Interview: Deep Purple Bassist Roger Glover Discusses His New Album, 'If Life Was Easy'
Roger Glover has been the embodiment of all things rock 'n' roll since he began performing professionally in the early sixties.
Since then, Glover, 65, has produced albums for Judas Priest, Rory Gallagher, Michael Schenker and Nazareth, collaborated with bands like Gov't Mule and Dream Theater, and released a half-dozen solo albums.
He also happens to be the longest-standing bass player -- and some might argue driving force -- in one of rock's most iconic bands, Deep Purple.
Glover was in Deep Purple during its famous "Mark II" period, which saw the band's peak with albums such as In Rock and Machine Head. He returned to the fold in 1984 for the band's heralded Mark II reunion, and he's remained with the group ever since.
Not one to rest on his laurels, Glover has continued to create and produce his own music outside of Deep Purple for more than 36 years. His latest solo album, If Life Was Easy, was released this July, when he was on break from touring with Deep Purple.
Guitar World caught up with the bassist to talk about his latest solo effort, his inspirations and, of course, the state of Deep Purple.
GUITAR WORLD: What inspired you to write and record a new solo album?
A lifetime worth of listening to music, probably. I’m song-driven; I’m a song guy. As much as I’m a bass player in a hard rock band, the songs don’t get written in [Deep] Purple, they get played, they evolve -- they’re jammed out, it’s a collaborative process. Always has been. Writing songs doesn’t really happen with Purple, but writing a song on your own does. When you’re sitting at home and you pick up an acoustic guitar late at night, its not some heavy riff that comes out -- it’s something else.
I think of this album almost like tuning into a radio station that plays all kinds of different, eclectic stuff. Sort of like a Beatles album; if you listen to a Beatles album you know what kind of song is coming up next when you hear the ending of the one before because it tends to be part of the same thing. Yet none of them [are] like the other one. They’re all different. Which is actually staggering when you think of that. They’ve all got completely their own character. Maybe in the early days it was a bit more formulated but still, musically, they were all totally different, and later on the variance in the music was wonderful to hear.
It’s like going to a festival. You go to a festival these days and its all the same kind of bands. I remember festivals being a complete mixture of bands. That variety is what I like. I find it very difficult to listen to radio stations that play all the same kinds of music.
Every song on the album does seem to have its own character.
Fortunately, I don’t have to write for any other reason but to have fun. I’m not writing for commercial reasons. I’m not writing to try to make a hit song for Beyonce. I don’t have to compete and once you’re not competing you’re free to be whoever you are. I don’t expect anything from this album. I never have expectations. If it turns out to be successful, then all the better; if it doesn’t, to me it’s already a success because I did it. I finished it.
In a way, you have no control over what happens to something. I remember when we did “Smoke On the Water,” I thought it was a single. It wasn’t written as an iconic piece of music, but it’s become that and it’s totally out of your control. It’s in the lap of the gods or in the lap of the public -- which is probably the same thing.
There are rumors that If Life Was Easy was completed in 2007. Why the delayed release?
Actually, that’s not entirely true. The album was recorded over roughly a nine- to 10-year period, bit by bit, till the end, which was like six months ago. It was never a finished album; I was always working on it. In fact, I was writing so much that I couldn’t stop writing songs. The first songs I wrote were when I was initially going through a really bad time with the end of marriage and divorce. I played these songs to my mum when she was still alive five or six years ago, and she would say, "Oh very nice," like she always does. And then she said, "but they’re all very sad, aren’t they?" And I thought, "She’s right."
I was actually washing my laundry in public, if you like, very self-confessional, very down, very going through hard times kind of thing -- no one actually wants to hear all of that. They want to hear a song that has emotional content but not a whole album of it. And then I lightened up a bit and started taking myself not so seriously. There had been moments of great joy and fun in that period as well, and they should be reflected also.
You produced this album in different places using Pro Tools on a Mac. Would you say you prefer this method as opposed to going to the studio and banging it out?
There’s something called "demo-itis," which is a particular affliction that happens to bands when they do a demo good enough to get a record deal and then they go into the studio to do it properly and they lose the magic of the original. And that’s happened several times in my experience. I’m a firm believer in your first aim is your best and however rough the demo may be, it's got a soul because it's at the point of creation, and when you go into the studio and do a couple, you kind of lose a little of that soul and you gain perfection. So I tried to listen to my own advice and left a lot of them as demos. Most of the album is put together bit by bit. In spare moments, and spare evenings and nights, adding musicians when I felt they were needed.
You worked with Dan McCafferty and Pete Agnew from Nazareth. You’ve produced their albums. What was it like getting to work with them again?
Great. We’ve been friends ever since [Glover produced three of Nazareth’s albums beginning with Razamanaz in 1973], and in fact we run into each other every year. We’re always playing at a festival somewhere together. They're really genuine people and I am proud of them and my association with them. They’ve gone on to prove themselves as a long lasting band. In 1971, they toured with us a lot. They were on many Purple tours and I remember Dan and Pete turning me onto Little Feat, whom I had never heard of -- who are great! They really taught me a lot about song writing -- Little Feat, that is.
One of the other musicians you added was your daughter Jillian. What’s it like working with her?
