With so many cool bands out there to check out I offer you some minor guidance by introducing you to EIXIR. Interview With Phil DentoN. Anders Ekdahl ©2020
How hard was it to come up with a band name and how does the name fit the music?
-I think that it is really hard to come up with a suitable band name that hasn’t been used before. Back in the early 80s we didn’t have the internet, so we were unaware that a French band called Elixir had released one single in the 70s and then disappeared. When we got back together in the early 2000s, we had an American Country & Western band called Elixir sending us cease and desist notices, saying that they were using their name. However, they went away when we told them that we pre-dated them by releasing records in the 80s. Besides, I am sure that we wouldn’t get in each other’s way, if they don’t play Rock festivals and we don’t play barn dances!! With the internet, I have come across other bands in the world using our name, only a couple are rock bands, but I think it is important that our band logo is used to identify us. If something hasn’t got the official Elixir logo on it, then it isn’t us.
Back in 1983 when we started, we suggested some other names such as Hellfire and Purgatory for names, but they didn’t really seem to suit us. I wanted something a bit more subtle. Kev Dobbs, our bass player, was with our original guitarist Steve Bentley one day, when they opened a dictionary and Steve, with his eyes closed, poked his finger at a random page and it fell on the word Elixir. We liked that name. The definition seemed quite mystical; a potion to prolong life indefinitely, a sovereign remedy, and an alchemist’s preparation designed to change metal into gold. We were young and just starting out with big dreams, and also planned of turning our metal into gold! Steve was a printer by trade, and in those days before P.C.s and fonts, he also designed our logo. So, we have Steve to thank for our name and logo.
I think the name fits the music. We do have a track entitled ‘Sovereign Remedy’ where the lyrics are based on the definition of the word. More widely, our material and subject matters, are often mystical, or based around legends and stories, and to me, this fits better with a name like Elixir than it would with a name like Hellfire.
When Elixir last split in 2012, and Paul (Taylor, vocals) and I continued with another band, we found it hard to come up with an original name. Everything we thought of, we would Google, only to find that another band was already using the name! In the end we thought of the idea of naming the band after a track called ‘Midnight Messiah’ on the previous Elixir album. We thought that it would be good to have the link to Elixir, as we were forming a similar band to perform new material, plus the old favourites from our legacy with Elixir. After another Google search, we found no bands were using the name, and so we went with that.
What was it that made you want to be in a band in the first place?
-I got into Rock music in a big way as a teenager, and then got attracted to playing guitar. I remember as a teenager, thinking to myself, instead of playing air guitar or miming along with a tennis racket to all those great guitar riffs, why not try to learn to play a real guitar? I remember seeing a photo of a guitar player on stage with delirious fans at the front of the stage, and thinking that it must be great to be able to bring people such joy, and that I would love to have the ability to do that.
Later, I was lucky enough to have a backstage area ticket for the second Monsters Of Rock Festival at Donnington in 1981, which I had won in a competition. I stood at the side of the stage while the bands were on, and can vividly recall a moment when Whitesnake played a song called ‘Ain’t No Love In The Heart Of The City’ and I looked out at the 60,000 – 70,000 crowd all singing and clapping along with the band. The crowd stretched back to the horizon, and it sent a shiver down my spine to see the power of the song reach all those people and bring everybody together like that. It was in that moment that I decided that I really wanted to play in a band and bring everybody joy like that!
Unfortunately, we haven’t played to 60,000 people yet, but I hope, in a small way, that we have brought people some enjoyment through our records and live shows!!
As I am no musician I have no idea how it works, but how do you make your own music based on what influences you? What parts do you pick?
-I started out by learning to play songs that I like, and trying to work out what it was about those songs that moved me. Unlike some guitarists, I was never one to sit there for hours working out another guitarist’s solos note for note. I preferred to use my time making up my own songs and ideas instead.
