I had the pleasure of speaking with Jeff Jones from Saint Elmo’s Fire a few days ago:
- What inspired the name of the band, and where do you draw you rinfluences from?
Back in 1978 when the band first started my singer and co-founder of St. Elmo’s, Tim Allwein, saw the name in the book “Moby Dick”The term “St. Elmo’s Fire” actually describes a natural phenomenon that occurs during electrical storms at sea. In ancient times sailors feared it and thought it was a bad omen because it made ship masts glow a bluish color. We thought the name would we perfect for a metal band.
Influences? There are many for different reasons. But I would say as far as bands go it would be Judas Priest. In my opinion Priest wrote the metal bible. They had everything, killer vocals, killer songs and KK Downing and Tipton who played off each other perfectly. Motorhead was another. Lemmy took the heavy metal attitude to a whole other level of intensity.
My guitar player influences you might be surprised at. The first guitarist I saw that made me want to this was Glen Campbell. I know that seems weird but that guy before he was a pop star was a studio musician and was off the hook good! I saw him on TV and that was it. I had to be a guitarist.
Another guy was Terry Kath. He was in Chicago. He could tear it up as well but was more bluesy. I read a old interview years ago with Jimi Hendrix who said the same thing. According the only guy he was afraid of was Kath. That really tells you something.
As you can tell I wasn’t really influenced by the usual suspects of Page, Clapton, Beck, Hendrix, etc…They never really excited me that much.
Later on I really admired Michael Schenker. He is melodic and tasty as hell! I think you can hear that influence in our new album “Evil Never Sleeps”. Especially on tracks like “Across The Nations”, “I Begin”, “Betrayer” and the solos in “Rise”, “We Will Not Die” and “Hammer”.
- What’s changed since you started out in the music industry? And what’s changed for the band since then?
So many things are different now. First off all the whole recording process has changed. When my career first began I recorded the basic tracks on 2 inch wide analog tape. And the entire band would be in different isolation booths with windows so we could see each other behind the glass. We all played at the same time but separated by different rooms. A very unnatural environment for a band who were used to performing on the same stage.
Our first album in 1986 “St. Elmo’s Fire”, “Warning From The Sky” in 1988, “Powerdrive” in 1990 and “Desperate Years” in 1992 were all done this way. But our new album “Evil Never Sleeps” it was recorded entirely digitally with ProTools. Computers instead of tape recorders.
Mixing was different as well. Back in the day you would record 1 or 2 different final mixes because of the expense of tape. Now you can have 100 final mixes if you want and walk out of the studio with your whole album on a flash drive. Before a artist was limited by how many seperate tracks you could record on. The industry standard back in the day was 24. Now its virtually unlimited.
As for the band, the changes are most notably in the lineup. Part of the reason it took St. Elmo’s Fire so long to release anything was there was no band! Just me. I was involved in other projects, writing, performing and playing on other artists records. Elmo took a back seat for a long time. Much too long as it turned out. That’s when Stefan and Andreas from Pure Steel Records entered into the picture. They contacted me about reissuing the previous four St. Elmo’s Fire studio albums as limited editions for their “Heavy Metal Classics” series on Karthago Records. As part of the deal they wanted to release a new Elmo album. That was back in 2015.
The story from there was to put the band back together. Since getting the original members was not possible for a variety of reasons, I thought of different musicians I knew that would fit into a new version of St. Elmo’s Fire. So after a lot of work I arrived at the band as it is now. Which is Tom Frost, my drummer and co-producer. I had performed and recorded with Tom before as well as bassist Chris Stringari. Very talented guys as you can hear from the album. The missing piece was of course finding a vocalist. And that can be very tricky because in a lot of ways the singer is the most identifiable and recognizable part of any band. I was lucky enough to find Kevin Brady. He was the most important piece of the Elmo puzzle. Without his voice fitting perfectly, the Elmo ship doesn’t sail. All of these new guys are the finest most humble human beings you can imagine. It made recording this album the most satisfying and fun thing I’ve ever done. So here we are in 2018 with “Evil Never Sleeps”.
- Talk us through the writing and inspiration for the new album.
After I signed the deal with Pure Steel in July of 2014 I started thinking seriously about the new album. Writing for me always begins with the music. I never have lyrics first because I find it impossible to write music around words. Its got to be the other way around. I recorded guitar chord riffs for several weeks. A lot of them. I record everything because sometimes a really cool chord change or riff will just happen out of the blue and if I don’t record it right then I might forget it. I call it capturing “lightning in a bottle”. It truly is magic when that happens. So a lot of what you hear on the “Evil Never Sleeps” album are a lot of those moments fashioned into entire songs. Sometimes as the riffs come together I start getting ideas of melody lines that will fit. Just rough ideas. At that point I demo each song with guitars drums and bass without words or melody just to get a vibe of the entire piece. If it rocks I take it to the next step. If not, it gets tossed away like musical garbage.
“Rise” was the song that came together first. I wanted a track that was fast with a lot of changes in it. So I focused on that. After that there were three songs that I wrote within a week. I have no idea why but they just appeared in my head. Those were “Across The Nations”, “I Begin” and “We Will Not Die” I had some of the riffs already but when I played them together they came out as complete songs. Including the melody lines.
The lyrical theme on the “Evil Never Sleeps” album is pretty simple. As I get older I look at the world less in ideological terms and more in realistic ways. Basically it is this. I believe that evil is a tangible thing. It is alive and can take control of one single individual or millions. Look back in history or look at the world now. Terrorism, mass shootings, nuclear threats. The list is long. “Doomsday” is a reflection of that. Seemingly good people or societies can succumb to it almost overnight. It is a simple question of right or wrong. We should know what that means. Right is not harming or killing another person. Wrong is the exact opposite. Unfortunately we know humanity has always struggled with this. Good people don’t want to think about evil in their lives until they are forced to and realize that it’s darkness has surrounded them. The opening track “We Will Not Die” is about that.
It affects morality, religion, politics, socio-economic levels, race and nation states. Almost anything or anyone. And the only way evil can be defended against is by standing firm against it. Because evil never dies, because “Evil Never Sleeps”.
Music, like other art forms, often uses analogous props to gets a point across. “Evil Never Sleeps’ does that with Sci-fi concepts which have always appealed to me.
Basically,the songs are a warning and calls to action. For good and decent people to not look the other way when it threatens. Music is a strong motivator and hopefully this album will resonate with people.
- What plans do you have for the future?
Well in the near future I would like to do another album depending on how this one is received. Hopefully it won’t take another 25 years to put out the next one! We shall see.
And thanks very much on behalf of St. Elmo’s Fire for the opportunity to do this interview. Cheers.