John Lodge Talks New Release, ‘In These Crazy Times’
Founding member, and bassist, of The Moody Blues tells us about his lockdown experience, releasing new music, and all things Moody Blues
Released during his time in lockdown, the new single, titled ‘In These Crazy Times’, gives us an in depth look at how musicians may be spending their time away from the stage, and away from the studio. The track featured members of his family, who he has spent his lockdown period with.
Q: So, have you been keeping in Isolation?
A: It’s been a strange time, because I finished my US tour on March 9th, and came down to Florida to see my son and grandson, while my wife was here, to have a holiday after the tour for a couple of weeks. Within two days, we were in lockdown. For the first 6 weeks, I didn’t see anyone. It was really a strange time.
It was quite surreal how quick everything just ground to a halt, and ‘crazy times’ is the perfect title for the new track which you released. What was it like making that track?
As a musician, I just want to play, then suddenly realised that wasn’t gonna happen. I play every day anyway, and was thinking what to do, so set up a little simple studio, as I happened to have my guitars and bass with me, and thought if I can’t perform, I should sit down and start creating. At the begin really it was just to keep up with the music, and then I started to think why not write a song, so I wrote ‘In These Crazy Times’.
I recorded it on my computer, with the keyboard, on GarageBand. I set up a vocal mic in a cupboard to keep ambient sounds out, as it wasn’t a proper studio, just a room I was using to rehearse! I then thought about who to get to do the backing vocals, then remembered how great my wife’s voice is, she sings all time. So I said to her “We’re gonna record you for the first time”. She immediately said “No. No way“. But she was the only person I could trust, and we couldn’t go anywhere else so I taught her the song and she sang it through twice and we recorded it. The mix worked really well. Then my son, who plays guitar, but isn’t a musician, came along. I drop boxed the files to him, he played over them and sent it back.
I have been touring with YES, and worked with John Davidson, who has been joining me on tour as well, so I rang him and asked him to add some more vocals. After he sent it back, I sent it over to my front of house engineer who mixed the track in his studio. I then asked my daughter to manage the project, and now here it is.
It’s quite amazing what modern technology is capable of. You started out in the 60s and 70s, did you ever think technology would get to this?
No, but do you know what, I’m glad it has. When we started out, we started off with 4 track, then 8 track, then 16, then computers allowed you to have indefinite tracks, but that meant everyone in the studio wanted the tracks to sound different. In the early days, it was just the band, and an engineer. Eventually, you had producers, engineers, assistants, and the assistants for the assistants, they all had their opinion and for me it didn’t bode well. As an artist you want to commit, when you hear the sound you were trying to find, but so often, songs got put to one side. I think going back to being on my own at home, in my own studio, I was the only one making decisions, and could stand by own decision. That’s how I started to make music originally.
I’m a bass player. I want to hear bass and drums, it’s what’s important to me, the melody goes with the vocal. Too many people want to add more guitar. It goes back to ‘Spinal Tap’, with ‘More cowbell, more cowbell’. I really like this new way of recording. I recorded “10,000 light years ago” the same way.
So, whilst creating the new track, did you take inspiration from any new bands, stick to what you knew, or is taking inspiration not your way of writing?
I listen to music all day long, I find radio stations I enjoy. You’ve got great great stations going deep cuts. There’s a new station just started, it’s across the world, but I can listen to it with Sonos. I listen to music all the while. My influences could be the brand new Bob Dylan album. or Neil Young. Or it could go right back to Fats Domino. What happens is it gets into your psyche, and when I pick up the guitar, as soon as I start being creative, or start writing, it goes back to being me again. Some people try to be someone else, but it never works, for me, it still always ends up being me.
You’re in the US at the moment, do you still keep up to to date with the music scene in the UK, do you keep an eye on what’s new?
With internet radio, and Sonos particularly, I’m not too sure where any of the stations come from. I just listen. I just love music, it could be from anywhere, and from wherever.
Would you say that radio isn’t dying then? There is an argument that radio has faded because of the rise of the internet, and that the radio will slowly be faded out.
I think, for me, if I had my way right now, I’d introduce pirate radio again. The big problem with radio is that the DJ has gone, there’s no one to talk to you about the great music. What radio station would play the new Bob Dylan album? It just doesn’t seem to work now. Everything has to be a certain BPM these days, and they think that makes everyone happy. But that’s not music is about, not for me anyway. When we started, trying to get ‘Nights in White Satin’ played on the radio was impossible. We had to go into the BBC and record a version for them to use on the radio. That was the only way to get it played. Only pirate radio stations played our songs. ‘Nights in White Satin” is four and a half minutes long, and slow, it didn’t work for radio.