I found that heavy riffs or a good rhythm were things that made me bang my head, and so that is where I generally start with one of my songs. I’ll be playing my guitar and suddenly I have an idea for a good solid riff, and I will play around with it. I’ll start to structure it into a song, and start developing musical ideas for verses and choruses. At this point, I will start thinking about how the vocal melody would go over the chorus and think about what lyric works with the music.
I am very fortunate to have a great singer in Paul Taylor, who has co-written with me since 1984. I am not a good singer, so Paul will bring better vocal melodies and expression into my songs. Sometimes I think I have a complete song, and have written a whole set of lyrics, but when Paul gets to grips with it, he will bring it to life and possibly change the lyrics to suit his vocal melodies. He might also suggest changing the music in places to better suit his vocal.
Other times, Paul will have written a chorus or song himself, and we might flesh out the music. An example is ‘Pandora’s Box’. Paul had the verses and chorus for that song, and we built it up, starting with the intro, then adding the harmony parts, and working on the solo section.
When we have a song idea, we work through it as a band, and the others will add their own touches, Norm will add guitar parts or a lead solo, Kevin and Nigel come up with various rhythm ideas, and may add stops, starts, accents etc. for the best effect.
How satisfied are you with this new album? Why has it taken 1o years to release a new album?
-In the early days, we would go into the studio for a week or so, depending on how long we could afford, and record the album and mix it, then leave. Then you would play the album back a week or two later and discover something that you aren’t happy with, and feel that you could have done something better, but it is too late.
These days, we record ourselves, and the result is that, after living with the recording for a while, you can go back and change something if you feel you can do it better, or add something. Of course, you have to learn when it is time to stop, otherwise you would be there for ever!! I have played the album through a bunch of times since we did the final mixes and there is nothing that I would change. This is one reason why I am very satisfied with the new album.
I am happy with the overall sound, happy with the tempo of the songs and happy with the production. We produced the album ourselves, and went for a classic rock sound reminiscent of the late 70s/early 80s rather than a very modern sounding album, where everything is compressed and brought up to maximum. I feel that there is room for the instruments to breathe, especially the drums, and it sounds like a classic 70s/80s record. Martin Birch is my favourite producer, and I try to go for sounds like his, particularly the drums. I think that we came close to Cozy Powell’s drum sound from ‘Rainbow Rising’ on our track ‘Onward Through The Storm’, and I was going for a kind of Vinnie Appice drum sound from ‘The Mob Rules’ on ‘The Siren’s Song’. I would have loved to have made a record with Martin Birch, but he is now retired. Coincidentally, I recently read that we share the same birthday – 27th December!
Apart from that, I am very satisfied with the album because everybody played great on it, and Paul’s vocals are sounding better than ever. I think that the songs are strong, and the concept idea worked really well. The album takes the listener away on an adventure.
I am also really happy with the way that the label has packaged it. We signed with Dissonance Productions, and this is our first release through them. They have made the most of Duncan Storr’s great artwork, releasing the CD in Digi Pack form, with a 24-page colour lyric booklet, full of Duncan’s illustrations for each song. As the album is one long adventure story, the booklet really adds to the experience and helps the listener to get into the adventure! The label has also done us proud with the vinyl release, housing the beautiful blue vinyl record in a gatefold sleeve with lyrics and Duncan’s illustration across the inside. Both are available from the Plastic Head Megastore here: https://www.plastichead.com/catalogue.aspx?ex=backlist&target=ELIXIR
The reason it has taken us 10 years to put this album out, is because we haven’t been together for the past 8 years! Since 2012, when Kev said that he didn’t want to continue, Paul and I wrote and recorded two albums with our spin-off band Midnight Messiah.
When I started writing for what turned out to be this album, I thought that this material was perfect for Elixir, and so I approached the guys and asked whether they would be interested in making another record. Unfortunately, Kev didn’t want to be involved, and felt that we had signed off with a great album ‘All Hallows Eve’, and wanted to leave our legacy there. I was delighted that all the others wanted to do it though, and the old magic soon came back. In the beginning I recorded the guide bass tracks, but we felt that we needed to have a great bass player on the record. With Kev’s blessing, we got a guy called Luke Fabian in to record the album, and he did a fantastic job.
