Contributor’s Note: Robin McAuley is an Irish rock vocalist best known as the vocalist for McAuley Schenker Group from 1986 to 1993, which saw the band release three studio albums: Perfect Timing, Save Yourself, M.S.G., the live album Unplugged Live, and the Japan-only EP Nightmare: The Acoustic M.S.G.. He has made further appearances with Schenker in 2012, and also in 2016 with Michael Schenker Fest alongside original MSG singers Gary Barden and Graham Bonnet, and Doogie White of Michael Schenker’s Temple of Rock. Robin McAuley of Black Swan sat down with Mark Dean of Madness To Creation to discuss his recent health scare, “Shake The World” and the recording process, along with his Irish roots
McAuley has also performed with Grand Prix, Survivor and Far Corporation. In 1999, McAuley released his solo album, Business As Usual, written and recorded with the help of future Survivor band mate, Frankie Sullivan.
McAuley is also a long time member of the star-studded Raiding the Rock Vault cast and the vocalist for all-star project Black Swan featuring Reb Beach and fellow Rock Vault alumni, Jeff Pilson and Matt Starr, whose debut album is set for an early 2020 release.
A few days ahead of the album release I had the opportunity to chat to Robin about his new band,and also his musical history. Fans can find Black Swan at the following locations:
Mark UK: This is Mark. How are you?
Robin McAuley: I’m good. How are you doing?
Mark UK: Not bad. I’m asking how you are because, obviously, you had that major health scare recently and just wondered how you’ve gotten over what must have been a very difficult and traumatic time .
Robin McAuley:I know. You know it’s… I got this really bad infection, sepsis, came out of nowhere. I had no symptoms. I felt fine. I was just about to go on the Schenker Fest cruise out of Florida down into Mexico, and this thing hit me across the head and put me in hospital. But I’m fine now. I’ve been really good, back at work at the Vegas show, and so far so good, Mark. How are you doing?
Mark UK: I’m not bad, not bad at all. You’ve got a new.band and Black Swan are just about to release their debut album. I just wondered, schedule-wise with the individuals in the band, was it not difficult to get together to do the recording, and actually get the songs created?
Robin McAuley: Well, it wasn’t easy because Reb Beach has a really, really busy schedule with Whitesnake, and when he’s not with Whitesnake, of course, he does the Winger thing. And Jeff is very busy with Foreigner. In fact, I do a Vegas residency five nights a week, have done, going into our seventh year with almost 1500 shows with Raiding the Rock Vault, so it was not easy, but we figured out schedules, and whenever Jeff would be off the road with Foreigner, he’d shoot me his schedule. And I have two days a week that were dark at the show, so I have Thursday, Fridays usually. So I’d kind of schedule around Jeff. So when he’d be home, I’d come to his studio, and we’d start chipping away at the old, the woodshed, and we got it done.
Reb, of course, lives in Pittsburgh, so he’s not exactly up the street. Jeff and myself and Matt Starr all live in LA, and we’re all within about 30 minutes or so from each other. So when the timing was good, we got together, we started writing the songs, and can’t believe we actually got it done, and we’ll release it this coming Friday, the 14th, which, of course, is Valentine’s Day. So we’ve had a great reaction to the first two singles, and everything’s looking pretty good.
Mark UK: I just wonder, with a lineup, a quality lineup and an experienced lineup like that, is it always guaranteed that the result is going to be high quality, or does the end result still depend on the creative process?
Robin McAuley: That’s a good question. Jeff and I go back a very long, many, many years. He played on the last McAuley Schenker studio album, and James Kottak was on drums, and then he also did a big portion of the Unplugged Tour with us. And in addition to all of that, he was best man at my wedding 27 years ago. So Jeff and I have a very long history of music together and friendship, and we don’t see a great deal of each other because we’re very, very busy.
