Glenn Hughes

UFO
You Are Here
SPV Records
An interview with Phil Mogg, by Todd K. Smith

“I was born on a rolling train, running when I hit the ground, I watch these wheels turning now, watching the daylight fade away.”
~When Daylight Goes To Town

When one thinks of legendary bands, UFO ranks among the greats. Some say it was the injection of Germany wiz-kid guitarist Michael Schenker that boosted the status of the struggling band from psychedelic boogie to hard rock champs. Others claim it was Mogg’s deep and brooding lyrics while others rant about Pete Ways stripped pants. Whatever your favorite, the combination led to half a dozen stunning records and jackpot sellouts in Chicago, California and Texas that still hold records today. The band’s rollercoaster ride over 30 years has left fans both exhilarated and exhausted.

When UFO first landed in Germany as a four-piece with Mick Bolton (g), Pete Way (b), Phil Mogg (v) and Andy Parker (d) they regurgitated bad acid boogie - par for the course for the Blue Cheer crowd. The band recorded on a piss-poor budget (400 pounds) but still landed a minor hit in Germany and Japan. Bolton was replaced by heavy-handed bluesman Bernie Marsden, (briefly) before he too was replaced by 18 year-old Michael Schenker then in the Scorpions. The merger yielded one of rock’s classic masterpieces appropriately titled “Phenomenon” and put UFO in league with Rainbow, Uriah Heep and Status Quo.

Forging a heavier direction with dominant riffs, layered orchestration and street-wise anthems the band matured with each outing, eventually hitting paydirt with “Strangers In The Night”. The live record put UFO on every headbanger’s turn table across the US and Britain and joined the ranks of Cheap Trick’s “Live At Budokan”, Thin Lizzy’s “Live And Dangerous” and Ted Nugent’s “Double Live Gonzo”. It gave fans exactly what they wanted – a souvenir of an evening with UFO captured forever. From then on UFO sold out show after show - even when Welsh guitarist Paul Chapman took over for a missing Schenker whose imbalance finally reached a critical edge.

Another four years of touring, recording, touring, recording followed putting the band on a 18-wheel tour bus for years on end. Eventually the foundation cracked, and Way split to try his hand at several alternative projects including stints in Fastway, Ozzy and finally Waysted with Paul Chapman. Mogg soldiered on struggling to maintain the band’s integrity but falling short with Misdemeanor (1985) the record that cost the band their contract with Chrysalis.

A bleak period ensued for nearly ten years. There was a brief, bright flash when Mogg and Way resurrecting the name for “High Stakes And Dangerous Men” (1992) but faded far to quickly. It was the lucrative offer in 1995 to reform the “Strangers” lineup that had the band back in the studio with long time collaborator and producer Ron Nevison. The result was a near return to form and the success of the “Walk On Water” tour gave the impression the band were ready to reclaim their tarnished crown. But it was not to be. Schenker spiraled into a wave of erratic behavior. Cancelled tours, backstage fistfights and mid-show walk offs caused a sea of fan-backlash costing UFO any hope of arena stability.

Two mediocre records (Covenant, Sharks) and a couple Mogg/Way projects kept the band on the record shelves barely halting their decent into complete obscurity. Last year, buried in dept and just released from a Mexican jail, Schenker called Mogg and relinquished his involvement with the band. With the albatross dropped, the band took on a new, fresh, exhilarating presences. Mogg was put in contact with rock-star drummer Jason Bonham and guitar virtuoso Vinnie Moore. The three were joined by Pete Way, fresh from working on a new Waysted record. With all in place they began writing with stunning results. Keyboardist/guitarist Paul Raymond was persuaded to return in the final hour completing a fitting lineup capable of staggering mayhem.

We caught up with Phil Mogg, the classic voice behind the UFO saucer, on a typically bleak and misty English Monday morning. Sitting comfortably in his home office on the southern coast he seems in particular good humor reflecting on the band’s rehearsal for the You Are Here world tour three days away. Mogg describes the scene; “It’s a bit like an old seaview, dead misty at the moment - like an classic Clint Eastwood movie.”

The Cutting Edge: So you’re relaxed at the moment – no worries about your upcoming European tour?

Phil Mogg: Yeah, I think it’s going to be good.

TCE: I just got the new record "You Are Here" and I must say, it sounds great. It sounds strong – like a cohesive outfit once again.

Mogg: We are very please with the way it came out. UFO was up and down there for a while. I think we got very lucky - fortunate even, getting Vinnie and Jason in the band. It was a great encouragement and as Jason says, ‘provides us with a fountain of youth’. I think it’s done wonders for the band.

TCE: It’s surprising how much of Jason is in there.

Mogg: Spike from the Quireboys was doing a solo tour for his album. I happened to be speaking to him and I’d said we were looking for a drummer. We’d only used Aynsley Dunbar (Zappa, Journey, Bowie) in the studio but when we went out on the road we used somebody else dubbing in. We really didn’t have a permanent drummer. He said he had Jason on drums at the moment and invited me down to the gig. I went down to the Underworld in London, caught up with the band. I had a chat with Jason afterwards and asked him if he’d like to join the band. He was just as Spike said, a great drummer, great guy and really into UFO.

