Tim 'Ripper' Owens: 'You Can Put Your Fists In The Air'

artist: Tim Ripper Owens date: 05/26/2009 category: hit the lights
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Tim 'Ripper' Owens: 'You Can Put Your Fists In The Air'
Within the realms of metal, a great pair of lungs can virtually guarantee a healthy, prosperous career. As readers of Hit The Lights will duly note, those who possess a versatile voice, and can ably hit the upper registers as well as the lower registers with wonderful aplomb, certainly benefit the tracks they are a part of more often than not. Within a live situation as well, such vocalists can carry an accomplished performance. When a group like Judas Priest lifts you from obscurity, and asks you to replace the likes of Rob Halford, then pressure certainly materializes. Completing another high profile stint, more specifically succeeding Matt Barlow as part of Iced Earth, does little to alleviate this. Both frontmen eventually returned, as all of you know. In past discussions, Tim "Ripper" Owens has been unfairly critiqued against both frontmen, when in actual fact the genuine discussion should centre upon his worth as a vocalist. In the form of "Play My Game", that opportunity has arrived. Having cut his teeth lending his vocals to studio full lengths by acts like Judas Priest (1997's "Jugulator" and 2001's "Demolition"), Iced Earth (2004's "The Glorious Burden" and 2007's "Framing Armageddon: Something Wicked Part 1"), Beyond Fear (2006's "Beyond Fear"), and Yngwie Malmsteen (2008's "Perpetual Flame"), vocalist Tim "Ripper" Owens issued inaugural solo album "Play My Game" on May 18th, 2009 via SPV Records. Tracks included upon the album were either written by solely Owens, or in collaboration with friends such as Bob Kulick, Chris Caffery (Savatage / Trans-Siberian Orchestra), Mike Callahan (ex-Earshot) and John Comprix (Beyond Fear / Ringworm). A list of musicians guest upon "Play My Game", including; guitarists Doug Aldrich (Whitesnake), Michael Wilton (Queensryche), Jeff Loomis (Nevermore), Steve Stevens (Billy Idol), bassists Marco Mendoza (ex-Whitesnake), Billy Sheehan (Mr. Big / ex-David Lee Roth), David Ellefson (ex-Megadeth), Rudy Sarzo (Dio / ex-Ozzy Osbourne / ex-Quiet Riot), James Lomenzo (Megadeth), Tony Franklin (ex-Blue Murder), Dennis Hayes (Beyond Fear), as well as drummers Simon Wright (Dio / ex-AC/DC), Vinny Appice (Heaven & Hell / ex-Dio), Ray Luzier (Korn), Bobby Jarzombek (Riot / ex-Halford), and Brett Chassen. Armed with a touring lineup which comprises Chris Caffery and John Comprix handling guitars, David Ellefson occupying bass and Simon Wright stepping behind the drumkit, Tim "Ripper" Owens was slated to tour Mexico during May. However, this was cancelled as the result of the swine flu outbreak. In early June, Owens will make an appearance at the Sweden Rock Festival in Slvesborg, Sweden. On June 13th, meanwhile, the man will appear upon the Main Stage at Download at Donington Park, Leicestershire, England. On May 4th, Hit The Lights' Robert Gray telephoned Tim Owens at his home in Northeast Ohio at 14:00 GMT to discuss "Play My Game". Tim "Ripper" Owens: Hello? UG: Hello. Can I speak to Tim please? This is him. I have an interview scheduled with you. How are you Tim? Good. How are you? I'm ok. Would it be alright if I began the interview? Yes, sure. That'd be fine. Could you provide some background information regarding 'Play My Game'? After I left Iced Earth, we began talking about possibly arranging tracks for Beyond Fear's next album. The management thought it would be a great time for me to issue a solo album, so the wheels started turning. I started writing some music, and made some phone calls. The project began to come together, and all these great musicians guested upon 'Play My Game'. We recorded the album in Los Angeles, and began the process roughly a year ago. Have you always wanted to issue a solo record? I don't know if I really always wanted to, or not. At one time, I wasn't sure whether I wanted to release a solo album or not. The timing now was definitely right though, I think, and Wendy Dio definitely did exactly what needed to be done. There was just time for me to pursue something that I wanted to do, where I wouldn't be influenced by anyone or anything else, and could just complete my own record. Did you enjoy having much more control? I did enjoy it. Obviously, I have a lot of control in Beyond Fear as well, but this was obviously a step further. If I wanted someone to play upon 'Play My Game', or not, then I had the decision to do that. I could decide upon the sound I wished to aim for in writing songs for the album. It was the most control I've ever had, definitely. It was great.

