John Lodge, bass guitarist and singer-songwriter of The Moody Blues, chats with Kevin Cooper about his love of vinyl records, Birmingham City Football Club, the forthcoming Moody Blues Tour and the release of his second solo album 10,000 Light Years Ago.
John Lodge is an English musician, best known as bass guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter of the longstanding rock group, The Moody Blues. His prolific songwriting has earned him many awards including ASCAP song writing awards for Isn’t Life Strange and I’m Just A Singer (In A Rock And Roll Band). Having penned a large number of songs, their hits have included Answers and Nights In White Satin.
Having released his first solo album, Natural Avenue, over 38 years ago, he has now released his second, 10,000 Light Years Ago, which has seen him reunited with Ray Thomas and Mike Pinder.
Whilst going into the recording studio to rehearse for The Moody Blue’s forthcoming tour, he took time out to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.
Hi John how are you?
I’m fine thank you Kevin, and you?
I’m very well thank you, and let me just thank you for taking the time to speak to me today.
No, thank you for the interview Kevin.
So I have to ask how is life treating you?
Life is treating me great thank you very much. I am excited about the new album 10, 000 Light Years Ago of course and I am also excited about the forthcoming Moody Blues tour. And yes, everything is great thank you Kevin.
I have been listening to the album for the last two weeks and I absolutely love it.
Thank you very much Kevin, thank you.
My favourite track at the moment is Those Days In Birmingham; I think that it is superb.
(Laughter) strangely enough Kevin that is becoming one of my favourites too. It is very strange when you record an album. Somehow you have to wait so that you become not a part of the album so that you can listen to it both subjectively and objectively. You have to totally change your listening pattern because when you are recording the album you are forever asking yourself did I play that right and did I get that right. You are never listening to it as a whole piece. It is really strange for me to say this but I am really starting now to understand Those Days In Birmingham (laughter).
So what was the inspiration behind you recording your second solo album, 10,000 Light Years Ago?
Well Kevin it was all down to the resurgence in vinyl; it is making a huge come-back. It got me excited about recording again. I have got a great vinyl collection and it’s not just to look at. I play my vinyl all of the time. I have got everything else as well obviously, a CD player, MP3 player, but there is something really special about playing a vinyl record. You play your vinyl collection to your mates (laughter). Friends come over to see me and I say listen to this, and you put the needle on, and bang, bang, bang comes through my great JBL speakers. You don’t have to turn them up really loud because the quality of the sound is so good.
I know what you mean John, its warm isn’t it.
Yes you are right Kevin, it’s warm and it’s deep. I try to explain this to people; being a bass player, to double the volume of a bass you have got to go from 200 watts to 400 watts whereas to double the volume of a guitar you only have to go from 10 watts to 20 watts. And that is what is wrong with downloads and CD’s because when you turn it up the whole lot goes up the same, and everything becomes disproportionate.
I hadn’t appreciated this until recently and please do correct me if I am wrong but isn’t the quality of a bass on a vinyl album all down to the depth of the cut of the groove?
That’s right Kevin. In order to get it sounding as you would like it to sound you really do have to use 180gm vinyl. You can only have about 35 minutes on a vinyl album, that’s all. If you have any more than that then you start losing the quality. It is all down to the depth of the groove. If you ever have a look at a modern amplifier you will find a button called loudness. The reason they have got that is when you turn the volume up everything gets louder but if you turn it down, you lose the bass so you have to press that loudness button to get some bass back out. However if you have got to do that, you know that it is not the natural bass coming off that music. You will find yourself listening to the bass that has been added by the technician that has built the equipment.
I’ve just had an idea John, why don’t we all go back to Mono.
(Hysterical laughter) what a splendid idea Kevin (laughter).
I just have this vision of the kids of today saying to their friends come and look at my MP3 collection. It just doesn’t work for me.
(Laughter) It’s just impossible Kevin. I was sitting with someone who asked me if I had heard a particular guitar riff and I found myself sitting with earbuds on (laughter). And then I found myself listening to a book (laughter). They have no idea.
What was it like to be back recording with Ray (Thomas) and Mike (Pinder)?
It was great because I first met Ray when I was 14 years old. We actually started a band, El Riot And The Rebels back in the 60’s and we used to dress in Mexican outfits (laughter). I remember that we went along to Dunns the hat-makers in the centre of Birmingham and we had sombrero’s made (laughter). What you have to remember Kevin is that in those days it was all Johnny Kidd And The Pirates, Nero And The Gladiators; everyone was dressing up and you had to have a gimmick I suppose. We even came up to Nottingham and played a few gigs there.