But I almost always see him at Christmas. He’ll come to my house. I go to his house, and we’ve been doing that, oh my God, for a very long time. And Frontiers had approached me all of about maybe 18 months, two years ago, interested in doing a record with me. And I was really busy with Schenker Fest and busy here doing the Vegas thing, and the timing was a little bit off, and I just wasn’t able to fit it in.
And we kind of put it on hold. And then about a year ago, Jeff calls me and tells me that Frontiers had contacted him to put a project together. And he said the first name he came up with was Reb, and of course, he’d worked with Reb doing a Dokken record. And he then called me and he goes, “I’m not calling anybody else. I want you to do this.”
And I went, “What are we going to do?” You know because I didn’t want to make just another record and hash out some of the same stuff again. So to your question, we didn’t really, when we got together, we didn’t really talk about what were we going to do. Frontiers were asking for a classic rock record. That’s kind of where we come from. But we did not ever at any point discuss, well, we have to make it a little bit like this and a little bit like that. And we weren’t prepared to go, “Here’s a song I never used. Let’s use this.” We didn’t do that, either. And Reb started coming up with some riffs, and Jeff, it was in Jeff’s studio, and they sent me sort of a chord structure, an idea for a song, and I started working on it.
I came back in, and Reb and Jeff were there, and I started letting them hear the idea I had, lyrically and the melody, and the first song that we actually wrote was Big Disaster. Reb stopped playing and he goes, “Shit, this is a brand new project, and a title like Big Disaster is probably not the best way to go.” And funnily enough, it was the… Frontiers decided that it should be the second single, and at the same time I was sick. So it really was a big disaster.
But it’s a great tune, and we just carried on from there, and we just worked on whatever came up, and we’ve got a great album out of it that we’re very happy with. And that’s really what it was, and there was a lot of comments from people saying, normally, when you have a lineup like this, people do have a tendency to go, “Yeah, let’s do a little bit of this and a little bit of that. And here’s a song I never used on the last project and just rehash that one.” We didn’t do that at all.
We started fresh. We wanted it fresh, and I think what we got was a great production from Jeff on this one. It’s very powerful. It’s very real. And it sounds really fresh because all the songs are new, and of course, there’s a little bit of everybody on there, but we made it sound like a band instead of just rehashing some old shit that was lying around that we never used. So I’m very happy with it, Mark. It’s turned out great. Couldn’t be happier.
Mark UK: Will it be like so many… What’s the term? Super group albums from Frontiers? Will it just be a one-off studio project or maybe has some sort of longevity?
Robin McAuley: No, we’re looking at continuing and making another record. We’re already talking about what we’ll do different next time because Matt Starr is an amazing singer, not a lot of people know that. He’s got a killer voice. Reb sings. So we probably, we’re already talking about how we’d utilise more of what we each do individually in terms of contributing to songs for another record.
So we’re already thinking ahead. One of the biggest stumbling blocks that we have, of course, is our schedules. And everybody is… The million dollar question is, when are we going to see Black Swan live? And I’m going, “Shit. I don’t even know what’s happening tomorrow, let alone put a tour schedule together.” But in the big picture, of course, that’s the plan at the end of the day. The schedules are crazy.
I head off to Japan with Schenker in early March. Then we have UK shows in April, and then we hit the rest of Europe, so that’s just my schedule. Then you have to look at Reb. Reb doesn’t take a second. He goes from one tour into the next. And Pilson is the same. I think he’s doing Hell Bent for Leather, everybody, till at least September and beyond.
So yeah. If we can make it work, the plan is to make it work. I think so far we’ve had, at classic rock radio here, we’ve had an amazing week where we shot from coming straight in with like 42, and we shot up to number eight yesterday. So the classic rock radio is liking it. They see it as something fresh, something new. And I think when we release the full album on Friday, there’ll be a broader view of how it’s perceived, and maybe it will dictate what we have or have not the opportunity to do. That’s all I can tell you. Who knows, right? You just don’t know.
