. Of course they were locked down like we were locked down and when the space and time and legality enabled it, Jack just said ‘I think this could work’. We went down there and we weren’t originally going to set up but then I thought ‘maybe we should actually set up in the middle of the ‘Wall Of Death'. The band all looked at each other and asked ‘is that wise?’ (Laughs!) But once you’re in there it’s just a cylinder with a door that is the final piece of the cylinder so there is no way out. When the bikes start up the racket is immense! There’s a smell of lead and these bikes are whizzing round you, but once the song starts and once you’re considering your performance to the camera, it’s not that you forget that the bikes are there, it’s just that you’ve got a job to do and that kind of takes over. Before we went in, and we did it individually and then as a group, we were a bit nervous of course. There are these huge bikes whizzing around you and you’re relying on the skill of the riders. But once the song starts on your playing to the camera, you are performing and you are doing your job. So you don’t forget the bikes are whizzing around you but you’re not quite so scared because you were concentrating on something else! (Laughs!)
Well, the new album is due this week. You've talked about pride but what sort of thoughts are going through your mind at album release time?
Well, with the last record we worked with an international record label. With Revelation we had a top 30 album and I couldn’t believe it charted. I was blown away! We have put the new album out on our own label and we’ve done this ourselves. I guess fortune favours the brave – who knows – but it feels at the minute that the sort of sales we are getting means we are going to do well. It feels like people are connecting with it. But of course there’s a feeling of trepidation, it’s something that you’ve worked for for a year or two. I’m just having a go, I’m a singer in a band and you take a chance. You put your energy and your love into something. It’s a bit like falling in love, you take a risk don’t you? That’s what my life has been. Hopefully enough people are into the record. It certainly feels like it. We’ve been doing shows for the last 3 weeks and when these shows went on sale a year ago go we were locked down. I remember saying to our manager 'I’m not sure about this – who’s going to come?’ But we’ve been playing to full rooms. There is something going on, there is something brewing and there is some excitement with this project that seems to be transcending. Let’s see what happens!
And of course, as well as releasing the album on 29 April, you will also be releasing the next single Best Of Me. I absolutely adore this song! Lyrically it’s hugely empowering, right from its opening lines of ‘I’ve got lightning in my fingers, I’ve got thunder in my feet but you haven’t seen the best of me’. You appear to be painting a picture of a devoted and exciting future for the band and importantly giving a strong commitment to the fans. To what extent is that a fair thing to say?
Well I will tell you this: Best Of Me is one of the 4 new songs from the album that we have already been playing. We put this song in the set after Place Your Hands and the crowd are loving Best Of Me. So there’s something in that as well. The crowd are clapping at the start of this song that they don’t really know but there is clearly a vibe there! I’ve felt the whole way through this process that I’ve been playing with people who are as talented as they come and writing with people who are as talented as they come. I feel very fortunate and very lucky to now being a position to share that now with everyone. Best Of Me is a slice of that. It’s exactly saying that! It’s laying down a standard and a manifesto, and also how people don’t have to follow what I’m saying – this is just how I feel that there is a party going on in my brain, in my body and in my ears and I want to share it! And that is what this song is about. When we are playing it live we are feeling super high!
Just rewinding to 2018’s Revelation, I felt that this record was Reef exploring a harder rock edge, and I specifically remember reporting at the time that there were flavours of AC/DC in there, so it was interesting to hear you talk about connecting with people over AC/DC. Shoot Me Your Ace seems to continue this. I’ve always seen Reef firmly within the rock space but how important is it for you for Reef to be recognised as a rock band?
Firstly, I would say we’re on a rock n roll band. I always add ‘n roll’ because the rock bands that I like have got rhythm. Whether it’s The Stones or Black Sabbath or Led Zeppelin or AC/DC they make the girls dance. It’s got a boogie, it’s got a back beat that along with the great guitar sounds and solos and performances creates a celebration and it makes people move. It’s not just straight up rock. I absolutely don’t want to put anyone down but I like to make the girls dance and create a feeling of movement because I feel very physical as a performer and I always felt like the band was. For me rock n roll is always important but as for how we want people to see us, we’ve probably shot ourselves in the foot in the fact that we have explored lots of different areas. Our first album was quite grungy, our second album and our biggest hit had a gospel choir... But going from with working with Clive Martin who produced that first record so well, and who was an engineer and producer all in one, and going to work with George (Drakoulious) who was so different... We had done a few shows on the west coast of America and we’d met George and he agreed to come to Abbey Road to start work on our next record. So we started working on it and we cut Don’t You Like It and a couple of tracks off Glow, and he said “I feel a bit uncomfortable here, guys” – there were guys with white coats on, everything took a long time to get done and he’s an impatient Yank! He wants everything yesterday. If he wants his drums tuned at 4 in the morning he’s going to get them tuned at 4 in the morning! If he wants a White Falcon guitar delivered at 2 a.m. he’s gonna goddamn get it! That wasn’t quite the vibe at Abbey Road! He invited us to come back to his hometown in Los Angeles to record and that’s exactly what we did. I remember flying in on my own to sing on the songs at the boys had cut already. George picked me up at the airport and he took me straight to the studio. It was the famous Sound City and I went into StudioOne and there was Tom Petty and Rick Rubin and they were mixing down Johnny Cash Unchained the second American recording and it was like walking into a film set! “George, who's this guy?”, “He’s just got off the plane, man.” (Laughs!) It was just a totally different vibe and it was like suddenly things have changed. We cut some songs and then the band came out we made that record and everything just built and built and built from there, and it was, I guess that was part of our journey. All those different styles of music were mainly from George. I grew up listening to rock n roll and heavy metal and blues and R&B but when you meet George Drakoulious you’re always learning new styles and that’s filtered through to us. We didn’t want to just be pigeon holed in one section or the other. And with Revelation and Precious Metal, those are two of the heaviest songs that we’ve done. But on the same record you’ve got How I Got Over which has a gospel choir, Like A Ship (without a sail) which is very church – and George had me singing that at 3 in the morning! This is all part of music and there is no area of music that I don’t want to look at, but for this record, Shoot Me Your Ace, it’s a rock n roll record. The seeds were sown with Revelation and Precious Metal and meeting Andy, fortuitously as we did, and working with him very naturally the rock n roll sound came together, and I’m really glad it did.