"I wasn't sure whether I wanted to release a solo album or not."

Did you feel slightly restricted whilst working as part of past groups like Judas Priest and Iced Earth? Yes, I was restricted. I couldn't really write with Judas Priest, but I actually understood the situation with Judas Priest. It didn't really bother me. I think it bothered me more with Iced Earth, as I felt like I probably had something to give to the table that time. I really wasn't able to contribute, so I felt more restricted with Iced Earth, though I understood. I understood it with both groups. This made me go onwards, and save all my material for my own project. In terms of songwriting, did you learn much whilst being a part of Judas Priest? Some of the songs I wrote were written while I was a part of Judas Priest, and were written for Judas Priest. "Play My Game", the title song, was written while I was a part of Judas Priest. "The Faith" and "Save Me", from Beyond Fear's self-titled debut, were written for Judas Priest. I wrote some songs, and submitted those songs to Judas Priest. They definitely didn't feel it was their type of material, which was alright. I would loved to have just written vocals for Judas Priest. That was the reason why I wrote "Scream Machine" for Beyond Fear, actually. I just wanted to show that while I was a part of Judas Priest, I could've written vocals for them if they had given me material. Of 'Play My Game''s tracks, how many were written quite some time ago? Two of 'Play My Game''s tracks were written years ago, which were the title song and "It Is Me", but they were actually restructured. "Play My Game" was much longer during its original draft, and had more verses - I removed a few verses. Also, I changed the melodies around a bit. How did you select tracks for 'Play My Game', and decide they would be more appropriate for a solo venture? As you said, you have a lot more control in Beyond Fear. Therefore, in writing some tracks, you might've felt such material was suited to Beyond Fear. The greatest thing which separates 'Play My Game' and Beyond Fear is the fact that Beyond Fear's material is written by myself, John Comprix, and new guitarist Matt Sorg - we write the songs together. With 'Play My Game', all the material was either written by me, or I really had a hand in controlling what happened with the songs. If Bob Kulick writes me a song, I can hear that song, and think about whether the song is right for what I want to do, or isn't. I can accept the song, or refuse the song. I can do all that. Beyond Fear will be a group effort effort though, and I won't make lone decisions within the group. How did you come to write songs for 'Play My Game' with musicians like Bob Kulick and Chris Caffery? I've known them for years. I met Chris Caffery in '96, and we've been really good friends. Bob Kulick and I have appeared on some albums together for years, years and years. A lot of these guys who guested upon 'Play My Game' are friends. Michael Wilton, Jeff Loomis, Bobby Jarzombek - so many great musicians feature on the album who are friends. Also, I made new friends who I just met, ones who guested upon 'Play My Game' - Billy Sheehan for example. Having so many stars to guest, and to meet them, was just awesome. How would you describe the songwriting process between yourself and musicians like Bob Kulick, Chris Caffery and so on? I wrote roughly six of 'Play My Game''s songs myself. As for the other songs, I just asked those songwriters if they wanted to write a song for the album. Chris sent me a song, namely "The Shadows Are Alive". I had that song for awhile, and listened to that song. I started singing to "The Shadows Are Alive", and felt that the track came out extremely great. With Bob, we basically went through the same process. I asked Bob if he had written some material, which he had. He would send me the material he had written, and I would just reply "Wow, this is great". Following that, I would write the lyrics to the song, as well as the melody. That's how it happened, pretty much. I would just ask someone if they wanted to write a song, and they would. I would then see if I could use that song or not. Were there any recorded tracks which didn't eventually surface upon 'Play My Game''s final track listing? No, with the exception of that iTunes download, "A Challenge" - it's an iTunes exclusive song which will be downloadable. "A Challenge" is a really cool song which Bob Kulick and I wrote, and features Vinny Appice on drums. It's a really cool, different type of song for me. No though, we didn't record any extra songs. We wrote each and every song, and recorded wrote each and every song. Why did you opt to use a host of guest musicians upon 'Play My Game', as opposed to using several musicians to perform upon all of the album's tracks? I just felt it was the greatest way to approach 'Play My Game'. It was a great way to emphasize the point that 'Play My Game' is my solo album, and that I could do what I wanted. The first choice I made was to hire as many great musicians as I could to play with me upon 'Play My Game', and make it seem that way - that I hired all these people. In a perfect world, I would've just recruited the members of Beyond Fear, and recorded a solo album. Then though, my solo career becomes Beyond Fear, which is pretty bad (laughs). As far as musicians are concerned, Beyond Fear's members are on top of the game. I love playing with them, though I had to do something different. I didn't feel like just forming a single group for 'Play My Game', since I was already a part of one that likely had the greatest musicians. I just thought it was best to complete my solo album with an all-star lineup. Did you approach hiring guest musicians for 'Play My Game' as a more of a music fan, wanting to hire musicians you'd love to work with? I did, yes. A couple of musicians couldn't play on 'Play My Game' due to timing. I wanted John 5 to play on the album really bad, as well as George Lynch. We talked tons of times about him playing on the record, though we just never could figure out a time for him to lay down some parts. Neil Zaza is a local musician from around here who's a well known guitarist, and he was a guitarist I wanted to guest upon 'Play My Game'. We had to turn down some big names, names who I just couldn't get to lay down some parts. Having these musicians guest was definitely a major point.