Mark UK: You mentioned there, obviously, you’re working again with Michael Schenker. I actually have, growing up in the ’80s, I actually have those Perfect Timing and Save Yourself albums. I just wonder how you got back with Michael in terms of working together, even touring together again?
Robin McAuley: Oh, I’ve always done something with Michael. I did a tour with him in 2012 here in the States, and everybody thought that was going to be a McAuley Schenker reunion, and that was never the plan. It was just a tour. And the Namm Show goes on every January here in Southern California, and he’s played many times at that, and he would call me, and he goes, “Hey, you want to do this with me?” And I would do it.
But the direct answer to your question was, about three years ago, maybe almost four years ago now, I had a call from Michael regarding Sweden Rock, and he said, “Look, I have a new idea, and I want to bring in all the original singers, Gary, Graham and yourself. What do you think?” And I went, “Oh my God, this would be awesome.” Didn’t think about it. Went straight for it. We did Sweden Rock Festival. Promoters loved it. They loved the idea and the entire concept of bringing in everybody that was part of the history of Michael Schenker, and it kind of had a domino effect from there. And we’ve been doing it now going into a fourth year.
When we hit Japan this time, we’ll actually be bringing in Simon Phillips, in addition, on drums. One of the earlier bass players was Barry Sparks, who will be coming in, and he’s also, because Ronnie Romero sings with Blackmore, and now I believe Vandenberg as well, he gets the vocals on one of the tracks from the new Revelation album. So he’ll be coming into Japan with us, as well in addition to doing the UK dates. So there’s a lot of people on stage, Mark.
Robin McAuley: And it’s a two and a half hour show, but people just don’t seem to get tired of it, you know? And like everything else, it’ll run its course, and I really think that you’re going to see a lot of other bands doing something very similar since people are running out of ideas. And Schenker was right on the money with this one. And what’s really cool about it is, everybody has a very different phase in terms of not just their career with Michael, but the time. And my time was very much the ’80s with the Leppards and the Whitesnakes and the Wingers and the Warrants and the Ratts and all of that sort of stuff.
And Gary’s was very different as it was in Graham’s period. And Graham never really toured with Michael on Assault Attack. He only did, I think, three shows max. So people are getting to see and hear Graham Bonnet doing Assault Attack music And so it’s a real treat for a lot of people. They’re like, “Oh, shit. This is an opportunity, and we don’t want to miss it.” So it seems to have worked at least to date anyway.
Mark UK: Just looking back to your origins, of course, you originated from Ireland, County Meath. I just wondered how you went from County Meath to actually gracing stages all over the world? Was that a long process or actually quite an easy process?
Robin McAuley: Oh, you know how it is in the pub life in Ireland. You play one pub, and then you play another. Before you know it, you’re going, “Fuck, I’ve played every pub in Ireland.” And where do you go from there, right? So I moved… I went to visit one of my sisters in London in 1983 or something, and I went, “This is kind of cool here. I might stay.”
And she put me up for a while, and I was only there a month or something. And I got approached from a local pub band. And I think I had my first drink of alcohol when I was in London. Bad London. And I ended up singing on stage with this band, not knowing the hell what I was doing because I wasn’t a singer, didn’t want to be a singer. I wanted to be a drummer. They approached me and said, “Hey look, we’re looking for a singer. We want to get rid of the singer we have, and we’d like you to give this a shot, and we rehearse on a Sunday morning if you’re interested.” :
I came in, and I was with that particular pub band for about two and half years. And then I got approached by a bass player and a guitar player, and that spiraled into becoming Grand Prix. And that’s kind of how I got into that whole London scene, if you will. And of course, Grand Prix had the earlier singer who’s now singing with Uriah Heap, Bernie Shaw, and I replaced Bernie, did two records with Grand Prix, and it was fun.
