UFO "Conspiracy Theories"

By The Great Sun Jester

Since his return on UFO's 2006 release "The Monkey Puzzle", original drummer Andy Parker has helped reinvigorate the band's mighty attack. The same no-frills, swinging power he displayed on iconic albums such as, among many others, "No Heavy Petting", "Lights Out", and "No Place To Run" remained intact. Subsequent albums have only further proven his continued skill and the band's 21st album, "A Conspiracy of Stars", is another in a string of impressive performances. Parker proved to be as great of an interview when I spoke with him about the new album and other topics.

WORMWOOD CHRONICLES: One thing that's immediately noticeable, from an outsider's perspective, is how this seems to be the most stable period in the band's history. Do you agree with that?
ANDY PARKER: Absolutely. To be totally honest, I wouldn't be here if it wasn't. As much as I love the guy, and Michael is a fantastic player as well, that whole period when things were so unstable just wasn't for me. My philosophy is you need to enjoy it to do it, otherwise what's the point, and just wondering if you're going to make it to the end of a tour or a show every night [laughs] just isn't enjoyable for me. That's why I spent a long time out of this band. Pete's obviously had his problems, but his problems never caused the band to be unstable, they are his problems, lifestyle problems. But with Vinnie and Rob, who has been with us for quite a while, it's been fabulous.
WC: I think that it's the biggest reason why the band has had a real resurgence in the last few years. The stability has allowed the band to build some momentum for a change, rather than stop-start, stop-start.
AP: Absolutely, Jason - people get weary. When they've been subjected to canceled shows or poor shows, well, there's other places for them to take their money. They might be the biggest UFO fans in the world, but if UFO aren't delivering, then what's the point? I think you are quite right and I've seen the band grow, become stronger, and I think the new albums testifies to that too. I'm really, really happy with this album and I think it will please some of the diehards out there who've beat up on us a little over the last few years saying we've gone a little too bluesy. I think this one has a bit more of an edge to it. The band sounds great and it was a pleasure to actually get to play with Rob in the studio. It hasn't happened in the last few years, it's just been me in there on my own mostly playing to scratch tracks. It's great because I actually have some history with Rob now since we've been playing on and off together now for a few years. Vinny even joined us on a few tracks and played rhythm, so it was kind of like the old days, it was good. It really shows on the album too, there's a real cohesiveness that stands out.
WC: You knew what Rob brought to the band as a musician, but what does he bring to the table as a songwriter, now that he's in that loop?

AP: This is the first time that he expressed the desire to pitch in some material, so he did, and there was a couple we really liked. That tends to be how it goes. The guys pitch in their ideas and then Phil has a listen and anything that fires him up lyrically, he'll say, yeah, I can do something with that, or I'm not too sure about that one, or that one doesn't do anything for me at all really. Rob turned out to have a couple of real winners this time - in fact, "The Killing Kind", the album's first track, is one of his ideas. He's really become part of the band. He definitely plays different than he did when he was first with us, so I like to think we've kind of left our stamp on him, as I'm sure he has with us. It's a good all-around choice.

WC:You have, without a doubt, the most physically demanding job in the band and I was wondering what you do to stay match fit for live shows?
AP: Even when I'm not on the road, I have a very physical lifestyle. I have this old house in Texas that I'm single-handedly renovating, so I'm out every day hammering, banging, digging, whatever. I work out every day too, I have an exercise bike at home. I think the biggest difference between now and the old days, however, is that I get more sleep. When you're in your twenties, you can burn the candle at both ends, but as you get older, it gets that much harder.
WC:What are some of your personal favorites off the new album?

