Praying Mantis Interview
For Fireworks Magazine
Last Modified On 08/11/2004
Praying Mantis have had a long and turbulent career. They first came to national press attention in 1979 when they were one of the leading lights of the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM). Things went a bit awry after the first album but in 1990 they were invited to play in Japan. They still had vocalist problems but despite them they have since been going strong. In 1998 they released 'Forever In Time' with Tony O'Hora on vocals and they recently followed it up with Nowhere To Hide. The rest of the band are Tino Troy (Guitar, Backing Vocals), Chris Troy (Bass, Backing Vocals), Dennis Stratton (Guitar, Backing Vocals), Bruce Bisland (Drums)
How do you feel about the current album?
BRUCE BISLAND: We are really pleased with it.
DENNIS STRATTON: 'Forever In Time' was what we considered to be our best album to date. For 'Nowhere To Hide' we set ourselves the task of trying to match it and I think we have actually bettered it.
TINO TROY: The songs have all matured nicely and we have found our feet again. We had a slight blip when we wrote To The Power Of Ten trying a more commercial approach. It turned out to be a bad move so now we are back to doing what we do best and indeed, naturally.
CHRIS TROY: Having the same line-up for two albums has helped us a lot too. We have suffered a lot of line up changes over the years and the economics of running bands like our means we probably aren't alone in this situation.
BRUCE BISLAND: Having Tony come in on vocals has been great for us. The way we work is that the writer of the song tends to do guide vocals on the early versions of the tracks. When Tony comes in and does his bit the songs take on a magical quality. I think he has a real good ability to phrase things and make them really interesting.
TONY O'HORA: The production on this album is also a lot better.
DENNIS STRATTON: Yes, when we made Forever In Time I thought it was great but now we have made Nowhere To Hide we can see that we were let down on Production. We spent quite a lot of time making that album and then Chris Tsangarides came in and because of a few technical gremlins only seemed to spend about five minutes mixing it. I personally got the impression he didn't care about the production or what it sounded like. He just went "That's it" and that's how you go. Whereas on this album we had Steve Mann come in. I have known him since my days in Lionheart and he took the time to sit down with us and find out what we needed. We ended up slightly late but the whole band is so much happier with the finished product.
What response have you had to the album?
DENNIS STRATTON: It's been a bit harder to tell this time. We have had great responses from the Japanese press and record company but we haven't been out to tour in Japan this time so we haven't heard too much from the fans. We charted with one of our best positions but it is always nice to see and hear from the fans direct.
TINO TROY: We have had a fair bit of fan comment on the Internet and that has all been really praiseworthy. We recently played the Wacken festival in Germany and I think we surprised a lot of people by showing them that we are back on the map and indeed better than we've ever been.
CHRIS TROY: Frontiers/Now and Then were also really keen to get their hands on the album for the market outside of Japan. I don't think we have ever had such a keen label. They are really confident they can sell it.
Do you have any plans to tour?
CHRIS TROY: We are negotiating a lot of possibilities at present. We have just been given support slot for Glenn Hughes at the Astoria 2, London on November 22. We have also got the possibility of dates in Rome, LA, and Greece. It is just a case of getting them into a realistic package.
TINO TROY: In the past we have usually done a four day mini-tour of Japan but we have never been able to do anything in the rest of the world because we haven't had a Record company with any interest in promoting us outside of Japan. Pony Canyon our Japanese label has been really great for us but they have no real business interests outside of Japan. We used to be reasonably happy with that but with 'Nowhere To Hide' the rights outside of Japan were free for us to do with what ever we pleased. 'Frontiers/Now and then' have all sorts of plans to tour the band and give us the exposure we desperately need.
How would you feel about doing a tour around the UK with a band such as your label mates Ten?
TINO TROY: I'm not really that aware of 'Ten's' pulling power but if it puts us back in the frame and it is financially feasible, I am all for it.