How important is it that you look the part in promo shots and stuff? How important is the graphic side of the band?
-Even back in the 80s, when we were a lot younger, we were never a band to pose for the camera sticking our middle fingers up or sticking our tongues out!! If a band wants to have that “rebel” attitude, then fine, I’m not judging, but that image was never for us.
These days, we are in our 50s, and not that photogenic! Because of the epic and fantasy subject matters of our music, we prefer to let the artwork provide the imagery for our music, and so you won’t find many pictures of us on the album sleeves.
Having said that, we are always up for a good, creative photo shoot. I think that a more mystical or mysterious photo is the best way to present ourselves, and I have always liked the Louise Rolley shots of us sitting at a table in a darkened room around a candle, that were done in 2006.
It was very important for us to have great artwork on the new album, as that is the visual representation of the music contained on the record.
For live shows, I have always wanted to have backdrop projections behind us to add visuals to the music, but the cost and practical implications have meant that that has usually alluded us. Especially as we generally play multi-band festivals these days, where changeover times are very short, and we just have to get onstage quickly and play.
We did get the opportunity to have backdrop projections once at one of our headline shows in London, and I thought it worked great. I felt that it really brought the songs to life. It also allowed us to perform ‘Samhain’, the 14 minute-long ‘epic’ song from our ‘All Hallows Eve’ album. The piece has sound effects and a talking poem section in the middle, which we wouldn’t normally be able to perform, so I was glad to have the opportunity to perform it that one time. I was also very glad that it was filmed and is on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SJkYUjHSTao
I have always felt that our music would suit a theatrical stage set-up, but we have never been able to afford a tour like that. If we were given the opportunity, I would love to try that.
What would you say influences your lyrics? How important are they?
-We are not a band who often make social comments on the real world, although we have written the odd song, such as ‘Shadows Of The Night’ way back on the second album. Neither are we very philosophical, although again we had a song called ‘Born To Die’ which covered the topic of the meaning of life and death on ‘The Idol’ album.
On the whole, we tell stories and tales, and try to entertain the listener by taking them away from the real world, so I suppose we are influenced by tales of mythology or legends.
Our lyrics are important in that we try to convey an image or a story, but not so important in that we are trying to change the world, we’ll let others worry about that!
Is the album as relevant today as it was in the 70s and 80s? Is digital killing the album?
No, the album as a format, isn’t as relevant today as it was back then, unfortunately. In the 70s, albums were big business and people spent a lot of their disposable income on them. These days, young people spend their spare money on computer games instead for entertainment.
Despite that fact, we still like to create an album, and people of our generation especially, still like to buy a physical album, and immerse themselves into the music, look at the sleeve artwork etc. So, for a band like us and what we do, the album is still very relevant.
Buying, taking home, then listening through a new album, looking at the sleeve, used to be a wonderful experience, and I believe that digital is killing that experience. I am not saying that digital is all bad though. I have an mp3 player, and can enjoy listening to an album outside in the sunshine. Where I think digital is killing the album is when people have random playlists or listen to music on shuffle. We create an album as a complete piece of work, with a considered running order, not just a bunch of random songs put together. When random songs are plucked from those albums and put on a playlist and played out of context, that’s where digital is killing the album as an art form.
There is also the piracy issue, and people expecting to listen to your album for free. I really don’t think people consider how much money it has cost the band to make the record, and how much it costs to pay for the artwork, the designers who set up the layouts of the sleeves, and the production costs. I once knew a young lad, who was into rock music, as was his dad. I told him to take home a copy of our CD ‘The Son Of Odin’ and give it a listen and see what he and his dad thought about it. I hoped he would like it and it would lead to a sale. When he gave it back, I asked if he liked it. He told me that he and his dad loved it so much that he ripped it to his computer! He didn’t feel the least bit embarrassed, ashamed or consider this as musical theft.