AP: That's a tough one too and there's always a lot of discussion about what goes in the set. The back catalog is so huge that, obviously, there's some tracks we'd get lynched if we didn't play, so it's always difficult to know what should go into the set. I listen to this album and think we're spoiled for choices. "The Killing Kind" and "Run Boy Run" will be in the set. As for the rest, there's so many tracks I like. I love "Sugar Cane", "Rollin' Rollin'", "Messiah of Love", there's just some good stuff on there.
WC: One thing that distinguishes UFO, for me, from other bands of their generation is that by the time the touring cycle for this album ends, the band will likely have played six songs from this album, at least, in a live setting. A lot of other bands from your generation put out new albums these days and you're lucky to hear two or three new songs and the rest is a greatest hits revue. For UFO, it shows a band willing to acknowledge its past, but acknowledging its present as well.
AP: You've got to move on, Jason. There's nothing worse than standing still. That's what I've always admired about this band, we've never been willing to pander to the taste of the times much. We don't look down and say, oh, it's the Justin Bieber crowd buying records now, what do we do to get them? [laughs] I remember back in the late 70's, early 80's, our record company trying to steer us into the pop end of things and it just didn't work. We've taken some stick from people over the last few albums saying we've gone a bit bluesy, but this one is a little heavier, and maybe that's due to Chris Tsangarides, this is obviously the first album we've done with him. Tommy Newton had produced the last few and everyone felt like he did a great job, but it was just time for a change, and Phil definitely wanted to do this one in England. I don't know if you knew this, but Chris was actually the assistant engineer on "Phenomenon". He was just getting into the business when he worked with us on that. Obviously, we haven't worked with him since, but we've kept an eye on his career and, obviously, he's done very well for himself. It was a great pairing and he was a pleasure to work with.
WC: It was a really good sign to hear his name attached to producing the new album. He's a name from an era when there were real, name producers who you knew would turn in a quality product from reputation alone. What do you think his production brought to the album and how did his participation come about?

AP: Chris' name came up because Spike, the singer for The Quireboys, had just some stuff with him and asked Phil if we'd thought about using him. We hadn't, but Phil went down to see him and said he thought this would work out really well for us, he seems really keen. He's a really easy guy to work with, especially on the drums. I think there's a tendency now for producers and engineers to use Pro Tools and other digital technology where they can see everything laid out on a graph and deal with milliseconds of time. Tommy Newton, for instance, was an absolute stickler for things being on time. Maybe because he's German, I don't know. [laughs] That's fine, you know, it worked out, but I'm not a metronome player, I never have been. It's not that I can't do it, it's just not where I'm most comfortable. Chris was different - he said, "I don't listen with my eyes, I listen with my ears. If I hear something wrong, I'm gonna stop you, but if it sounds good, that's it." That's a lot more like the old days. We never played with click tracks, so instantly, I was more comfortable and the recording went a lot more quickly in that respect. Of course, having Rob in the room helped a lot with that too.
WC: You mentioned earlier that you think a lot of the band's old school fans will be much happier with this album than other recent releases. Was that a conscious decision or just a natural outgrowth of the songwriting process?

AP: Just natural. It's something I've said about this band before, but we never sit down and write trying to please people. It's just wherever the guys are at that time. Obviously, the majority of the writing comes from Paul, Vinny, and Phil. My writing over the last few albums has been very scarce because we don't get together like we used to in the old days and that's where a lot of my ideas made it in at the writing stage. I've had some personal stuff this year too that kind of kept me involved away from the band, but the guys came up with some fabulous stuff and I get to put my stamp on it when its recorded.

WC: How do you rate your own playing at this point?

AP: That's good. What do I say? Well, hopefully it's okay! [laughs] The thing about my playing is it's always been about the band and just providing a really good, solid framework for the other guys to work around. I've never been one of those guys who says, "Ooooh, look at what I can do!", and play a solo. I wouldn't know where to start. I've never played a solo in my life and don't intend to, but I always hope my playing is solid, it fits the song, and gives everyone room to move. I mean, you're gonna repeat things, I've only got so many licks, but let's face it, Van Gogh painted the same damn picture over and over again! [laughs] I tend to think about my playing now more than in the old days when it was like just stick your head down and go for it. My philosophy has always been, play the best for everybody, don't be out there just trying to promote yourself. As I say, I've never been one of those guys who sits in a room and practices because I want to be playing with other musicians, I don't really want to see how good I can be on my own.
WC: Phil's vocals amaze me. It may seem like an odd comparison, but he's like a hard rock Van Morrison. Aging didn't ruin his voice - it transformed it. You've seen and heard a lot from Phil over your years in the band and I was wondering if you think he's ever received his due as one of the premier front men.