TONY O'HORA: I think even if we went out as support to another band we would soon hold our own and graduate to getting gigs in our own name again. It is just a case of getting the exposure and that is already beginning to happen.
DENNIS STRATTON: My only concern with touring with another band is that the other band doesn't feel threatened and that we can all get on as friends. The thing I used to hate most about touring with other bands was that they all feel they have to out do one another. My preferred idea of touring is to put across the best show possible by all the bands, not just the headliner.
Are you looking forward to playing The Gods?
BRUCE BISLAND: Yeah, we are really looking forward to it. I would like to get a few tracks from the current album into the set. We didn't have time to learn them for Wacken and I really fancy trying to get on top of three or four of the new numbers. Of course it all depends on the amount of time we have to play.
TINO TROY: This will be our first event gig in the UK since probably 1983 or 1984. So yeah, we are really looking forward to it.
What is your inspiration for the songs?
CHRIS TROY: Well I tend to sit down with a sequencer and just build up layers of sound until I get something I am happy with. Then I will try and add a melody. If I don't get one I feel is strong enough after one hundred and fifty attempts or so I will then just start afresh with a new set of chords. 90% of the time I start with the music and then add the lyrics. When we were doing 'Time Tells No Lies' back in the early 80'S it was probably the other way around.
It's hard to know what inspires me really. I guess it is the same for any musician. I think strong emotions are a main factor. In fact I often think negative emotion works better for me. I find writing helps me unwind. The song doesn't necessarily end up negative and I think part of the skill of being a writer is to hide what you are really thinking and let the listener relate to it in their own way. I think the bond between the listener and the song is then a lot stronger.
DENNIS STRATTON: Having been with Mantis ten years now, I have kind of learned that the band tend to write more about Green issues and the Earth's pending doom if we don't sort ourselves out. Sometimes we write about personal issues and sometimes these songs get transformed when the band gets hold of them. For instance when I wrote 'Only The Children Cry', which appeared, on an EP in Japan and then on To The Power Of Ten. It was originally about a divorcing couple and the effect on the children. Once Tino and Chris got hold of it though, it slowly changed to the effects of two countries at war and the nuclear holocaust.
TINO TROY: When the 'Nowhere to hide album' was completed I tragically lost my daughter Briony Ruby. The requirement of an additional track for the European edition gave me the opportunity to pour my heart out. As Chris says it shouldn't necessarily be too obvious to the listener. I think that subtlety and mystery is definitely the key to a great song.
I don't have any particular order for which comes first sometimes it is the music sometimes the lyrics. I can be walking down the street and the rhythm of my walk will sometimes trigger some musical ideas and I can get a lyric there and then. I don't actually read music so when I go out for a walk I try to remember to carry a Dictaphone with me so that I can capture an idea. If you don't, something is bound to distract you and then it's a case of "the one that got away"
DENNIS STRATTON: Like Tino, I too have found the beat of walking to be a good inspiration. When I was in Lionheart I wrote a track called Towers Of Silver and that just came to me, as I was walking bump, bump, bump to a restaurant. I think when I write the song I tend to start with the chorus. Once I am happy with that the rest tends to just follow naturally.
You write a lot of meaningful lyrics. Do you consider that to be Praying Mantis's strong point? Are your lyrics personally important to you?
TINO TROY: Yes definitely, they are a very strong point. Whenever I get a new album I sit down, read the lyrics and try to understand them. If it can't find out what the song's about straight away' that is a good lyric to me. I don't like "Baby, baby, baby oh ah, ah .ooh,ohh.". Fine for a pop song but not for Mantis.
TONY O'HORA: If you listen to 'Naked', the new bonus track, you can't help being touched by the lyrics because they're so powerful. You have got the music and the melody but the lyrics are very important, especially with me being the singer. You can put that much more emotion into it. As an example of how much work went into the lyrics for the last song, Tino came into the studio with half an A4 binder of possible lyrics and we then refined them. Even in the studio they get worked on because sometimes they just won't sing right with the music. You certainly won't get away with writing bad lyrics in this band.
