STEVIE MCLAUGHLIN

You might know STEVIE MCLAUGHLIN from the band Sandstone. This time he is alone with his first eve solo album. Read what he has to say about that and much more. Anders Ekdahl ©2018

What is it that you can do as a solo artist that you cannot do in SANDSTONE?
-Hi, thanks for the interview. In Sandstone we try to collaborate as much as possible, and this is great, it makes for multi-faceted songs with maybe more depth at times than a solo song. However it is also a very slow process and can be frustrating at times. I’m writing stuff all the time and this means I have a growing collection of demos that Sandstone have not got round to working on yet. We feel very strongly in Sandstone that the whole point of the band is how we sound when we work together, so as much as possible all our songs should have elements of all the guys contributions. So I should probably refrain from writing completely finished songs, but I can’t help it, it’s what I do.

Do you feel that you have built a strong name with SANDSTONE that people will be interested in an album by its guitarist? Where does this leave SANDSTONE?
-There was no intention behind me releasing a solo album, it’s not like a sat down and thought I could launch a solo career off the back of Sandstone’s success. As I said I just write songs all the time, just for the fun of being creative. My friends and family have always thought I should do something with these songs and strongly encouraged me to be brave and put them out there. I am quite nervous about how this album will be received, even though it was never put together with an audience in mind. There is no strong adherence to any genre or attempt to market this to a demographic. This is just a collection of what I believe are some of the best songs that I’ve written, that for one reason or another, didn’t find themselves on a Sandstone album.

What does it mean to you that there are people out there that actually appreciate and look forward to what you are doing?
-I find this amazing yet confusing in equal measures. My approach to music (like a lot of noncommercial song writers) has always been to try to create the music that I want to listen to. I take things from bands that I love and ignore the things I don’t like, add in my own inspirations and thoughts about lyrics, and blend it all together to make my own version of idealized melodic/progressive/hard rock/metal. Of course this is my own subjective vision and the end result should really only appeal to me. It’s like everything I do is for an audience of one: myself. Despite this, when other people appreciate what I’m doing it’s fantastic and very rewarding, it also means they share my taste in music. So when I find fans like this they become friends, because if you like the music I make, then we clearly have a lot in common.

How important is image to the band? What impression do you want the fans to get of the band?
-I suppose in a sort of ironic way image is very import to us. What I mean is, we try to avoid all the usual machismo that surrounds heavy metal, screaming into cameras and talking about how metal we are. All this stuff is fun and I enjoy other bands that do that kind of stuff, but in trying to be true to myself, I’ve discovered that’s not who I am. I want people to perceive me as a down-to-earth thoughtful musician, who’s trying to produce sincere and heartfelt music.

I am a huge fan of LP art work. How important is it to have the right art work for your album?
-As a teenager I was very into art, drawing and painting. It’s because of my interest in art that I bought my first albums and got into heavy metal. If it wasn’t for the jaw dropping art on Iron Maiden’s albums, I would probably have never discovered my love for music or even became a musician. So yes, for me, the art that surrounds an album is very important. I’ve always done all the artwork for Sandstone and continue the tradition with my solo album. I suppose in the back of my mind there is always the aspiration to create something as iconic and inspiring as the early Maiden sleeves. I obviously never achieve those heights, but when that is you target, then it keeps you motivated to constantly try hard and improve.
My artwork has always come together during the making of the album and there is a lot about the mood that is evoked by the artwork that informs how the final album will be put together, song choices and production style. It’s like the artwork and the music are not separate things they are all part of the experience of immersing yourself into the album.

We live in a superficial world today where you don’t exist if you are not on YouTube and Facebook. Has social media been only beneficial in socializing with the fans or is there a down side to it too?
-I think the growth of social media and music technology has empowered musicians to make music and get it out to the public without the traditional gate keepers like record companies and radio stations. I feel that this has had a positive influence on people who make music, there is a lot more variety and eclectic music today than in previous eras when the only music we got to hear was the stuff funded by major labels. Unfortunately this has also coincided with a catastrophic dip in the potential to make money through music. I had high hopes in the early days that something like Spotify would level the playing field for independent artists, but even these models have fallen foul to the greed of major labels. So we make very little money for our music, but on the plus side no one can stand in your way when you want to release something and have it heard by thousands of people. There’s part of me that admires the purity of that. Take all the money out of the equation and the only people still making music will be the true artists who just have to make music for music’s sake. Add to that, artists have direct communication with their audience and all the marketing tools that were only available to the elite a few years ago. So yes there are downsides to it, but, without social media I don’t think it would be possible for musicians like me to do what I do.

When you play in a band does it feel like you are a part of a massive community? That you belong to something that gives meaning to your life?
-Playing in a band feels like being part of a gang, there is something very bonding about being locked into a rhythm and playing music with other people, that forms a brotherly connection. It has become noticeable recently that almost all the music I listen to these days is new music by current bands. I think creativity and talent in the music industry is at an all-time high. It amazes me to think that all these bands deal with the constant financial struggle of trying to make tours pay for themselves and dealing with the general public’s on-mass refusal to buy music any more. There are great music fans who understand this and support bands by buying merch and coming to concerts, these people are keeping music alive and make it possible for some of my favorite bands to survive, but they are the minority. I have a lot of friends all across Europe and the one thing we have in common is our mutual love of heavy music, some are musicians that I’ve met on the road and some are fans, but we all stay in touch and support each other because in lots of ways our dedication to this type of music is who we are.

When you are in the middle of it do you notice what state our beloved music scene is in? Is the scene healthy or does it suffer from some ailment?
-In Ireland the heavy metal scene is small and there are not a lot of venues to play. I earn my living playing in cover bands every weekend, because it’s just not feasible to make money in an independent heavy metal band. Ireland is a very musical place and full to bursting with amazingly talented musicians, just not very many that play heavy music. As far as metal goes, I feel much more part of the European metal scene than anything local here in Ireland. There is a stronger tradition of metal in mainland Europe and a heavily devoted fan base. I only ever feel like I get the chance to play the music I love live and be appreciated for it is when we cross the sea to mainland Europe.

How much of a touring band are you guys? How hard is it to get gigs outside of your borders?
-Being from Ireland has its challenges. Getting our equipment across on the ferry is expensive, so when we do tour it has to be for long enough to justify the expense. We have tried fly gigs and that is also complicated and the airline aren’t very unhelpful. I’m always envious of bands who live in say Germany who can just jump in a van, play a festival in France and be back at work on Monday morning. That would be awesome.

Sandstone was very lucky to have had the chance to tour Europe and Eastern Europe a few times with Tim Ripper Owens. We even took on the role of session musicians for Ripper to pay our way on these tours. These experiences were incredible and we got to meet a lot of our EU fans and make a lot of new ones. I love touring and am always actively looking for opportunities to get on the road. I’m hopeful that another Ripper tour could happen soon.

What will the future bring?
-Currently I’m working videos for my new album ‘Toy Empires’ so I’ll be filling my YouTube channel with content over the next number of months. Then hopefully an EU/UK tour. There is a new Sandstone album on the horizon, but it’s way off yet. Long term future is to keep making music, keep trying to get better at it and keep on enjoying it.

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