Ray and I have spent our musical lives together right up until he stopped touring with The Moody Blues around ten years ago now. It is very strange for me not to see Ray on stage. Ray lives just around the corner from me and we still keep in touch; we even share the same doctors (laughter). So when I had written the acoustic song Simply Magic for my grandson, when I was playing it and making the demo I thought to myself this is a flute part. So I rang Ray up, told him about the song and asked him if he would record it with me, with him playing the flute.
So I went round to Ray’s and we went into his studio to record the song and out of the blue Ray asked me if I had thought about asking Mike to play on the song. Well I hadn’t spoken to Mike for a few years as he now lives in California. So I called Mike; asked him if he would play on this song for me and he said yes, of course. I immediately sent him over the files and Mike put the Mellotron on. It was great because we had just played a concert in San Jose, California and Mike came along with his family, and it was great.
For me it completed a circle, the album 10,000 Light Years Ago is all about who I am today and what brought me here. And both Ray and Mike are an integral part of that. So for them to be part of it was absolutely brilliant.
Just picking up on something that you said about sending Mike the files. Isn’t that a lot easier than getting on a plane with the master tapes?
It is Kevin but also when you get on a plane with the master tapes you are scared stiff. You have to try to explain to the staff when you are going through the x-ray machines at the airport that it could very easily deteriorate something; you just never know what is going on. Also when you get there, you suddenly realise that the tapes are not quite compatible with the machine that you are going to record on (laughter). But now days with files it is brilliant as the files are exactly what you have recorded.
Plus they can be all around the world in an instant.
Totally Kevin, the files go all around the world in seconds. I made the whole album like that with files. What I did when I put the whole album together, I wanted to make it sound like a group, like a band. So I got the four people who I wanted together, and they all have their own recording studios, so they all recorded their parts in their own studios, which allowed them to create their part for each song. I then went to The Mix Factory in Florida for three weeks where I mixed everything and put on the bass parts together with my vocals.
The engineer there is a really old-fashioned engineer, a guy called Doug who is absolutely brilliant, who put the whole album through the studio outboard equipment which is very analog and it allowed us to put the warmth back into the files. It allowed us to record the album exactly how I wanted to Kevin, it really does sound like a band.
Having said all of that John, the one criticism that I would make is that recording an album on files and sending them around the world is now depriving us of seeing some great duets being recorded by two great artists together in the recording studio. All that they do now is record their vocals and mail them to each other (laughter).
(Hysterical laughter) I do know what you mean Kevin. What I did was record all of my vocals in the studio in Florida together with Alan Hewitt, the keyboard player for The Moody Blues who is also a singer, and Brian Howe (Bad Company). We were doing live vocals there in the studio, firing off one another, and it was just great. It is really important to get the vibration going vocally Kevin. If you do all of the vocals yourself the timbre, the way your voice vibrates, is the same whether you are singing tenor or bass. It doesn’t vibrate against each other, whereas if you have got three different people singing together it vibrates differently, and for me you get a much better tone, a more beautiful tone.
Now John, don’t shoot me but I have to ask, why has it taken 38 years for you to release your second album?
(Laughter) I honestly believe that if The Moody Blues hadn’t have gone back into the studios after I had recorded Natural Avenue, I think that I would have recorded another solo album. However I released Natural Avenue and then The Moody Blues went back into the studio and we recorded the Octave album. What you have to remember is that first and foremost Kevin I am John Lodge of The Moody Blues, which is who I am. All of my song writing was centred through The Moody Blues so every time that I was writing songs we were making a new album. It was just perfect for me, in that I could write a song, record it with the Moody’s and there it was on The Moody Blues album.
I never felt the need to actually change from being a Moody Blue and doing any solo recording. It is only because The Moody Blues haven’t recorded for over ten years now that I suppose the frustration set in and I really would have liked to have made a new album, and I suddenly realised that in the natural order of things, the album was going to be my own album (laughter).
When you are writing, do you have two distinct hats, a Moody Blues hat and a John Lodge hat?
Well Kevin I normally do but for this album I didn’t in a way. Although the album is about who I am today, I had this theme running through my mind for a long time that the future is always in reach but the past has gone forever. And so that is what I wanted to write and I thought to myself what on earth does that mean (laughter). I had to think what it meant to me, and I suddenly realised what it was is that you can’t go back to the past, and that is why I have never wanted to write a book about what we have done or what I have done. I am not really interested in what I did in the past Kevin.
What is interesting to me is what has happened in the past that has made me who I am today together with all of my musical influences. So I wrote the songs for the album in exactly the same way that I would write songs for a Moody Blues album, with the exception that I have written a lot more (laughter). I think that these songs would have been exactly the same had I have written them for a Moody Blues album.