Do you set out to write in a certain style or do the albums grow in their own direction?
TINO TROY: They naturally grow in their own direction. We have tried to go out and write in a certain vain before now but like I explained earlier "To the Power Of Ten", was a prime example of mistaken identity.
BRUCE BISLAND: As the Japanese put it "If we wanted an album sounding like Bon Jovi, we would buy a Bon Jovi album. We want you to write a Praying Mantis album".
CHRIS TROY: Obviously there has to be a little bit of structure to an album in that we can't put out an album with six slow songs. There has to be the right mix of fast, medium and slow paced tracks. Apart from that, we all write tracks and then bring them to the band to work on them together.
TONY O'HORA: I think it is obvious from listening to the last two albums where the band's sound has developed. Even though a song might be 50% or 90% of someone's solo writing, by the time it is released it has got a bit of everyone in there. So to a certain extent the album's direction is also driven by the members involvement.
How do you set about writing your albums?
TONY O'HORA: Usually the song is written and demoed by one or two members of the band. We then all take a listen and say "Yes that has got the makings of a good song" and we build it up from there. The advantage of demoing first is that we all come to the studio knowing the tune and we can take it from there. The songs always grow in the studio though. A guitar solo might trigger off another section and so on.
CHRIS TROY: I do find if you have just one writer, the songs will all start sounding the same so I think it is very important that the other members all contribute to songs no matter whose original idea it was. I often find the end result is different to how I originally conceived it and I think that is good.
How did the deal with Frontiers/Now and Then come about?
TINO TROY: We just stumbled upon it really. Pony Canyon had the exclusive rights to all our previous albums and this had a detrimental effect on our being able to sell the product outside of Japan. This time we were able to retain the rights for the rest of the world. Frontiers were so persistent, bubbling with excitement, keen and full of enthusiasm that we chose them in preference to other interested labels.
Why has the European edition of "Nowhere To Hide" got a bonus track?
CHRIS TROY: That is mainly because by the time the album comes out in Europe and America the fans will have had several months to buy the Japanese album on import. Frontiers basically needed something special to make sure they could sell the album.
How did you record the album?
TINO TROY: For all you Technophobes out there..The album was recorded in my home studio on a hard-disk based system controlled by an Apple Mac. All the vocals and acoustic guitars were recorded using a Rode NT2 microphone which was fed into a TL audio VP5051 at the input stage. This was merely used for it's 'phantom power supply' and EQ capabilities, the compression coming from a 'Purple Audio MC 76' compresser/limiter. The treated signal was then recorded direct to disk via the Digidesign Pro-tools 888 I/O interface, which converts analogue signals and houses them in the digital domain. Guitars and bass were recorded in the same manner, the difference being , instead of the NT2, the emulated output of a Marshall Valvestate 100 watt head was mainly used. All the basic backing tracks and guides were laid down against a drum machine. Live drums were then recorded at Andy Scott's (The Sweet) home studio via a 'Soundscape' set-up. To put the 'icing on the cake' Steve Mann then mixed the album in his home studio on a 'Yamaha 02/R'. You could well say that 'Nowhere to hide' is a very 'homey' album. In the past we recorded all our albums in commercial studios with engineers and producers who didn't have any idea of how the band should sound. It was on the 'Forever in time' album that we decided enough was enough and decided to invest in equipment of our own. The great thing about having your own studio is that if you get an idea while you're tossing 'n' turning in your sleep you can fire-up and away you go. Also by having a professional set-up, everything that's recorded now is instantly of master quality and can be utilised in the construction of a song . In the past we'd throw some roughs down onto four or eight track format, only to find that when we came to put it down properly, we could never achieve the same feel as was captured on that first demo. Essentially, I suppose the construction of any song can be regarded as a demo until it comes to fruition, the great thing now is being able to retain the original performances.
BRUCE BISLAND: The main difference between this album and the last was that on this occasion I used a real drum kit. On 'Forever In Time' I used a Midi kit for the very first time in my career.
