Photo by Russell Cherry
Steve Mulry has so much on his musical plate at the moment, it is a wonder we were able to squeeze in this interview but then, the singer somehow always manages to pencil more into his diary. Just hearing about his busy schedule was enough to wear me out but Steve seems to thrive on the challenge. However, even he agrees that life is much more hectic these days than he ever expected it to be. “In the last few months, things have got so intense,” he admits. “It used to be just Black Label/Lawless Breed and all of a sudden all these things are coming together, all at the same time.”
‘All these things’ include his role as lead singer with firmly established heavy rock band, Black Label (Australia), as well as a new blues outfit in the making, a few solo singles on the side and a couple of other projects in the pipeline.
As the younger brother of one of this country’s most beloved singer/songwriters, the late Ted Mulry, Steve was exposed to the music scene from an early age. So just how big a part did his famous brother play in Steve’s decision to join a band and become involved in the world of music himself? He acknowledges that Ted was a major inspiration. “I guess the main influence of course is my brother,” he tells me. “I was very shy in the early days and I guess, without knowing someone closely who had already become involved, I may not have had the courage to start so I guess my brother is a major influence in getting me started in the music industry. I realise that now more so, when I think about it later on in life. At the time, I probably didn’t think that.”
Steve says that his musical direction was greatly influenced by his favourite band, Thin Lizzy. “And that’s because of the guitar harmonies. They were very much a boogie rock band really, with great lyrics and I love great lyrics. Vocally, my main influence is Ronnie James Dio, just because of his vocal prowess. His voice is so powerful. He was a great singer and a great song writer. There are many other vocalists of course. I’ve probably got a Top 5 that I aspire to but Ronnie James Dio is the No. 1. When I first heard‘Butterfly Ball’, I thought ‘Wow! This guy is fantastic!’ Then I found out that he’d been in Rainbow and Black Sabbath and I suppose I’ve aspired to those styles because of his vocal ability. So that was the music that inspired me to sing but it was my brother who inspired me to do something about it. I wanted to sing when I was 17 but I was too shy then to do it. I didn’t actually start singing til I was 22. People used to say to me “Well, your brother’s a singer and you’ve got it in your blood.’ So I started to think about it and decided I should do it! And I’m certainly glad that I did!”
Steve joined Black Label after meeting drummer George Muscat in the mid-nineties. At the time, Steve was in a band called Stoker and George was playing with a blues based band called Blue Dog. Both bands were using the same rehearsal studio at the time. Steve obviously made an impression because a few months later, George rang to ask the singer to join another band he was playing in; a rock bandcalled Black Label. At the time, Steve was quite happy singing with his own band, Stoker, and declined the offer but George was persistent and every few weeks, he would call and he would ask again. The calls continued on a regular basis until finally, thirteen months later, he wore the singer down. “I said ‘All right, I’ll come down!’ So I went along to their rehearsal one night, just to have a listen and I met the band. The only guys that are in the band at the moment, that are from that night, are George and myself. Over the years, people have moved on.” Steve admits that, at the time, he didn’t really know many of their songs but he liked what he heard. “There were a couple of covers and only two originals which we don’t even play now in our set so I held the lyrics for George while he played the drums and he sang a couple of songs to me and then I started singing them and it ended up that night they asked me to join.” At first, he was unsure what to do. “At the time, Black Label was very bluesy and almost American Southern, a bit like Lynyrd Skynyrd, whereas Stoker was more of an eighties style rock.” It would take his voice in a different direction from what he was doing at the time and, after some careful deliberation, he decided to give it a go.
“That was July 1997. We did a lot of covers back then,” Steve explains. There were several line-up changes for various reasons and those changes created a ripple effect within the band’s sound. “We’ve had five CDs and a member change with every album which has made the writing style of each album quite different. (Bass player) Laurie Marlow joined just before we recorded the second album ‘Lawless’. He didn’t do much writing on that album but, after that album, he did. And the sound of the band became heavier because of Laurie’s input of writing.”
Steve also foresees a slight change in style for the band’s next album which we will hopefully get to hear by the end of the year. “We’re about three quarters of the way through writing the album now. Even though the last album, ‘Blood Money’ had Jon Ford as the guitar player and he is still in the band with guitarist Ross Flynn, Jon didn’t really have much of an input except for solos on that album but, for this next album, he has written some of the tunes and some of the lyrics so I think you’ll find that the style is different again on this album. Jon has a very similar style to (former guitarist) Kevin Pratt and I think you’ll find that some of the stuff will be a bit more like our older stuff.” The problem, of course, is finding the time to record the album just the way they really want it to be. ‘’We want it to be better than last time. We want to really have it nailed! I think within the next six months, towards the end of this year, we will probably be able to go into the studio to record it so it will probably be out for Christmas or maybe early in the New Year. We have about seven songs lined up for the album that we aren’t playing live yet. We’ve got the basics down but we’re not completely happy with them yet and of course we’ve got to write more yet for the album so it will take a little bit of time.”