""Play My Game", the title song, was written while I was a part of Judas Priest."

So you had to turn down these "big names" as the result of scheduling conflicts? Yeah, scheduling conflicts were always a problem. Trivium's Corey Beaulieu was interested in contributing, and even Sepultura's Andreas Kisser. Andreas and I have worked on some material, so I wanted him to play upon a song. He said that he couldn't, and was leaving for a tour the following day. Since he couldn't lay down a part here, or there, we were somewhat screwed. How did you make sure that 'Play My Game' wasn't disjointed? If you feature so many guest musicians, then an album's sound might veer off into many different directions. One of the main elements we tried to implement was having all the rhythm guitars and drums recorded in the same studio. Actually, most of 'Play My Game''s music was still recorded in one studio, which is odd nowadays in itself. The album's rhythm guitars were mainly played by Bob Kulick and John Comprix, and that helped. Throughout 'Play My Game', I concerned myself with achieving cohesion. The album sounds good, and also, the album sounds cohesive. That was a major aspect I really needed to achieve, though I think 'Play My Game' doesn't sound as though it was recorded everywhere with all these different musicians. Was it important to have musicians like Bob Kulick and John Comprix to act as a solid base so to speak? Yeah, I definitely needed a solid base, which was definitely a big factor. Michael Wilton played some rhythms upon one song ("To Live Again"), whilst Mike Callahan played some rhythms upon the track he wrote ("Pick Yourself Up"). In having these musicians play upon these songs, I didn't want 'Play My Game' to sound like a tribute album, or one of these albums which everybody plays on, and where all the songs sound different. That's great for a tribute album, but it isn't what this album is about. 'Play My Game' was about still maintaining that cohesion, and achieving that level field somewhat. Were there any lyrical topics upon 'Play My Game' which you could explore that you possibly didn't have the opportunity to upon previous albums you've been a part of? No. 'Play My Game''s lyrics are really across the board. Once again, I think the album's lyrics are much like 'Beyond Fear', in that the album pretty much tackles every topic. 'Play My Game' tackles many topics, whether it be losing a loved one, spaceships, the cover up of political scandals, or ex relationships. Whatever the topic might be, everything is really upon 'Play My Game'. 'Play My Game' has a song about cars, and a song about evil things in the shadows for example. Really, the album's lyrics are right across the board, and that's how I always write. I'm not a dungeons and dragons writer, and am not a writer that will write about extremely corny subjects all the time. I'm a writer that'll write about everything. Whatever comes to mind, and whatever I feel needs to be written about, I'll write about. As a lyricist, you like to be extremely broad then? I do. All real writers likely want to be extremely broad. Writers don't want to be pigeonholed into writing about one subject, and be forever stuck with that subject. Real writers write about anything. In describing your songwriting, you referenced Dio era Sabbath. How did groups like that inform your songwriting approach? Such groups use guitars which are just crunchy, and melodic, yet right in your face. That one amazing voice surfaces which is just so melodic, setting the tone, and telling a story. Those old albums were just amazing, and definitely influenced the way I wanted to write. I didn't make an album which sounds like 'British Steel' and 'Heaven and Hell' at all, but such albums influenced me. That's the great thing about that. I didn't try to become a carbon copy: I took my influences from such groups, and moved with those influences