By Richard Chycki, Canadian Musician, February 1993
For over a decade, Triumph has carved a successful and innovative path through the heavy rock market, not only in Canada, but throughout North America. Attacking the market with what were considered iconoclastic concepts, Triumph was the forerunner in Canada of the self contained operating unit, housing the band, a very fruitful Metalworks Studio, and management company under a single roof. Marking them as “corporate musicians”, many successful organizations have finally found this methodology to be an excellent way to survive the harsh economy of the Nineties.
Yet, the foundations of the band seemed to be crumbling when suddenly, guitarist/vocalist Rik Emmett decided to leave the band. The last studio effort for Triumph was the Surveillance album back in 1987. Discounting the 1989 Classics package, it’s been five long years since the band has released any product. Enter Phil X. A fiery and charismatic player fresh from an Aldo Nova tour, Phil joined band mates Gil Moore and Mike Levine early in 1992 and completed Triumph’s Edge of Excess release. At the time of this writing, their first single from the album, “Child Of The City”, is the number one add in three out of four U.S. tip sheets. We had the chance to speak with the band at their own Metalworks Studio in Mississauga, Ontario.
CM: Five years is a long time. It’s time for a lot of change. I guess we should start with the most obvious change – personnel.
Gil: Rik wasn’t happy with the last record. In retrospect, none of us were. The first few Triumph albums really had an element of co-operation that was completely nonexistent by the time Surveillance rolled around. We weren’t writing together at all. It was very much like I would come in to record my parts and then Mike would come in to record his parts and then Rik would come in to do his parts. So the material ended up having a very segmented quality which, in the end, hurt us. And it got to the point where we realized that these were no longer rock and roll records, they were just productions. Rik just decided to give up. He really wanted to be a solo artist, so now he has the opportunity to do it.
CM: Guitarist Phil X is known to many as the player with Frozen Ghost and Aldo Nova. He has also worked with Jon Bon Jovi. How did you get involved, Phil?
Phil: It was a complete fluke. Gil saw me playing in a club in Mississauga. This was about the time that I had agreed to work with Aldo Nova but hadn’t started touring quite yet. GiI was there to see some other muso about some production work. Gil approached me about his situation at that time, but I had already committed to Aldo Nova.
CM: You already have a fair amount of touring experience. Are you comfortable stepping off the road into a recording situation?
Phil: The Aldo Nova gig was great because it gave me a lot of experience touring throughout the U.S. Plus, it was a real blast. You know - American money -laughs-. I met a lot of interesting people and got to jam with some of my guitar heroes. Frozen Ghost was a great gig, too. But gigs were generally restricted to Canada. Now that I’m back home, I had to put on the brakes and slow down a little. I was a real hack when I got home. I had to have time to pick up my guitar and practice, because when you’re out on the road, it’s easy to turn into a robot, playing the same songs and the same riffs over and over, night after night. Coming home, I felt like I had forgotten how to jam. And I felt like I wasn’t a part of anything anymore. So I talked to Gil again. I really got the feeling that this was a genuine group effort and I would be involved from the ground up. The first day I came in, I was in writing with the guys and recording; I felt like a big part of the organization.
Edge Of Excess is the first Triumph album where Gil Moore handles all of the vocal chores, previously split with ex-axeman Rik Emmett. Gil commented on the inherent changes:
Gil: I certainly feel my voice is stronger than ever before. I trained a fair bit, and the enthusiasm of finally getting out a new release added to the fire, definitely. We haven’t worked out what our situation will be for live per-formances. We had Rick Santers (sideman with Triumph on previous tours) who could match Rik’s voice, so he’s a viable alternative for any material that Rik sang in the past.
CM: Mike, you’re back into producing the band rather than having external input. Why?
Mike: I produced all of the earlier records. Even when we brought in external people in the past, I was still the appointed band liaison. So, we went back to our proverbial roots and cut out all the middle men. It’s difficult to divorce yourself from the artistic side of the project and mediate, but it’s necessary. Everybody hears the same thing a little differently, and it’s important that we come up with an interpretation that’s a good compromise for all of us in the end. -Whispers- And then you do what you want anyway.
CM: I understand Edge Of Excess went through several remixes.
Gil: Some songs were remixed a ridiculous amount of times. Well, not just remixed. Because of the way we approached recording, we experimented with taking demo cuts and reworking each individual part over and over until it was album quality. Eventually every-thing was replaced, but it would maintain the same fire that’s often lost in the recording of demos for an album. We also had a lot of rerecording for Phil’s guitars. Songs like “Edge of Excess”, “Love in a Minute”,and “Riding High Again” were recorded in a more conventional sense because those songs came together after Phil became involved with the band. They didn’t go through the same reworking stages that some of the other material was subjected to.
CM: Let’s talk a little bit about Mladen. He’s “the mystery guy” that seemingly appeared out of nowhere to do a fair chunk of writing for this album with you. Was he to be the new Triumph guitarist?
