Glenn Hughes is a multi-dimensional man of rock ‘n’ roll. From his time with iconic bands like Deep Purple, fronting Black Sabbath, and Black Country Communion, he established himself as a voice of strength and precision. In a career that spans 40-something years he remains a point of reference that helps define a genre. Now back with Resonate, his first solo album since 2008’s First Underground Nuclear Kitchen, the artist is perhaps more fired up than he’s ever been.
ARTISTdirect’s Christopher Friedmann caught up with Glenn Hughes to discuss his path through the landscape of hard rock, swaggering soul and determination within the industry of making music, and to celebrate the confidence of vision that comes when the demons of addiction have been fought and beaten.
Christopher Friedmann: So we’re talking here around the release of your new album Resonate. This isn’t your first time at the rodeo – but can you talk a little on your feelings whenever a new album is released?
Glenn Hughes: This is the first solo album in eight years, and the last one was a different genre of rock. Last just say, when you see the name Glenn Hughes, and you know the history of who I am, you would imagine that Glenn Hughes would put out an album of, for all intents and purposes, maybe classic rock, hard rock that kind of genre.
The last album could have been made very much in Detroit in the 60s. It was very much a soul album. It was being marketed by a rock label, and the album, as much as we all thought it was a fabulous record, got lost in the shuffle because. When an artist makes a soul album for a rock label, it gets lost in the shuffle.
So, as you know, in the last 5 or 6 years I’ve made three or four Black Country albums. I’ve been really immersed in other things. I had a heart surgery, and I had knee surgeries, and I had several other things going on with my medical life, which I spoke about.
Let’s just say on the other side of the eight years since I made the other album, First Underground Nuclear Kitchen, in 2008, here I come with Resonate, which is the complete opposite of First Underground. This was heavy and it has a lot of angst in there, some anger issues. I’m singing about reality. I’m singing about facts, about the human condition. I don’t sing about dwarfs down the garden or fairies. I sing about what goes on in between birth and death. And I sing about stuff that you’ll understand, people will understand, and I wasn’t afraid to show a little bit about how I felt. I was a little bit angry in places, and a little pissed off.
When I step up to the microphone with my lyrics I, it’s almost like going off script. I don’t know what is going to come out. I know the melodies I’m going to sing. I know the lyrics I’m going to sing, but sometimes the attitude may change, and because I’m a first take singer, I leave what is on tape. Other singers might sing a song 9, 10, 12 times, I only sing it once or twice. So I wanted to capture that. In essence these songs are very very live. Recorded live musically and, actually, the songs were… people use a term, ‘vocalists drop in’, you know, “drop me in after that verse.”
With me, I always sing the song all the way through, so there’s maybe some flaws in there, but the reality is I want to keep it raw. I want to keep it raw and you know, there are maybe two or three or 4 or 5 different Glenn voices on this album, there’s the heavy voice, I like to have different qualities to my voice in songs. So, (in answer to) your question; I get to talk about my records and I’m really happy this one is a full Glenn album.
It was written and arranged by myself, and I wanted to do that on this album. It’s been a long time coming. Townsend has been doing it for six decades and Ray Davies and Mick & Keith, so I figured, you know, lets just give a Glenn album a go, and I think people are actually seeing what I’m doing here, and I think it’s working pretty well.
CF: I read that you said “This album is the first kind of a complete Glenn Album” – can you explain what exactly that means?
GH: It’s very simple. I think it’s a case of me going in, letting my people know that, you know… people send me songs all the time to record, and I listen to them, and when I started to write this album, “Heavy” might be the first song I wrote and “My Town”, as I’m writing these songs, I’m going, “They sound similar. They sound like they could be part of a group of songs.” Then I wrote “Flow”, and then the songs start to form a certain timbre to my voice, so I thought, “I’m just gonna have a Glenn album.”