so to speak. Would you describe yourself as an anthem driven songwriter? Yeah, I definitely always feel I am. I read where someone said that they didn't know whether "Save Me" has a memorable chorus, and I disagree a hundred percent. Listening to songs like "Save Me" and "Starting Over", I think they have chorus' which are very memorable, and very passionate. When I write music, the song will be slightly more basic. You can put your fists in the air, and just sing along with the song. Over the last several years, how do you feel you have improved as a songwriter? I've definitely improved in terms of melody, and in terms of having more freedom to do things within songs. I can certainly hear how my songwriting has grown, and changed - everyone's writing grows and changes. Also, I've learnt that there's no clearcut way to write a song. I've worked with some musicians in the past who've said "This is how you write music, and this is the only way you write. If you don't write music like this, then you're not a songwriter". That was the most bullshit I've ever heard you can write music any way you want to write music. I can write lyrics initially, or write lyrics after the track has been written. I can write guitar parts initially, if I want to. Everything regarding 'Play My Game' was written in different ways, and in different places. That's the great thing about songwriting. There isn't a specific way to write songs, and the more I've written, the more I've realized that. If someone says there is a specific way to write songs, and that's it, then they're totally wrong. You can write a song any way you want to. It's pretty fun. For one of 'Play My Game''s songs, will you film a music video? I don't know if we will or not. Nowadays, I don't know how much good filming a music video would be. We'll have to see. I'm not really certain, though we might.

"All real writers likely want to be extremely broad."

Do you have any plans to tour in support of 'Play My Game'? Yeah, we'll start touring. We'll perform at Sweden Rock, and Download Festival. We've scheduled some other shows here and there, and will try to tour as much as we can. Which musicians will accompany you for these tour dates? Chris Caffery will handle guitar, Simon Wright will handle drums, David Ellefson will handle bass, and John Comprix will handle the other guitar. That's quite a strong lineup. It's a nice lineup, and that's what's great about things. I'll come out of the gate with this really strong lineup, and can always switch the lineup. I can always change the lineup slightly, so that's nice. In all likelihood, this lineup is actually the perfect lineup I could have. It's just awesome. Will you issue further solo albums in the future? I hope so (laughs). My goal is to make more solo albums. I'll release 'Play My Game', and tour the world. I'd like to support the album for however long Wendy Dio, or SPV, or anyone wants me to. I will do that, and then after that's over, I'll go and do Beyond Fear. With Beyond Fear, what are your current plans? Actually, I'll start writing some more Beyond Fear songs this month. I'll be handling press for 'Play My Game' this month. I was meant to travel to Mexico to tour, but that has been postponed due to swine flu. At the moment, my goal is to write material for Beyond Fear. I have a bunch of material I need to work on, so I'll try to complete all the material for Beyond Fear's second album while I'm off at the moment. Do you have a message for your fans? Enjoy the music. It's the type of music you can just sit back, enjoy, and have fun with. Just keep your head up. Ok. Thank you very much for the interview Tim. Thank you man. All the best, and take care. If there's anything else you ever need, just give me a call. Ok. Take care. Alright buddy. Thanks. Bye. Bye. Interview by Robert Gray Ultimate-Guitar.Com 2009
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