He only had one question for me; “Is Pete Way still in the band”, he said. That was his only worry. Ha!

TCE: He is very dominating on the new record. He has a huge presence.

Mogg: The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Like his father he is very strong. We even squeezed some backing vocals out of him too. That’s him on “Daylight Goes To Town”. Jason’s done the rounds a couple times with his own band. Vinnie’s had his own stuff out there too so neither are leaning on UFO so to speak. They were doing their own things before UFO, which made it a better situation for us really.

TCE: There are several parts on the new disc that really standout. One of the things I’ve always loved about the band is the element of surprise. There is the flute on “Arbory Hill” (Obsession) and the acoustic intro to “Mystery Train” (No Place To Run). Here we have the Spanish bit on “Slipping Away”.

Mogg: Initially, when we were looking at Vinnie, I went through all his stuff to see if we could blend styles. He’s got a lot of techno flash and that sort of thing – you know the fast and furious stuff. But amongst the songs there were a couple instrumentals which were exactly what I wanted to hear, so I took a couple and worked them up. The flamenco bit on “Slipping Away” came from a song off The Maze (ed. “Never Been To Barcelona”). That was when we were testing the water so to speak. Once we got going he started sending me over other stuff and then we really got into it.

TCE: There was a period in the history of the band, I think it was around 1984, that you were looking at “flash” players. You auditioned Yngwie Malmsteen among others and eventually worked with Tommy McClendon – a big name in the Bay area, for Misdemeanor. A big concern in hiring Vinnie Moore was that this would become overcooked so to speak.

Mogg: I think he was aware of what was required of him to fit into this band. Or what way we should more or less go. The stuff he was sending me was right down my street. There were a couple other things on his solo stuff that vocals could easily have been done. I think we took two tracks off his solo stuff. They were both dead easy for vocals. Once he knew where I was coming from and knew the band, I think he kind of came up with the goods from then on.

TCE: Now that the band has had a number of months to work out the bugs, how is it playing together?

Mogg: We rehearsed a couple of weeks back just for a run through. We brought out some of the old material that we’ re going to do and it sounded great. A few slight rearrangements on some of the older songs but its sounding like it’s been pulled out of the wardrobe and dusted down. We’re off to rehearse in Birmingham on Thursday. Jason’s up there so we thought we’d do him the favor of rehearsing in his backyard.

TCE: How is the set list shaping up?

Mogg: There are the popular songs that are unavoidable - not that we would particularly want to avoid them. They are the ones that would be expected or rather odd if we didn’t play them like "This Kids", "Mother Mary", "Rock Bottom" and "Doctor Doctor".

TCE: You’ve got to be dead sick of "Doctor Doctor".

Mogg: We’ll I haven’t really done it for three or four years. I’m sure it will probably be there as an encore. It hasn’t been shown the door yet. It is being squeezed out though. We will probably do those ones that people would expect to hear. Then we’re doing four or five off the new album. We talked about doing too many off the new record but didn’t want to push it. Then we’ll do one off of "Covenant" and one off "Sharks". We’re still debating doing something off “The Wild The Willing and The Innocent” and “Mechanics” but we won’t know that till next week.

TCE: It would certainly be nice to hear something like “Long Gone”.

Mogg: I’ve suggested “Chain, Chains” and I think we might be doing a standard cover. We’re still yaking over it. It will be an old Howling Wolf or Muddy Waters track - old and classic.

TCE: How about Willie Dixon’s “Built For Comfort”.

Mogg: I think we’d like to do something a bit more lively. Something you can bang your head to.

TCE: Did the British Blues Boom have an influence on UFO?

Mogg: Yeah, a great deal. That was what we were into back then. If you wanted to go out and see a live band it was the Yardbirds or Clapton with Mayall. Ten Years After, the Animals that kind of stuff. Every other week down at the pub you’d have another English blues band in there.

I discovered the blues from the “English” blues and then I wondered where all this stuff was coming from. I started to investigate and discovered Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Big Bill Broonzy, Big Mama Thorton - that whole lot. Hearing voices as big as those singers was amazing to me. We swung out of the whole blues thing but we came out around the same time as the Who and the Small Faces - in actual fact they played some of the old blues stuff even though they leaned towards the pop side. The Who’s “Youngman’s Blues” is a Mose Allison song, the Small Faces and Led Zeppelin were doing Solomon Burke covers. The blues/soul influence was defiantly around.

TCE: Yet the first incarnation of UFO leaned more towards the psychedelic than the blues.

Mogg: Yes, well we were sort of confused as what we should be doing. We were mucking around and just playing for the sake of the gig. We were torn between doing something that was bluesy or acid. Drugs were starting to come out, dope and all that stuff and the roundhouse was all psychedelic. We were sort of straddled between either side of the bridge. We weren’t quite sure what we were doing. We started leaning more towards the blues side after Mick went and Bernie came in.

TCE: I can see how Bernie’s influence could have made a blues impact but I would never consider Michael Schenker a blues player.

