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Robin McAuley Comes Alive
The legendary Irish vocalist sounds energized and vibrant on his latest solo album.
Thank you for spending part of your day with Michael’s Record Collection. It’s always great to catch up with an artist I’ve previously interviewed to see what they are up to now and further build a working relationship. I recently had the pleasure of catching up with Irish vocalist Robin McAuley, who is best known for his work in the McAuley Schenker Group (MSG) from the mid-1980s to early 1990s. You may recall that I spoke to him last March when his new band, Black Swan, released its fantastic sophomore album, Generation Mind.
Robin is back with a new solo album, Alive, coming February 17. It’s Robin’s second solo album in three years, and with the two Black Swan releases, it makes four new records in as many years.
Let’s get to that story.
Robin McAuley just turned 70 years old on Jan. 20, but the legendary Irish vocalist still sings with more power and hits higher notes than most 20-somethings. He is also in the midst of one of his busiest periods of his life as a recording artist.
This February will mark his sixth consecutive year with a new album and his fourth straight that is either a solo release or one by the super group Black Swan, which he fronts. He was also a featured performer on several tracks on Michael Schenker Fest albums in 2018 and 2019 (Resurrection and Revelation, respectively).
McAuley is back with his second solo album in three years, with Alive set to drop on Feb. 17 from Frontiers Music (two tracks are already available on the streaming sites). Although the title might suggest a live album, it is a studio release. However, with the reception his records have gotten in recent years, he may be able to release a live album after doing some shows later in 2023.
The County Meath, Ireland native is in a nice album-release rhythm at the moment after alternating Black Swan and solo albums each year since 2020. Those releases have been stunning in terms of quality and consistency, and the new record is sure to appeal to anyone who has enjoyed those last three albums. Once again, McAuley’s distinctive voice soars over melodic, heavy rock songs played by amazing musicians.
Robin’s band isn’t made up of household names, but they are all incredibly gifted. Guitarist Andrea Seveso should be a big name, because he plays as well as just about any well-known guitar hero in the genre. Alessandro Del Vecchio is masterful on both bass and keyboards. Nicholas Papapicco pounds the drums with power and precision.
Two teams of songwriters presented McAuley with demos and the singer picked the ones he liked most.
“Alessandro (Del Vecchio) sent me a bucket load of songs from new writers involved with him this time, and then Ulrich Lundquist and Pete Alpenborg (Arctic Rain) from Sweden were also involved like they were on the first one, and they sent me a bucket of songs,” McAuley explained. “And, of course, everybody goes ‘Pick my song! Pick my song!’ So, out of the barrel of songs that they send me, I pick 12 and I let Alessandro know what I’m going to work on. I write all the lyrics, all the melodies. I do my demos and I send back the roughs and go ‘What do you think?’ And I usually give it an order listing, so I think there’s sort of a thread, a cohesiveness through it. I record the vocals here in L.A.”
McAuley doesn’t keep notebooks full of lyrical ideas he’s scribbled down as they entered his mind. His method is to keep a blank slate and then to simply listen repeatedly to a song until an idea emerges. He records constantly during that time and eventually starts to lay down some melodies with scat vocals that evolve into a story to build the lyrics around. He spends hours on each track to come up with strong vocal melodies and lyrics that fit and hang together.
For Alive, McAuley wanted to make the songs a little edgier than his previous solo album, 2021’s Standing on the Edge, while keeping the same modern production values.
The title track kicks off the album and is an obvious single. It opens with a beautiful piano intro. Those keys can be heard throughout, but a crunchy guitar riff soon kicks in, with a heavy bass and drum sound. McAuley provides his usual standout vocal, doubled with his own harmony line throughout. It represents melodic rock at its finest and showcases the backing musicians. Seveso is particularly impressive — not only on “Alive” but throughout the record.
“‘Alive’ came together pretty early on in the writing,” McAuley said. “It’s a positive message. It’s about resilience, really. It’s like, ‘Throw the kitchen sink at me. Do all of this, and all of this, and all of this, but in the end we will light this place up, because we will come through it.’ That’s really what it’s about.”
“Dead as a Bone” is a mid-tempo rocker that begins with a heavy riff and features a fantastic guitar solo from Seveso in the back half of the song that shows his incredible chops. McAuley said the serious subject matter in the song about the homeless population in Los Angeles surfaced in his mind during the midterm elections.