And just touching a little bit more on the Revelation side of things, you had the opportunity to play the tracks live before they were even recorded as a way of ‘road testing’ them and this proved to be a highly successful way to understand what the funds would like. You haven’t had the opportunity to do so with the new album. I was going to ask how disappointed you were not to have had this opportunity but it doesn’t look as if it’s done you any harm whatsoever...
Not at all. I think it is just the momentum of this record and then having recorded it we then locked down, but don’t forget we had last summer. So we did have period where we would play 2, a maximum of 3 new songs. We put Shoot Me Your Ace in the set every single night in the summer on the 10 or 12 dates that we did and it always worked! I remember walking on at CarFest which had 20,000 or 30,000 people I restarted with Shoot Me Your Ace and I remember thinking “What have you done, Gary? You’re starting this decent size Festival with a brand new song that no one’s heard of!” but the whole place went crazy and I thought ‘hit!’.
With the new album out on 29th April, this means only the fans attending the Southampton and Norwich will be able to enjoy it before the show. Of course this means that the end of the tour will be something really special but do you thinks there is a missed opportunity? Surely this must call for another tour later this year?
Well I think so and I think there’s already talk of us going out in the winter. We’ve got the whole summer of festivals booked out so most weekends we are working which is incredible but I think we can expect another tour in the winter. But what you’ve got to remember as well is we probably would have released the album a couple of weeks earlier had the vinyl got here in time. I think we ordered the vinyl in October last year and normally that would be well enough time. It normally takes 2 or 3 months but success with vinyl in the last decade, added to the fact that vinyl demised so quickly in the previous 2 decades, meant that a lot of people sold their brand and a lot of machines were scrapped, and now the demand for vinyl is back there aren’t enough plants out there to create the vinyl in a quick and effective way. I think you will see in the next 5 to 7 years more and more plants coming out because vinyl sales are just going crazy! There's something about vinyl isn’t there? We can all download on a phone and stream, and the convenience of that is fabulous, but to have that record in your hands and to look at your work of art and what the band have tried to achieve with the designer to package and present the music, I think that’s something like people are loving again!
Yes, absolutely! And for me what’s wonderful about vinyl is that it ensures the listener gives the record the attention it deserves.
Yes, right on! That makes sense!
Finally, in an age where the average cost of a new album is £12.33, Reef are selling signed copies of Shoot Me Your Ace for only £10. It would appear that this is the band making it a priority for your music to be accessible, over the financial side of things. To what extent is that a fair thing to say and also does having your own label allow those business decisions to be easier made?
Well, there’s no one else telling us what to do but even when we’ve done deals with Sony or whatever label we’ve been on, this band would never seed artistic interests, opinions. We always listen to people! There are people out there are in various jobs such as marketing and promotion and distribution – always listen. You’ve got to go with your gut so no one would tell reef what to do with regard to artistic decisions. That's first and foremost. But yeah, having your own label, it’s a bloody gamble! You’re putting your own money on the line. With regards to us making the album for a tenner, I want as many people to listen to this record as possible, to share it, love it and enjoy it as much as I do!
As our conversation draws to a close, we reflect upon what an incredibly strong album Shoot Me Your Ace really is. It's absolutely no surprise that respected publications such as Classic Rock, Fireworks Magazine and Powerplay Magazine have all reviewed the album and given it their top marks. As we went to press, the album entered the UK charts at number 20. In addition to this, as well as the already announced summer festivals, the band will be joining The Black Crowes on their September tour and be playing stadium shows with Bryan Adams. It just seems like all the planets are in alignment to give Shoot Me Your Ace and Reef the absolute success they deserve with his fine, fine record.
To find out more, head over to www.reeftheband.com, and in the meantime check out the video to latest single Best Of Me below.