Then you have YouTube. Every individual track from the new album was immediately uploaded onto YouTube, and someone else put the complete album up in one go. They have had thousands of views. The same went for a good friend of mine in another band, who has also just released a new album. He seemed quite upset, said that it is theft and said he was going to look into suing the people who uploaded it. It is true, these actions can take away much needed sales. We are not rich rock stars; we need to make sales to keep our bands going and have some funds to make another record in the future. However, I feel that it can be good promotion for the album to be on platforms like YouTube, and you just have to hope that people like what they hear enough to want to buy the full package that comes with the lyric booklet, the great artwork etc, and want to experience the album properly. I did say to him that we need to look at it as a compliment. At least someone thought it was worth putting our albums out there, and it is better than being ignored!
Where will the future of format end – digital verses physical verses whatever?
-I have absolutely no idea! When we started, I would never have imagined that people would listen to music through computers!
I imagine that in the future, there will be a massive database of all recordings available for people to access, if there isn’t already.
How much of a touring entity are you guys? What is a live experience with you like?
-The day after we released the new album, we played a live show in London at Burr Fest, an MS benefit gig in memory of Clive Burr, on March 7th. We then had a planned appearance at Keep It True Festival in Germany in April, with a couple of headline club gigs in Belgium on either side of that. Unfortunately, because of the Corona Virus travel restrictions, we had to re-schedule those shows.
Our next planned live shows are an appearance at the Into Battle Festival in Athens, Greece in December, and at Bro Fest, in Newcastle, UK, next February. Hopefully, we will be allowed to go ahead with those.
As you can see, we do not go out and play gigs every weekend these days, like we did in our early days. Back in 1985, we lived close to each other in London, rehearsed three times per week, and could play a gig at the drop of a hat. These days, we live far apart from each other, and Norm lives in Northern Ireland, so he is a plane ride away. We like to prepare properly for a live show, so these days things are arranged well in advance. A lot of the great music venues with regular rock crowds have closed, so these days we tend to play a lot of festival appearances. I am sure we would all prefer to play headline shows, where we get a good time to set up and soundcheck, and perform a full show, but the venues are just not there any more to enable us to do that.
When we do play live, we have a great time. We have been together since 1984 and grown up together, so we are like brothers now and enjoy each other’s company. We have fun together, but when it is time to go onstage, we all know our part to play, and thankfully the magic is still there. When we played at Burr Fest, after an 8-year hiatus, Nigel counted us in at the start, and a wave of power and energy swept across the stage like a force of nature. It felt great to be back and to be a part of that. We played with some good bands that evening, but a lot of people and reviewers wrote that, for them, we were “the band of the evening”. It’s all subjective, of course, just an opinion, and we don’t take that too seriously, but it is a great compliment that people were pleased to see us back and enjoyed what we did.
What lies in the future?
-In the near future, I look forward to performing some of the new album, as I think we have some great songs there. Unfortunately, the virus lockdown came just as we were getting started again, but at least it gives fans a chance to get to know the new album before they see us live again.
Kev doesn’t wish to continue with us, so we will be going forward with a new bass player. We had just started rehearsing with a new guy, and it was sounding great, then this lockdown came, so I am very much looking forward to when we can get back together and rehearse again. When we are sure that we have the right guy, musically and on a personal level, and I feel that we have, we will announce him publicly.
We constantly write and look for new song ideas, so with a complete and willing band again, for as long as we continue, we will be putting out new material and performing live when we have the opportunity.
We realise that it is important these days to have an online presence too. We have our band website: www.elixirnwobhm.com and our Facebook page: www.facebook.com/elixirnwobhm and we have just started our own YouTube channel: ElixirNWOBHM. We will use these to keep in touch with the fans. We plan to make some entertaining videos, such as clips from the road, or film some live rehearsal footage when we are all together again, performing some of the new material, and putting this on our YouTube channel, along with live performance videos. We would ask anyone reading this, who may be interested, to please like our Facebook page and subscribe to our YouTube channel to keep in touch with what we are doing.