Gil: He pushed us into a different writing direction, absolutely. There were two or three failed writing attempts at the beginning of the record. Being creative with another person is such an unpredictable element. Our system that we had loosely assembled is as follows: I usually started writing with Mladen and then Mike would get involved to clean things up. We didn’t have a guitar player at the time and you really need to write with a guitar player in a rock -n- roll band. A friend of mine recommended Mladen to us because he knew I was very frustrated not writing songs. Mladen was working with a few local acts and was writing material on his own. We got together and jelled right away. He’s the type of guy that comes up with original riffs and I finish the material off. It’s a great combination. So if it wasn’t for his initial seed of inspiration, we may not have gotten this album off the ground. One of the problems I felt Triumph had was that we had very little external input in a creative sense. I wanted that outside influence because I thought it may result in better harmony within the band over the course of time. That was yet another of my band theories – #346B to be exact -laughs-. Mladen was the “guy not in the band”. We became great friends and we teetered on the idea of him joining Triumph, but he formed another band, Von Groove, and we found Phil – so everything worked out great. At first, I had my reservations about writing with Phil because of theory #346B. The first day we sat down together, we compiled the basis for three tunes that are on Edge Of Excess. Phi I and Mladen also write together very well.
CM: Rik is regarded as somewhat of a guitar hero in some music communities. Are you uncomfortable with the thought of “filling another’s shoes”?
Phil: You can’t stop the comparisons that will be made. I guess that’s only natural. I don’t look at Triumph like it’s a competitive situation. I’m just doing my thing in another band. Coming into this band so quickly, and seeing that everybody involved with the band are just regular, easy-going people, I’ve had no reason to think that I was a replacement for somebody. I’ve had some people tell me that I’ll never fill Rik’s shoes, but I’m not here to fill them. I’m a whole new set of shoes. And this feels like a whole new band to me.
CM: Outline some of the gear you used to record this album.
Gil: We’ve experimented with so many methods of recording drums. We’ve done drums completely live. We’ve done drums completely with computer. We’ve played live samples to tape; and we’ve combined the two technologies together. We have every sample library known to man. I use Tama drums exclusively for all my recording.
Phil: A lot of Marshalls, JCM 800 heads and cabinets. I don’t really like the 900 series. I also used a Peavey 5150 stack for some leads. Guitars – several tracks were cut with a Strat. I had a custom guitar made for me by a Iuthier in Kitchener, ON named Freiheit. He does unbelievable work. His guitars are like a Les Paul meets a Tele meets a Strat. My guitars are equipped with the Flip Stick.
Mike: Fender Jazz basses, Warwick basses. SVT up loud, shaking the place. Couple that with a DI line. Very heavy.
CM: Triumph’s concept of a self-contained music system is a role model formed ten years ago for bands that are copying it today. You have external management now?
Gil: At the time, we weren’t deliberately trying to set any standard or do anything out of the ordinary. We simply developed a system that worked for us. Although it’s a great con-cept to run the whole show yourself, we simply don’t want to bear the responsibility of managing a band at this time. A lot has changed with respect to the responsibilities we each carry and our priorities. We simply want to create music right now. All of us have enough experience to know which direction to take the band from a business perspective, but none of us really want to do the immense amount of legwork that’s always involved bringing management concepts into reality.
CM: What about you Mike? I recall you were involved pretty heavily in Triumphâ€™s promotions, some of them taking you across the country in a bit of a rush.
Mike: That was our Canada In A Day promo for the United Way. We started in Halifax at 6 a.m. and had to make it to Vancouver before midnight. We would stop in all the major centres across the country, do a few radio promos and interviews. Then it was off to the airport. We raised about $30,000 for the United Way. I still get on the phone to deal with promotional ideas.
CM: A new album. There must be tour plans on the horizon.
Gil: We plan on having an even bigger visual extravaganza for our fans. After all, you’re paying to go to an arena, heavy-rock show. And that means both sight and sound. If you just want sound, buy the CD. Or better yet, buy the CD, and come to the show -laughs-.
Mike: It will be huge and bombastic. Our policy is: if there’s no show, why go.
Gil: When we were looking for a guitar player back in the pre-Emmett days, Mike and I already had the concept of huge light shows. It’s something that we use simply because we like it. It’s an added incentive for our fans to come see us. We’re looking at moving light and laser technology. Our lighting director, Paul Dexter, is already itching to put plans together for the live rig. Actually, we were fortunate enough on our last few rounds through the U.S. to pick up some of the finest live crew. They all seem to understand the concept of the road being a series of events not happening the way they’re supposed to. That’s just the nature of the beast.
CM: Future plans for Triumph?
Mike: Touring. We want to go right across Canada rather than just the major centres. Hopefully, we’re looking at 20-25 dates sometime in the new year. We’ve always played a lot in the States and I’m sure we’lI continue that trend. After all, they have Denny’s.
Gil: I’d like to do more recording as well because we’ve never done enough of it. And even when we did record, it was more of a vehicle to carry us to the next tour. The tour should be the result of the record, not the cause.