We were doing a warmup in London. Schenker showed up at a show with Cosy Powell and Chris Glen and Andy Nye, and I had a call the next day to come to Schenker rehearsals, and I went, “Can’t do that. I have a tour, and I need to go.” I think we were either with Nils Lofgren or Sammy Hagar. I can’t remember which, and I couldn’t do it at that time, and I got some really bad press, and I always remember Kerrang! magazine saying, “So there’s this young Irish upstart, and he is refusing to join Michael Schenker.”
And ironically enough, I found myself working in Frankfurt with Far Corporation, and we did the remake of Stairway to Heaven, and then I had a call from what would be Michael’s management at that point. He was mentored by Leber-Krebs, who also managed Aerosmith. They contacted me and said, “Hey, it’s been four years since Michael approached you, and he’s approaching you again, and he’s auditioning at Rudolf Studio in Hanover, and we’d love to have you at this.”
Robin McAuley: I really wasn’t interested the second time either, to be honest, but I did. I went in, and I think I was the tail end of 17 singers that had auditioned, and Rudolf and Klaus and the management and Michael, they listened to all 17 audition tapes, and they wanted me in there. And it became, at Michael’s choice, not mine, it became McAuley Schenker. I never was… I was never a party to agreeing with that because I thought changing the name that’s established was never a good idea.
But anyway, long story endless, that’s what they wanted, and it spiralled into McAuley Schenker, and we hit MTV and VH1 here in the States, which was the first time Michael really ever had daytime radio or chart success, whatever it was at that point. And it was a different phase. A lot of people hated it, and a lot of people liked it. And that’s just the way it goes. I tell everybody, “You have to understand. I didn’t write the music. Michael Schenker wrote the music, .. I wrote the lyrics and the melodies, and those lyrics and melodies we had chart success,” whatever that means.
But that’s how it happened, and it was a great time. It was a fun time. It wasn’t the ’70s. It wasn’t Graham’s time. It was the ’80s time, and that’s really, we had a lot of pressure to… If you didn’t get MTV or VH1, you didn’t get the tour. That’s basically how it was. And we did, and we got the tours. We’ve got the Rush. We got the Whitesnakes. We got the Leppards. We’ve got everybody that was big and current. So you know, in as much as how people liked or disliked it, we were still out there. And we’re still going.
Mark UK: Yeah, that’s what I was going to say. You mentioned there all the intensive schedules that you all have. Is it essential that you have to keep going? I mean, or do you not have to really watch your health as you get older with such rigorous/intensive work schedules?
Robin McAuley: Well, let me answer that in a two part. Me getting sick a month ago had actually nothing to do with age. I was packed and ready to leave for the cruise, and the good Catholic Irish boy that I am, we went to church in the morning, came home, we had a family breakfast, and about an hour before I was scheduled to leave for my flight, I got incredibly cold. I had no symptoms. I felt terrific. I got really, really cold, and my body went into total shock. Before I knew it, in a 20-minute window, I’m in the back of an ambulance on my way into the ER. By the end of the day, I was transferred into an ICU unit. I had a temperature of 104 point something. To the end of that ridiculous, awful, unexpected event was that I had somehow contracted the E. coli virus that became a bladder infection that became sepsis and started to poison my blood, and they put me into an ICU unit with a 12-hour critical window.
And my wife’s beside herself. My kids are beside themselves going, “What just happened?” So I would always keep myself pretty healthy, and with a very heavy schedule, it’s your responsibility, in my opinion, to stay healthy. Otherwise, it’s very difficult to just do it. And I have a tendency to just, I’m in forward motion all the time. I don’t think about anything else other than I’m healthy. I can do this. Let’s keep going.
With Rock Vault in Las Vegas, we have amassed some 1500 shows. And that’s a lot of work. We work five nights a week, Saturday through Wednesday, so we’re always cranking. And then we go out with Schenker, so what’s really good about it is, because you sing so much, you’re like an athlete. You’re always in shape. The muscles are good, and you’re always ready to fly. So that’s how I see it. So we have a responsibility. Some people do not take care of themselves, and that really shows.