AP: No, I don't. In general, I don't think the band's received the recognition we deserve. Phil, though, has done this from day one. I've left twice, Paul's been in and out, Vinnie came in later, but Phil has been there from the very beginning and that, in itself, is an amazing achievement. We're looking at forty-six years this year. 1969 to 2015 is a long time, but it's good stuff. He's not one to sit back and rest on his laurels, he's in there working and there's some great stuff on this album. It's really interesting too how his voice and approach to singing has changed. It's like Robert Plant - if you can't do what you used to do, do something different. I've been going over some stuff fairly recently from the 70's and 80's, old board tapes I have in my collection, and it's incredible how different his voice is... yet, it's just the same in other ways. I think I actually prefer it now over back in the 70's.
WC: I liked the word you used earlier - gravitas. It has that.
AP: It's like anything else, your experiences change you. It's changed his lyric writing and his voice. For me, it's all for the better, I think.
WC: With Rob in the songwriting loop now, I can only assume he's a full time member now. This is the third album since Pete left - why has it taken so long to arrive on a full-time replacement? Just availability?
AP: Well, I hate to burst your bubble a little, but I wouldn't say Rob is a full time member. Of course, he's full time in a sense that he's recorded and toured with us for some time, but he has other things to do. He has his own band, he still plays with Sebastian Bach, so it's not like UFO is his only thing and, to be honest, we've never really shut the door on Pete. It's a chapter in the book that isn't finished yet. I'm not saying he'll never be back. We miss the hell out of Pete - he's like a brother to me, I've known him for so long. It just came to a point where we said enough is enough and you've got to go do something about this. When it starts affecting shows as badly as it was, someone has to make a decision. He's carrying on though, he has a solo album coming out eventually, and whether he'll be back with us, I really can't say that. The door is not closed.
WC: I figured that might play a big role. When three guys have played together as long as you, Phil, and Pete have, there has to be a lot of emotional baggage that comes with something like this. After all, like you said, you love the guy.

AP: It is a hard decision when you have to say to someone, look, it can't continue like this, you've got to make some changes. To be totally frank, when Pete left in 2008, that's what we thought would happen. Pete would go somewhere, get himself straightened out, and then he's going to be back. It didn't work out like that though. Pete's had real problems changing his lifestyle and UFO just isn't the place for him if he's going to continue like that. Delivering to our fans is something we feel strongly about and it just wasn't what we wanted. It may not always be like that and I hope not, but in the meantime, Rob's doing a great job.

WC: Impressions change with time, but where would you rank this album in the band's history?

AP: I'd rank it pretty high. I think it's the best one we've done since I've been back. I think each one of our recent run has been better than the last, not that I'm trying to toot my own horn, but the band's been very stable since Vinnie joined, even with Pete coming and going. I can't say where I'd rank it overall because there's so much great stuff from back there in the 70's, but I'd say it ranks up there somewhere.
WC:I like how the album has a live, "on the floor" sort of feel, like the band is recording together. The production is so seamless that the best compliment I think I could give it is that the album's so well produced, but never calls attention to itself.
AP: Exactly, like I said earlier, we did have occasion to play together in the studio which hasn't happened a lot in recent history. Chris is such a talented guy that he really excels at making us sound good in the ways we should. It isn't like he didn't have ideas and contributed them when we needed them, he was very supportative, but he just kind of let us get on with it too.
WC: I think you hear a real progression with Vinnie's guitar playing here too. It seems, with each new album, that he's learned more about the virtues of stripping things back - for instance, the riffs on this album are very clear cut and direct. Does having a guitarist this good make your job any easier?

AP: Vin's a real star. He's a great musician, a great guy, and has brought serious stability to this band. When I heard some of the stuff he'd written for this album, I thought wow, these riffs will be a pleasure to play around. I'm grateful to play with him because there was a time, not a long ago really, when I thought I wouldn't be playing with UFO again, but the universe works in mysterious ways.