It’s not like I didn’t like any of the songs people were sending me, I just thought, “I’m a writer.” My songs are as important to me as my voice is important to me. I think this album is a genuine flag planter as a songwriter and also as a producer. I wanted to make sure I got to do the right sounds on this album. When I say complete album, it’s because it’s a Glenn written album, and it’s not that I don’t enjoy writing with other people, I do enjoy it, but I felt early on on the album as I was writing in the Spring, was recovering from knee surgeries, as I’m writing the album I’m going, “There’s a theme here.”
There’s certain chords I’m playing that I could be doing Black Country. It would probably be best to leave them for Glenn, as a dark album, but there’s also changes. There’s a very whispery Glenn voice on “Long Time Gone”, it starts off all very pretty singing, then it gets aggressive, you know. As I said before, I like to go in there with my lyrics in front of me, and I actually, cause Bowie lived at my house when he was making Station to Station. I was with him when he was recording that album. I saw when he went into the studio, how he acted in his songs from when he recorded “Wild is the Wind” and recorded “Golden Years”, I just know how he sings it… that he acted differently and that’s the kind of the way I’ve pursued it for awhile. I’m very focused at the microphone. I do this because I love it.
CF: As you were saying, Resonate has a heavier sound. Why at this point in your career did you decide to go from making a more soulful album to making such a heavy rock album this time around?
GH: Let’s talk business for a second. If I’m with a label that’s drenched in classic rock artist, and they are selling it to classic rock places to buy and to distribute, it would be futile of me to make a record that is inappropriate for that marketplace.
If you know my music at all, you know that I have dipped my foot into the Motown pool many times, and I’m good friends with Stevie Wonder and I’m great friends with a lot of great American black artists, and I love black music, but on the other side of my business head is that I am, for all intents and purposes, I am known around the world as a rock musician, as a rock artist from the 70s who cannot and will not change the shape of my destiny now at this age because I am now actually doing really well as a solo artist and selling top concert tickets and doing a business model that works for me.
Music for me is more important than the “God of money.” It’s all about art for me. It’s all about what I write. I really do believe, and I’ve spittin’ some words out on this album. On “God of Money”, I’ve spittin’ some words out. I’m getting a bit p***ed off. I get offers to do other things with other artists, which don’t work for me. Artists that you may know, but just won’t work for me because I think that I’ve found my place. When I was like… right before I got sober in 1989, Tina Turner, who must have been 49, had that huge comeback with those songs she had. As I look back on that period for her, I’m going, “Hey man, I’m 65 and I’m possibly going to have my biggest rock solo album.”
I think, in general, what people are saying, and again I’m gonna say this to you because it’s important, it’s none of my business what people write or say about me. My business is to be an upright guy and to be friends with as many people as possible and to be honest and make real real honest music, and this album’s a real… it’s a turnaround for me. It’s a very heavy, dark album in places, but it’s also got a lot of drama and light and shade, it’s also got a lot of groove to it. I mean, Zeppelin, for all intents and purposes, were a rock band, but they had a lot of swagger. With Glenn Hughes it’s gonna be rock, but it’s gonna have a lot of swagger.
CF: The music industry is an ever shifting environment. Many artists lament the passing of the old school approach, while others embrace and excel in new innovations. As someone who’s constantly engaged in innovation do you have thoughts on the positives and negatives of the current landscape?
GH: Music is changing generally because the music is actually changing itself. People aren’t buying records anymore. I’m a real big fan of artists of my generation and tons of new artists, but there aren’t a lot of new bands breaking through. We had what The Black Keys eight years ago, I’m talking about new bands. There is nothing really out there.
I don’t see any new Led Zeppelins. I don’t see any new U2s. I don’t see it. I’m sure somebody’s out there that is really really super talented, maybe the music business that we know has changed so much that maybe it’s impossible for other people to get prepared to get out there.
Maybe If you want to write songs for pop artists. The DJ thing right now is huge. DJs are selling way more records than any rock artists these days. Music has changed so rapidly, especially in America. I mean it’s hip hop, hip hop, hip hop, and I do kind of like hip hop, but it’s a different league of standards now.