Black Label has built a following around their hometown of Sydney, including a bit of a cult following in the biker community. “We get a lot of ‘bike’ gigs and that was a good niche for us because when there weren’t a lot of gigs around, the bikers always wanted us to play and we’re still doing bike shows quite a bit.”
But Black Label isn’t the only musical project on Steve’s ‘’To Do’’ list these days. “George and I are currently working on another band which is a bit more bluesy, to take away from the intensity of Black Label,” he reveals. “Black Label is business and we want to make something that’s just more relaxed and if we get the gig, we get the gig and if we don’t, it doesn’t really matter. And it’s also a chance to play songs that are quite obscure in the blues area. It’s a selection of blues that is up tempo but it’s also quite old, slow blues. I told George I’d really like to have another band but something with blues in it, so he was off straight away. ‘Let me handle it,’ he said. That’s his roots. That’s his kind of thing, he loves The Stones. Blues and southern is where his head is at. He was stoked at the time.”
Steve admits that he was never really a big blues fan. “But I think it is the type of blues that you play,” he explains. “I’m listening to a lot of it at the moment and I’m really appreciating it more than I ever have before but, then again, I’m getting older as well so maybe my tastes are slightly changing. Your tastes, I guess, mature as you get older.” But he believes that there is still a need to hold on to some of that ‘childlike’ quality. “Otherwise your creativity goes out the window and you don’t want to lose that. You still need to continue to nurture that creativity. Whatever so-called ‘talent’ or gift’ that you have, if you don’t do anything with it, it’s nothing.”
The singer reveals that there are a few other things on the table as well. “A few years ago, we toured Europe under a different name, Lawless Breed. We have now trademarked our name overseas as well which is now Black Label (Australia) so we can now use that. We didn’t want to use it overseas before because there is another band that may have been upset with us because we have had some issues over the years with the way that they were marketing so we went with a different name so that we didn’t step on anybody’s toes but now that we own the name around the world, we can use it without any problems.” The band is also in negotiations with a record company in the U.S. to release some of their material over there. However, now that the trademark issue is sorted, Steve would still like to make use of the name, Lawless Breed, and he has an idea in mind that he would like to pursue in the future. “I want to put out a really heavy album through Lawless Breed,” he tells me. But that’s not all. There’s more…
“I’ve also released a couple of singles under my own name, which is very different for me as I have always worked as part of a band. One of the songs, ‘My Life, My Tattoo’, could even suit the style of Black Label. It could even be a song for our ‘blues’ band because that’s on the edge of what we’re doing as well. In fact, the band is actually rehearsing that song so it might be included in the set.”
The other song Steve is referring to is actually a dance track, though it does have a rock edge to it. “I really enjoyed doing it because it’s totally different to anything I’ve done before,” he tells me. “I liked it when I heard it and the process of recording it was a bit different to anything I’ve done before. It was a great experience and people seem to like it which is really good. It might be just a one-off thing. Let’s just see how it goes. I didn’t write the song myself. For me to do another song like that, it would have to be something that I really, really like to be able to change styles for. But I’ve finally realised that you can never say ‘never’. Who knows when you will find that one song that just might be your big break into mainstream music? It’s funny, I’ve been singing on stage now for thirty years this year,” he muses, “and you’re never too old to change to something different. And it does clear your mind because you come back to the other stuff and it’s fresh again.”
“Both songs were written by Mark Konemann. He wrote ‘My Life, My Tattoo’ and also the dance song (‘I Think You’re Hot’). There’s two other songs that are already on a CD that I have in my car, that are in line with the ‘My Life, My Tattoo’ song and we’re going to do a film clip for those two songs. Plus there’s also some other songs we’ve done that are on Mark’s small 8 track recording system that we need to redo. When we originally did ‘My Life, My Tattoo’, it didn’t sound anything like it does now,” he explains “Where you hear the slide guitar, that was originally a violin. I love the violin. But after a bit of this, that and the other, and talking to Herm Kovac (former Ted Mulry Gang drummer) at his studio, we decided on a guitar and maybe a bit of slide there and that’s what happened. And when guitarist, Dai Pritchard (Rose Tattoo) came in and heard it, he loved the song. He played on all three of the other rock songs that we got and it turned out really well.”
With his fingers in so many pies, so to speak, which one is at the top of his list these days? He is quick to set the record straight. “In the last three months or so, things have got so intense. It used to be just Black Label/Lawless Breed and all of a sudden all these things are coming together, all at the same time. My main objective is still Black Label,” he assures me. “I’m excited about Black Label, I’m excited about the blues thing and I’m excited about my own stuff,” he says enthusiastically.
“You know, I’ve heard a lot of ‘gurus’ say that you should stick to one style and that has a lot of merit because you can focus on what you’re doing.” He pauses for a moment or two to ponder that line of thought then adds, with a smile, “Well, I’ve been focusing on one thing for thirty years. Now it’s time to see if something else works for me.”
by Sharyn Hamey
Copyright © 2012 [Sharyn Hamey] All Rights Reserved.