If there’s a new band playing nearby I’ll go and listen. I like hearing the new music, but then they start asking how to get played on radio, and I don’t know what to tell them. I have no idea anymore. Record companies are only interested in the people who can get millions of plays on Spotify, and not interested in anybody else.
If you look back to the 70’s, particularly the Isle of Wight festival, and look at the names of the artists, I don’t think you’d find any of the bands really had singles. They were all album bands. People who were more involved with the stereo side, not the mono side.
Was there any temptation to involve the other Moody Blues members in the new solo piece?
It just had to be solo. The lyrics are about me in isolation, and the people immediately involved with me. It’s a total family affair, to regroup, and put it all together. Everyone’s got their own ideas, but for me it was family.
I’d like to go back to the early days, and touring. Obviously, you’ll have seen a lot backstage, do you have any stories suitable for publishing?
I remember we did a gig in Wales. There were three other acts on the bill, I won’t name names, but we were top of the bill. We arrived but our truck full of equipment didn’t. It broke down. We had real trouble getting the truck, but eventually, our road manager, who had travelled with us, went to the other band and asked if we could borrow the equipment to perform. They said yeah. Before the show, we’re sat in our dressing room, and this guy comes in, and says, “I can’t believe this. The Moody Blues do it all the time. They never have equipment. they always come in, and borrow everyone else’s.”
We couldn’t believe it, we said to him, “No they don’t do that”. He said, “Yes they do. They’ve done it to me so many times”. We turned round and said, “Do you know who we are?” He didn’t know us. We told him who we were, and he was speechless. He was one of the other bands managers. That was quite funny. We had people running into our dressing rooms too.
Growing up as an artist, there’s a time period where you’ve gotta do a soundcheck, then go in lockdown backstage. Nobody can get near you, that period is really important. For me, it’s nice and quiet. I sit back about an hour before the concert starts, don’t talk to anyone, relax and do nothing. My dressing room is called ‘Tranquility Base’
In the 70’s the band took a hiatus, was it always clear you would get back together or did you feel that was the end?
I don’t know. It was a weird period of time. We had made the 7th album, called ‘Seventh Sojourn’ and we didn’t realise at the time that ‘sojourn’ meant to take a break. It was afterwards we realised that at the time, we knew it would be the last album for a while. We kept our record company going, but we lost Mike Pinder, he went to live in California. These days, that wouldn’t matter because of how easy it is to get around and keep in touch, but this was the 70s, it was different.
We never thought about whether we would get back together or not. We just knew we needed a break. When we first started, there was just the 5 of us and the road manager. By 1974, we had lots of people working for us. We had two offices, our own record company, our own touring company, our own publishers, we had 6 record stores in South England and 1 in Birmingham. When we got together as musicians, we had lost the art of communication, because every time we tried to talk, someone started talking about one of of shops, or one of the companies. We knew we had to get away and get some new inspiration.
So it was just that there was too much going on, not that there was tension between members?
That’s exactly right. There was too much going on, no arguments or anything going on like that. Everything outside influenced everything we tried to do. The creative part, the actual Moody Blues part of being a band came second. We felt like we were losing grip of who were as a band and as individuals.
Do you still keep in touch with the members of Moody Blues, obviously Ray is no longer with us, which is devastating, but do you still speak with the rest of the band?
Yeah. Mike Pinder is still in California. We speak regularly, and met when we were inducted into the Rock’n’Roll Hall Of Fame. It was great to see him again. We still have the record company, and that holds us together. We have to be in touch with each other because of that. Graham lives in California, and will come to any show when I’m within 100 miles of his house. I see him a lot. I email Justin a lot too. We keep in touch.
Is that as much as you will reunite now, do you feel you’ll take to the stage as a band again, or do you feel now that Ray has passed, it’s over?
I don’t know. It’s similar to the hiatus. When you end up on tour, you end up with trucks, buses, planes, and people you don’t know. It can get out of hand. If we did get back together to do concerts, it’d be great. I’m a Moody Blue, and always will be. We’d find another way of doing it.
Do you feel it would be way to mark what Ray Thomas did for the band?
Yeah, you know, on my touring now, I include a lot of Moody Blues’ songs. I want to keep it alive. I do tributes to Ray. When you write a song within the band, it becomes a song of that band. It’s been an important part of my life, and I don’t want to stop playing them now.