On that point are there any thoughts on The Moody Blues recording a new album?
The problem is Kevin that it is a time factor and you need far more things than just The Moody’s wanting to do it. You need a record company who are really excited about your music. You need a publisher who is also really excited about your music. The reason why everything worked with 10,000 Light Years Ago for me is that Cherry Red approached me because initially they were wanting to re-release Natural Avenue on vinyl. It was at that point that I got excited when they were talking vinyl as that was the route down which I wanted to go.
With regard to The Moody Blues, we tour so much, we play so many live concerts, that to get everyone in the studio at the same time is a task within itself and to be honest Kevin, recording now is not as it was. Recording now days all tends to be carried out in the control room and that is not where I want to be. I want to be in the studio, playing live with other people. I don’t really want to be in a control room with the producer looking over my shoulder, or an engineer or an assistant engineer, or other people popping in with numerous cups of coffee while I am trying to be creative (laughter).
When you approach recording a song you really want to approach it and think how would I do this that no one else would think about doing (laughter). If you have other people chirping in with ideas it is just so distracting. I would really like to make another Moody Blues album but how we will do it, I simply don’t know.
After all of these years, do you still get a buzz out of touring?
I really do still enjoy touring Kevin, I wouldn’t do it otherwise. I really do have that card in my top pocket, have bass will travel (laughter). I am not a Jazz person but I turned up at a Jazz club once and the band was playing and one of the guys came up to me and asked me if I would like to join in. I said that I would love to and so I did (laughter). I have been doing this since I was 14 years old and it is who I am. However I must say that I do not like being away from home. I’m also not a big fan of the travelling but one of the perks is being in different places and exploring them. I am a bit of a gypsy really. That part of the job is fantastic Kevin, I really do enjoy that. I have even taken friends with me a few years ago to see Robin Hood in Nottingham (laughter). It is just so good to be able to explore everywhere, which is definitely one of the perks.
You joined The Moody Blues in 1966. Could you ever have envisaged that you would still be as relevant today?
No Kevin, I had no idea, absolutely none whatsoever. I didn’t even think about it to be honest. When Ray (Thomas) called me I was at college in Birmingham studying engineering. Ray asked me if I had finished college, and when I told him that I had, he simply said, well are you going to join the band now (laughter) and that was it really. So I went down to London, met up with Ray, Mike (Pinder) and Graeme (Edge) who I knew from a band called Gerry Levene And The Avengers, and then I met Justin (Hayward). Ray then informed me that we didn’t have any gigs booked but suggested that we just make some music and that is basically what we did.
We just sat down together and started writing our own songs. We never ever thought that we would be successful; we hadn’t even got a recording contract (laughter). We hadn’t got a record contract at all, we were just writing the songs to perform on stage. Then when Decca approached us to record an album we had all of these songs written and ready to go which was just brilliant (laughter).
What has been the highlight of your career so far?
There have been so many Kevin, honestly I wouldn’t like to pick any one. I will go left-wing on this, having my family excited about my career.
I have to ask you, do you still get time to go and watch Birmingham City?
I try to Kevin, I call up Jasper (Carrott) who is my mate and tell him that I am going up to watch Birmingham City. I am a total Birmingham City fan. The greatest moment was when we beat Arsenal to win the League Cup in 2011. My wife bought me a fantastic book; it is the history of Birmingham City and is full of press cuttings. It is all press cuttings right from the day that Birmingham City were formed, and it is a brilliant book Kevin. I have supported Birmingham City since I was nine years of age. I have to tell you that all of my family are Aston Villa fans (laughter). My father was born just outside Villa Park and used to take me when I was really small.
Then one day when I was about nine years of age I went with a friend of mine, Harold Brunton, to watch Birmingham City and when I walked into the ground I felt that this was the team for me. What makes you want to support another team, I have no idea, but I did and I have supported them ever since. We have never really had any success Kevin which is a shame because Birmingham is England’s second city and it should have major football. What can I say, I am just a Birmingham fan (laughter).
Well Nottingham Forest took two of your better players from you, Trevor Francis and Kenny Burns.
That’s right Kevin, you did. Kenny Burns was a brilliant player. That’s what seems to happen at Birmingham, we get great players come along and then they disappear. They all leave us but I don’t know why. Perhaps someone put a spell on the Railway End Stand at the ground and we have been trying to get rid of that spell for years now Kevin but it hasn’t gone.
On that note John, I will thank you for taking the time to speak to me.
Thank you very much Kevin, all the best to you. And keep that vinyl going. Bye.