Mogg: Michael isn’t really a bluesy player but he had his own style of melody. On Phenomenon we were looking for a cover and that was the only one that really came up. We got it from an EP that had four songs on it including “Smokestack Lightning” and a couple others but we decided “Built For Comfort” would suit us better. Michael did a great job with it, which showed his versatility.

TCE: There was spark to the band that ignited Phenomenon. I sense a similar spark with this lineup.

Mogg: Yeah, I feel a sort of freshness with it - an enjoyment in doing it. Also pulling Tommy (Newton – producer) was real good. That was luck too. Getting Tommy to do the production and getting the studio. Everything worked. The band, attitude wise is really good right now. They’ve all been around the block and down the ally and aren’t particularly keen on going back there. Nobody is bringing along loads of baggage or attitude – which is refreshing. We’re just getting down to business.

TCE: How did you settle on Tommy as a producer?

Mogg: We had some CDs of different producers. I put on a couple of Tommy’s and I really liked the sound. It wasn’t really the music that I liked but the actually production was very good. It was big, a big drum sound, a big nice solid sound. We had a chat with him and there didn’t seem to be anything wrong with him (he says laughing) so we decided to go for it. The studio looked real good too. Nice studio, nice guy - what more did we need?

TCE: Where did you do the majority of the recording?

Mogg: We worked out of Area 51 just above Hanover in Celle, Germany.

TCE: There is a couple reoccurring themes in your lyric writing. The whole western/outlaw theme like in “The Wild One”, “Daylight Goes To Town” and “The Spark That Is In Us”. And you seem to like “Blue” a lot.

Mogg: Well the “Spark That Is Us” is meant to be just that - the spark that happenes between two people when they connect. “The spark that is us, I hold a moment every single day”….the “happy trails “ at the end, well sometime you forget what you’ve done before.

Sometimes it’s good to slightly distance yourself from the lyrics. It’s better than fully dipping into them. Someone said to me recently that I had this thing with trains. I said, “That’s it - I’m a train man.” I gave him a run down on all the trains we’ve traveled on. Then I told him that Pete Way took this big trainset and put it up in the hotel room. That was it - we were train fanatics after that – at least in the press.

I do actually try to avoid doing repeats - although they do crop up now and again.

TCE: There are some good stories in there as well. Some several layers deep. The one that comes to mind is “Give It Up”.

Mogg: Yes, there are certainly some ditties. This is the first record that has at least one song from each member of the band. That’s a first. “Give It Up” was one of Pete’s. He brought it in on one of these bloody cassettes. With Pete, the poor bloke, instead of buying new cassettes he’ll put a demo on an old one with a load of American radio stuff. It’s absolutely incredible. I think it is what it is - Give it up, give it a rest will you? Behave yourself. In a way it can mean a whole army of things from giving up the booze, the drugs – you know the whole thing. I wish we had kept the original vocal ‘cause it sounded like someone singing down the telephone line. But it got tightened up a bit.

TCE: And “The Wild One”?

Mogg: “The Wild One” was from my experiences in Texas. When I was down there it was like where are the wild ones? Where have all the wild ones gone? They don’t seem to be around anymore. I mean the genuinely wild ones, not the pantomime wild ones. There is an awful lot of people that seem to go out of their way to say, “Oh look at me, I’m really wild.” But I am referring to the natural wild ones. True trailblazers. There aren’t many around anymore are there? The older heroes have disappeared, but it was bound to happen. Live fast, die young and leave a good-looking corpse, as they say.

TCE: “Mr. Freeze” is a spooky one.

Mogg: Mr. Freeze…I’m close to that one. It’s about someone who is tired – a little world wary – someone looking for something because of his lack of encouragement. “You can call me what the fuck you like, you can even call me Mr. Freeze.” Seeing your mother on the other side, that’s me kissing death. My father pasted away a while ago and I always muster up those feelings. My favorite line in the song is “Give me a Cadillac for a carriage, and you’ll hear my name whispering through the trees.”

TCE: Did the band select the running order of the CDs twelve tracks?

Mogg: What actually happened was when we got to the end of the record, the record company asked if I had a running order. I didn’t and said somebody else can decide that. By the time we got to the end of the recording I had no idea what should be where. Some different people put in running orders and I believe it went up to the record company and they voted and that’s the way it ended up. A majority vote - a true democracy at work.

TCE: You mentioned everyone in the band had a hand in the songwriting?

Mogg: Fortunately for this band, when you mix in everybody’s musical differences, it blends into one identity, or should anyway. We should eventually end up in one spot together. Bits of everyone’s influences are scattered through out. Which reminds me, I have a fantastic new Irish band I just discovered. They play Irish reels and are called Lunasa. I bought it deliberately to play to Mr. Way because I know how he hates the stuff. It’s full fiddle and pipe music. I‘ve got this stored up and waiting for him. The last tour it was the Chieftains and I can follow that with a quick little Willie Nelson doing “On The Road Again”.

*A special thanks to Phil Mogg for taking time to chat as well as Jon Paris for setting up our interview.

Websites:
UFO (official), SPV Records, UFO (Dave Webb), Michael Schenker (Tristan)