I’ve been fortunate enough to take really good care of my voice. It’s my instrument, and I can still sing where other people who’ve been doing it as long…
Mark UK: Can’t.?
Robin McAuley: … can’t sing that well. Can’t. And part of my Irish-ness, Mark, is I’m really… I have a stubborn pride to me, and no, I do. And I mean that honestly, because there’s an element of dignity that I attribute to everything. I don’t want people walking into a venue going, “Okay, he sounds like shit. Somebody should talk to him and tell him it’s time to leave by the side door.” And I want to leave before that happens
That’s how I see it. I don’t want to hear it secondhand nature. I don’t want to hear the rumours, the whispers. I’ll make that decision, and I’ll be gone. I’ll be sitting at the bar having a drink, laughing at the fact that I beat you to it, you know?
So that’s how I see it.
Mark UK: Yeah, the reason I asked about your busy schedule, I just wondered if it’s more difficult to survive as a professional musician in 2020 compared to how it was in the ’80s when money was generated in different forms, different ways? I just wondered if it was more difficult for you.
Robin McAuley: I mean, I think you kind of answered that yourself. Back in… I hate saying back in the day because it puts a time factor on it. Let’s just put it like this. When the record companies had more control over the artists, there was a lot more money involved. There was a lot more big touring budgets involved, and the artists, whoever they may be, would go out and headline a show, and then you’d have a sub band that would be the opener act.
Now, you have to put a package deal together. You have to put all great bands together to make it pay. The advances are not as lucrative as they used to be. So you have cruises, and you have big package tours unless, of course, with the exception of the likes of Guns N’ Roses, which is still phenomenal, and your Leppards and et cetera. So on a broad spectrum there are a handful, if that, a handful of bands who can paddle their own canoe.
But for the most part, there has to be these package deals, and it is different now because the record companies are not as, I don’t want to say governing, but they don’t hold all the cards anymore. So much comes out of your home. So much comes out of home production, excellent home production, home studios. So we don’t play with the big guys anymore, which is why you have a lot of sub labels doing amazing work. Bands have to work harder, I think. Up-and-coming bands, at any rate, it’s a lot more difficult to get the breaks, but way back then, there were still a lot of bands who would just get into a van and just go out and do their shit. You know?
That still goes on with the younger bands. Just, it’s a hard road. You have to love what you do, that’s for sure, if you want to keep doing it, and the better you are, you’ll retain that… God, I hate to say this, but you retain that sort of respect level because people are very… It’s so easy these days to go, “Oh, God, dude, enough.” You know? And there’s some people who just don’t give up, and they should.
Robin McAuley: But that said, we do all get older, and with that comes a frailty, if you will. Some of us hold it better than others. And I don’t mean to be conceited when I say that, but that’s just the way it is. You know? :
I don’t know if that answered your question.
Mark UK: It did-thanks You have. Just a couple of questions then, to finish, who would be the most influential musician that you have worked with, somebody that’s maybe taught you the most?
Robin McAuley: Oh, God. I learned a lot from producers. When we did the Save Yourself album, Frank Filipetti was our producer who did Korn, and he did a lot of the Carl King stuff, and he did a lot of the Cat Stevens solo stuff, came from a very, very eclectic, yet he did all of the Foreigner stuff all the way up through 4, to 4 and More, and so he would talk to me about how he would do things on their production. He taught me a great deal about writing lyrics. Write them in the first person not in the third person, which I used to have a horrendous habit of doing.
And he goes, “Make it more personable. People will believe it more.” I learned a lot from him. You know, if you’ve worked with Michael Schenker, and he’s one of the greatest guitar players of the face of the planet. Growing up in Ireland, my go-to music was Motown. I listened to so much Motown. One of my sons today, daily, gets up, and he’s ready for college, and he has a playlist as long as I am old. And that’s what I hear every single morning. He just loves his Motown.