TONY O'HORA: The difference in drum sound between the two albums is like night and day. We didn't get very good sounds last time.
DENNIS STRATTON: We are completely digital now using Pro-Tools on computers. It took a lot of work getting used to this set up on the last album but this time it was much easier. Tino did a lot of work on the engineering and all Steve Mann had to do to make sure it all sounded spot on. Not an easy thing in Digital as you can hear every little glitch and drop out. Steve did a great job of adding that final bit of gloss to make things sparkle.
Why do you think someone should give your album a spin?
BRUCE BISLAND: It's refreshingly old, if that doesn't sound a little bizarre. It's like going back to the good old days of melodic rock but in a very modern way. The songs are good. The playing is good and it's not contrived at all - like these boy bands. Basically I think it will have staying power. I also think once someone has heard it, they will like it and inevitably start sifting through our back catalogue.
CHRIS TROY: I think it is more production than music that gets dated. I think music has it's own niche and is timeless really.
TONY O'HORA: For me, and I may be a bit biased here but I think overall it is in the melody of the vocals and the harmonies. If you see the band live you can hear the other guys sing so well, we have great melody in the vocal and guitar parts yet we still have enough raw power to classify in a rock vain. It's just great melodic rock.
CHRIS TROY: I also think the album is very contagious. If you play the songs they will come across. I don't think it will necessarily happen on first play as they are very complex but then again I don't think it is a good thing to like a track straight off. If you do, I think you are likely to start getting fed up with it after six or seven plays. Whereas if an album takes more time to get a hold, I think you are likely to be able to play it to death. I have certainly found that to be the case personally and although I have never really questioned anyone else, I suspect it is true for others.
How relevant do you think you are in the current Rock scene?
CHRIS TROY: I think it is beginning to grow. Our name is on people's lips again. I don't know that I like the idea of being 'rejuvenated old rockers' but I suppose it is true. I certainly think we turned a few heads at the Wacken Festival in Germany. They probably thought we were dead and buried or just stuck with the Japanese audience but we really got the crowd going. With the situation with Frontiers and a bit more exposure I think it will be really good. I know for sure Tino is really buzzing with excitement again.
The last album in the UK was A Cry For The New World. Why have you been absent in Europe for so long?
TONY O'HORA: Basically because of the deal we had in Japan we were just tied up legally. This is the first album we have had the rights to outside of Japan and we have grabbed the opportunity it presents to tie-up with a record label that seems very keen to promote us.
How would you like to see the band progress in the future?
DENNIS STRATTON: I'd like to see us take what we have done with Forever In Time and Nowhere To Hide and improve it even further. And it would be really nice if we could tour more and more now that we have the support of our record label behind us. It is just not feasible to do it without.
TONY O'HORA: Because I know how hard Mantis has worked over the years I would just like to see the band get more recognition. I think it was an extremely hard task to match our performance of 'Forever In Time' but I think we managed it, if not bettered it with Nowhere To Hide. If we can continue on that road I will be happy.
BRUCE BISLAND: I think that if we can just get ourselves heard, people will start buying us and things will take care of themselves.
TINO TROY: I would just love to see my days through as a musician and for it to be with Praying Mantis. I formed the band at college twenty-seven years ago so there is no reason why it shouldn't last another twenty-seven. Mantis has always been a big part of my life and will hopefully remain that way. It would certainly be nice to get a little more recognition along the way, I think that we definitely deserve it! I mean, how many bands have a discography as extensive as ours yet they are household names.. I keep telling myself that things are going to get better!
CHRIS TROY: With the Frontiers deal, we can start securing more territories and it will give us the opportunity to write more and hopefully produce albums on a more frequent basis. The best thing will be if we can do a third album with the same line-up. The benefits will then really start to come through. I am really excited about this at the moment and I don't think people have seen the best of Mantis yet. I think that is still to come.The Praying Mantis Website is here