CF: And it’s a different creation style I feel like. It’s so producer oriented in such a way…
GH: …Oh yeah. I mean there’s no rawness. I don’t hear or see a lot of raw quality in artists anymore. It’s all overproduced or the DJ circuit thing, where it’s these artists and hip hop guys jamming with each other. It’s just a whole other… it’s not really considered to be… It’s all fabricated and all computerized. I miss the raw strings and the coughing between… I really do miss that at the mic, early troubadour kind of singing, which I’ve been saying for years now. When Jeff Buckley passed away, he was the only guy that would eventually have broken through, and we haven’t had that since he passed. I’m hoping one day we’ll see that again.
CF: I think we all are hoping we see that one day again. I almost feel like there are a lack of silences in music at this point. It’s just all sound…
GH: … Yeah. I look around at my friends and family members, and I look at Robert Plant, and he’s done admirably well. He’s so multi-dimensional. And Robert does exactly what he wants to do. He’s always been that way and I really tip my hat off to that about Robert and there are a few other artists of my generation that have done that, but there are not many of us left.
There are not many from my generation who are making new vibrant music. This is me sticking my neck out and going in the studio and calling this album Resonate, having that first single called “Heavy”, and sort of going back to my roots if you will, but although the album is darker than a lot of my work, there’s still a lot of swagger in there. So remember the business model is, if I’m going to go out there and play 100 shows around the world, a large number of people are going wanting to come and hear the Glenn Hughes that they know. It’s too late for me to change horses mid stream now, so I want to go out making rock music with a lot of swagger and a lot of new grooves and a lot of soul singing because I’m a soul singer.
CF: It’s clear that you’ve had a lot of touring experience over the course of your career. But can you tell us a little bit about what touring is like for you now and what you miss about your first days on the road?
GH: What I miss about from when I started out, before (Deep) Purple, is Trapeze were playing, we were in a band, trying to get better, we’re going up and down the freeways playing five or six shows a night that week, and then Trapeze made their way to America, and we built a following from playing to 10 people in clubs in Long Island, and playing to 15,000 people a night in Texas, and back in those days when I was a teenager, before the drugs and the drink, it was an easier, softer place to travel.
With Purple, we had our own jet and everything was five star, and, of course, that’s when things change. In the stadium era, in the 70’s where everything was more, we want more, more of this, more of that, more of everything. I want to be louder than this other guy, and you’re travelling in style. All these years later, I’ve been clean and sober a long time, is that I choose to work with people that are steady and are functional that I can call family, and I’m kind of the elder statesmen for this group of guys. I’ve chosen the right crew.
We’ve just done a North American run, and we’ve just finished a South American run, and we’ve done maybe 50 shows that were really really well attended, most of them sold out, and it’s a joy to wake up in the morning and then travel to the next city, knowing you’ve got all these people that have been waiting to see you. I just think, without going to religious here, I just think God is involved in this. What is God? God is in everything. I just believe in a higher power. I believe that everybody has loads of good light. I think those things happening for me at this very moment, and I want to thank everyone for understanding that.
CF: Last year you were inducted into the Rock ‘N Roll Hall of Fame. What was your first emotion when you heard that news?
GH: I was extremely happy because simply David and I were included in that, and it was important for David and I to be there and to have the ability to… I mean I know a lot of people at the Hall of Fame now and I’m an ambassador to the Hall of Fame… it was a really wonderful evening for David and myself. We’re basically the best of friends since the band broke up, so it was an amazing moment for me personally. My father died on the day I was inducted, so it was a bit of a heavy day for me. It was difficult.
CF: Talking about moments that are grounding, like both of those happening on the same day, given the longevity or your career and the spectrum of rock and roll experiences you must have had, can you share something about the most grounding moment you’ve had so far?
GH: For me it has to be all those years ago when I got sober because music was getting in the way of me getting high, and when I surrendered to the fact that I had a huge problem, when I put all those debilitating things down like drugs and alcohol, when I put the away and wiped my hand of it, I found that I had a message to send to people and to work my way back up to this point at 65. A lot of people don’t do that, they are just retiring. I kept going and I believe I’m significantly way better now than I used to write 30 years ago. I’m writing way better music only because I’m not frightened. I’m not scared. I’m not frightened to show you who I am. It’s important.
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