While by contrast, my other son, Casey, who actually also sang backup vocals in about four or five tracks of the Black Swan record, he’s got a killer voice, and he’s a great guitar player. He likes to shred. And he likes to shred really loud. So I loved Motown. I was a big Paul Rodgers fan like everybody else was. I’m sure there isn’t a singer on the planet who doesn’t brings his name up in conversation. But you know, I take right out of Motown because of those great melodies and those great memorable lyrics. And when I heard Paul Rodgers sing, I’m going, “Wow, a white boy with soul and great melodies and great lyrics, stuff that you remember, and guitarists that were equally as good as the hook lines in the song.”
And I was a massive Thin Lizzy fan. I saw Thin Lizzy when I was 12 years of age, with Eric Bell in the band, and I think there was about a dozen, myself included, of kids fitting cross-legged in a little club in the town of Navan in County Meath. And the next time I wanted to see Thin Lizzy, I couldn’t get within a half a mile of the venue.
Robin McAuley: And then, here I am as a nobody child, and years later, I actually got to perform and record with Brian Robertson and Scott Gorham in two different projects. And I’m going, “How can this happen? How can this even the possible?” I spoke to Brian Downey at one point because we had a view, but they weren’t doing anything, of getting him into the first version of McAuley Schenker. And I actually spoke to him, and I went, “So…” Oh my God. I have been blessed as this kid with no assets from the South of Ireland. I’ve been blessed with working with some of the most amazing people and musicians in the industry to date, and I don’t take any of that lightly. It’s been a great blessing, and thankful and grateful, Mark. That’s all I say.
Mark UK:Just a final one then. I just wonder, you mentioned there about dreams and things that you’ve achieved in the business. I just wondered if you still had any career goals you’ve still to achieve. Maybe some things that you’ve still to fulfill in the music business, or have you ticked all those boxes?
Robin McAuley: Well one of these days, and by telling you now, if somebody listens, they’ll go, “Oh I need to do that.” I was a big Rod Stewart and the Faces fan. I love that. That’s really my style of music, my voice suits that kind of music. I like it to be really stripped down. I love the whole inclusion of the violin, and mandolin, and I love that sort of the eclectic sound, and I want to make a record like that, and I… Before I… On my way to the cemetery, I’ll probably. No, I’ve got a couple of those, too. Yeah, I would like to make a record for myself of that kind of material. I have a bunch of material very similar to that that I wrote with different people from all over the country here, and it never saw the light of day.
And I went, “One of these days, years, I’ll actually put something like that out.” Goals-wise, it’s not really a goal. I’m a big family man. I love my wife and kids, and I love my home time, and that really keeps me centred. At the end of the day, music’s music. But outside of the music industry, I’m a homebody. I love my home, and I enjoy staying home. I love to work, but when I’m in the house for more than a week, it’s like you have to get a tractor trailer to get me out of there.
So I’m blessed with being able to split it up. My wife goes, “You’re bored. You need to go sing.” And she reads me like a book. She goes, “You have to do this because this is what you do, and I’ll see you in a month.” Yeah. And that takes a lot of understanding. It really does, and I don’t like being away from them. But it’s just called making bacon, I guess. Right?
Mark Uk: Yeah. Robin, that’s great. I’m all out of time, though. Thank you very much for talking to me.
Robin McAuley: That’s all. Listen, where are you Mark? Where are you? Where are you located?
Mark UK: Well, obviously, I’m in Manchester at the moment, UK, but obviously, my roots are Northern Ireland.
Robin McAuley: Excellent. Very good. Well, thank you for your time. I appreciate you talking to me.
Mark UK: Thank you very much. Bye.
And there you have it! Go pick up a copy of “Shake The World” by Black Swan and check out the video for the title track below!
Fans can find Mark Dean at the following locations:
- Photo Credit: Frontiers Management