If she were working with me because she was my daughter, it wouldn’t work. I would be protecting her and morally coddling her and surrounding her with cotton walls. She’s on the record because she’s worth it. She’s a great singer and a great writer. When we work together, we’re not father-daughter at all; we’re two people. We can leave our relationship at the door. She’s adult enough now -- in her late 30s -- she’s old enough to realize who she is and be her own woman. She’s not my daughter anymore; technically, of course, she is; and I’m very proud of her and that she’s turned into an artist of great depth.
But it’s actually quite easy working with her because the thing about collaboration is that you have to be honest with each other. You have to be able to say to someone, "Actually that doesn’t sound very good," without them getting hurt. I try to nurture that kind of relationship with every artist I work with, with every person I write with, because you have to be honest and trust that I’m not jealous or think your idea is better than mine; I just don’t think your idea works. That’s all there is to it. With father-daughter it may be a little bit more difficult, but we found it very natural. It was actually very easy.
Where did you come up with the title If Life Was Easy?
Gosh, I don’t know. I used to go to my girlfriend’s flat in Switzerland a lot and she had an old Spanish acoustic, which I picked up. I’m not really a guitar picker. If I play guitar, it’s usually rhythm or vague simple things. I’m not a great guitarist. But I’m a rhythm player and I know enough to write a song on a guitar. But I picked up a Spanish [guitar] and just started playing this exercise, just to prove I could do something. It was a good couple of years playing this every now and again until I realized there’s a song there. I have no idea where the title came from but it must have been something I read somewhere or someone spoke to me about it. It’s almost -- without getting too deep -- a British philosophy that if you expect life to be happy all the time, you're fooling yourself. You’ve almost got to expect life’s probably going to be equal parts joy and pain. Hopefully, a bit more joy than pain.
You shouldn’t be upset that going through a bad period is taking away some happy period, because there are going to be both. And the idea is if life were easy, it wouldn’t be worth living because it's not the happy times that mold you, it’s the tough times. You learn far more from failure than from success. And you learn more when you’re up against a wall and fighting for something than if you’re breezing through and having a good time. So if life were easy, we would disappear. It’s like saying, ‘What if everyone were like me?’ What a boring place that would be.
Shifting gears for a moment: you’re still in the middle of your Deep Purple: the Music That Built Rock Tour. How has the tour been and what’s it like working with the orchestra?
It’s been phenomenally well, much to my delight and surprise. We’ve worked with orchestras before, but it’s always been more orchestral, more grandiose, where the orchestra is the main instrument and the band just plays a small part. We didn’t want to do that again. We wanted to do a Purple show with added musicians. Now, when you add musicians there’s no other word than orchestra to pin on them. That, in a way, gives people the wrong impression, because as soon as you say orchestra people think classical music, but this is rock at kind of a different take on some of the well-known riffs and some of the well-known songs.
We weren’t sure how it was going to work at all, and I think it’s actually blown all of us away how well it worked. We toured Canada and America, just [did] Europe. We recorded the Montreaux Jazz Festival, which will be out as a DVD, I believe, before Christmas, and that was a really good show, and we’ll be doing some more toward the end of the year. So it’s a year of doing this kind of odd experimental thing. It has been great and a lot of fun.
Is there any talk of a new Deep Purple album?
Yeah, we’ve started working and done some writing and I’m sure we’ll probably hone that down and get it finished sometime next year. Time's running out for this year so it’s going to have to be next year. No idea what it’s going to be like. I’ve heard some of the stuff and it’s not bad. You don’t know what its like really until other people hear it. It's strange; it's very difficult to judge your own music. I’ve played some to a friend of mine and he said, "Wow, that’s great," and I didn’t think it was that good. There’s four or five really killer ideas and another four or five half-finished ideas that could be good. So I’m sure we’ll be working on those. We definitely are in the mood to do another album, so it’ll happen.
What bass gear did you use on If Life Was Easy?
Strangely enough, bass isn’t the instrument I think of first when I’m working. The song is the main thing and I don’t really want to be doing an album that shows off bass playing because I’m a bass player secondary to being a songwriter, and it’s the songs that are really pushing that. The bass parts seem to be subservient to the songs -- if it doesn’t require more than a simple bass chord than I’ll play a simple bass chord. That’s maybe one of the things I’ve learned along the way; of the bass players I’ve admired it’s not what they play but what they don’t play that counts. You listen to the Meters, for example, the [song] called “Hey Poggy Way” and the bass player could have a cup of tea between notes. It’s so spare and sparse and yet it works brilliantly because it doesn’t interfere with the groove it makes the groove work really well. So I’m always looking for simpler ways to do things to make the song work better. Its not a show-off bass piece at all. That doesn’t interest me. Character what’s I’m interested in, character and emotion. And fun, music should be fun.
Is there going to be any live support for this album?
People know me from Deep Purple. I wouldn’t want people coming to shows expecting Deep Purple because it's nothing like it. So I think what would really help would be if there were a great deal of interest in the album, if we actually sold a few or word of mouth or whatever. I’m sure there will come a time when I won’t be so busy with Purple that I would love to go out and do this live. Who knows when that will be.
"If Life Was Easy," the new album by Roger Glover, was released September 6 via Eagle Rock Entertainment.