“There was just something about the structure of the music that just kept harping on me about…imagine all of these homeless people,” he said. “They all have a mom. They all have a dad. What happens to these poor, unfortunate people that die on the street in a tent, in a gully, in a wash? What happens to them? Where do they go? Who takes care of them? Who’s the first guy that gets called? Does anybody know that person isn’t here anymore? And I started getting myself all wound up and into that rabbit hole. And I’m going, ‘Oh my God.’ And then I started thinking is there a mom or a dad or a brother or a sister somewhere with their head on a pillow tonight going, ‘I wonder where my brother is. I wonder where my sister is. I wonder where my mom, my dad, my son, my daughter’…and I’m just going ‘Why am I even thinking about this kind of stuff?’ But I did, and then ‘Dead as a Bone’ came out as a result of it.”
The song strips away all the music at the end and finishes dramatically with McAuley’s isolated vocal. It’s a powerful moment on the album.
Speaking of McAuley’s vocals, “Bless Me Father” features some of his best work. He shows he’s not just all power as he lays down a gorgeous melody line in the verses of the song.
The album’s second single, “Feel Like Hell,” begins with an opening riff intro and then some hefty, deep vocal chants (“WHO….ARE…WE…AHHHHH!”) that feature McAuley’s son Casey helping fill them out. There’s another sing-along chorus and another killer solo from Seveso, while Del Vecchio and Papapicco keep a driving rhythm going. The song’s video dropped the day I spoke with McAuley and he was checking online comments between doing press interviews
“In and out between interviews, the response has been amazing for that too,” he said. “So, I’m in a good place. I feel, ‘Man, I could do more of this!’”
As with any melodic record worth its salt, Alive features a power ballad. “Can’t Go On” arrives in the middle of the record to provide some variety. The song has a huge, anthemic chorus and is one of my favorite moments on the record. McAuley said he believes that track will become the third single, dropping on the album’s release day.
“It’s just a beautiful melody that came to me. I just love the track,” McAuley said.
My favorite Papapicco drum moment on the record might be the intro to the song “The Endless Mile.” It kicks the octane back up for the album’s second half.
“Fading Away” has an infectious guitar riff. Seveso’s playing — both with the riff and the solo — is ridiculously good. McAuley has been blessed to have worked with some of the most talented guitarists (notably, former UFO axe man Michael Schenker, former Heart guitarist Howard Leese, and Reb Beach from Winger and Whitesnake), but Seveso can hang with any of them and his work complements McAuley’s voice well.
One of the tracks McAuley himself singled out as one of his favorites is “My Only Son,” which is lyrically based on the macabre, true story about American con artist and convicted murderer Sante Kimes, who enslaved immigrants and domestic workers.
“‘My Only Son’ is actually a real story about a real woman who had an incestuous love affair with one of her sons,” McAuley said. “I love crime movies. And so I decided to read up on the whole thing and I went, ‘Wow, this is a good storyline,’ because I'm usually down the vampire hole or something.”
McAuley’s affinity for dark stories is apparent without even hearing the album, as the cover and interior artwork by Enzo Mazzeo is based on Frankenstein and crackles with electrical energy — much like the music on Alive.
The back half of the album doesn’t let up. “When the Time Has Come” is another strong rock song with more audio pyrotechnics from Seveso. “Stronger than Before” is a driving rocker with thunderous drumming.
Closing track “Who I Am” ends the proceedings on another high note as a declarative statement from McAuley, and it leaves the listener wanting to go back and start the record over again — the sign of an excellent album. Alive is definitely one of those, and is sure to be among my favorite rock releases of 2023.
McAuley sounds energized both on this well-produced album and when talking about it. It’s amazing to see an artist who has had such an accomplished career, which includes a Las Vegas residency that lasted seven years and nearly 1,500 shows as part of Raiding the Rock Vault, enjoying such a burst of creativity and quality. Alive is an album full of songs that deserve to be played to packed festival crowds and in sold-out arenas.
“I mean, if nobody was listening, I wouldn’t be here,” McAuley said. “I’m not taking it lightly. I really do appreciate it. I love the way the songs came out and I can’t talk enough about Andrea Seveso’s guitar playing because he’s just killing it.”
Find out more about Robin’s work at www.RobinMcAuley.com.
Dead as a Bone
Bless Me Father
Feel Like Hell
Can’t Go On
The Endless Mile
My Only Son
When the Time Has Come
Stronger than Before
Who I Am
For my full interview with Robin McAuley about the new album, check out the video below or download or stream Episode 95 of the Michael’s Record Collection podcast. Robin was a little more pressed for time for this interview than last time, so you can always go back and check out my previous chat with him on Episode 56 to get more of his background. Among the topics we discussed this time around was that he is going to get to do some live shows to showcase some of his Black Swan and solo work from the last few years, as well as when we might see the release of the next Black Swan album.
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