Mike Ross is quite simply an artist you need in your life.
He may probably better known to some as a member of powerhouse trio RHR, but since his maiden voyage in the solo world with 2014’s ‘Spindrift’, he has been consistently raising the bar when it comes to muggy Blues Rock and attitude filled Southern Soul.
Words: Brian Boyle
His new release ‘The Clovis Limit Part 2’ is yet another masterclass in what the Durham native does best.
We caught up with Mike to find out more about the path to Part 2.
MetalTalk: Excellent new album. For example, I love the Southern Jab of ‘None Of Your Business’, the Soul injection of ‘The Loser’ and sloppy and sweaty dirty blues of ‘The Only Place You Ever Take Me Is Down’……. you must be pleased with the end result?
Mike Ross: “Thanks very much. Yes, I’m over the moon with the reception the new material has been getting.
“I put a shit tonne of work into every single part of this record so it’s been brilliant to see it going down so well with everyone. Well worth the effort!”
How would you describe the writing process and development for the album? Is it part of an overarching concept you had when writing Part 1?
“Well, I didn’t set out with a grand concept as such, but I had a massive amount of material I had been stockpiling over 18 moths of touring – everything from complete songs with arrangements and stuff intact, to odd bits of chords, melodies and lyrics that I’d captured here, there and everywhere, by recording them into my phone or whatever.
“I sat down with that lot and once I’d been through it all I ended up with about 30 finished demos.
“Ten of them went on Clovis 1 and most of the rest make up Clovis 2 and my songs on the RHR album ‘Mahogany Drift’.”
How are the stories and music linked between Part One and Part Two?
“I’d say they’re more like different sides of the same coin really. Part 1 was recorded in Nashville and has much more of a rootsy Americana vibe, with laid back songs and arrangements. The focus is on the storytelling and the instrumentation is much less electric guitar-centric.
“Part 2 is the full on southern rocker that’s a lot more edgy and the songs have more of a feeling of anger and frustration, which I suppose was inevitable, given that I wrote all the songs over a short space of time immediately post Brexit, Trump in the White House etc.
“These are troubling times to live through and I wanted to reflect that without picking a specific ‘side,’ bypassing the actual events and trying to connect with the underlying emotions, so that whichever side of the fence you’re on you would be able to connect with the feel of the music, without having to agree with my personal political leanings or whatever. And there are tonnes of red hot guitars all over TCL2!
“Taken together the different styles and moods of the two records construct, to me, a kind of reality that reflects my whole personality as a musician and songwriter. One minute it’s all clanking Rolling Stones rhythm guitars, the next it’s a Steve Earle redneck rocker, topped off with Bon Scott and Neil Young jamming with Alice In Chains!
“I have future plans to combine both records, with a revised playing order, as tracks on a radio show called ‘The Clovis Continuum’. Maybe….”
The first two singles pulled from ‘The Clovis Limit Part 2’ will give you a quick synopsis of what this guy is all about.
The Southern jab of ‘None Of Your Business’ hits you hard and you enjoy every slug. Then there’s the beautiful Soul injection of ‘The Loser,’ soothing every emotional nerve in your body.
‘The Only Place You Ever Take Me Is Down’ is the other end of the spectrum, sloppy and sweaty with the distorted slide guitar bossing a delightful session of dirty Blues.
Classy ballad ‘Hammer’ drifts more into the mainstream, but Ross’s exceptional vocal still maintains the album’s warts and all feel.
Clearly a man who sometimes will not let lyrics get in the way of a good tune, he takes easy listening instrumentals to a new level with the Funk fest of ‘Tell Jerry’ and the very Steely Dan-ish ‘Unforgiven’. Skip them at your peril.
Muck and bullets Southern Rock that is dip treated in the Blues, is the only way to describe ‘Don’t Say A Word’, a tune that’s as real and authentic as it gets.
The dark and damp vibe of closer ‘Shoot You If You Run’, gives the song some real dangerous atmospherics and sets your mind wandering into virtual no go areas.
Dare I say it, but this is a man’s way to end an album.
You will never let down with a Mike Ross album and this banging collection just reaffirms that. Pure Southern Comfort.
What was the inspiration for the solo side project? RHR is still in business…..
“Well, RHR is the side project really. I mean, I was releasing solo albums well before RHR.
“It originally came about as Jack, Troy and I were always getting mistaken for one another at shows and on socials, so we decided to team up to really confuse the hell out of everyone!
“Even then we were originally only planning to do a short run of shows together. Then we started talking about making an EP, which eventually turned into the first RHR album, ‘Mahogany Drift’.
“We’re all into our solo stuff first and foremost (especially Jack, I suppose as he quit last August) but Troy and I are still hanging out and playing together when we can – we did a streaming show last night together and I drove up to his place in the Brecon hills, which is where I’m being interviewed from!).
“We had RHR shows booked for 2020, most of which have been moved back to ’21 now and we’re loosely talking about a new record – time will tell…
I see you are doing a series talking about the story behind every song on the new album The Clovis Limit Pt.2. Can you give us a taster…..?
“I’ve done quite a few exclusive video things, which I made to share in my Facebook fan group ‘The Event Horizon’, starting with a 15 part ‘introduction to Mike Ross’ documentary series.
“There’s also a set of interviews (that Will Carter from Two Finger Media filmed at my studio in Brighton) in which I talk about every song from TCL2, along with bits of impromptu guitar playing and so on.
“I’ve edited a version of that down into individual videos covering each track from TCL2 and they’ll be getting shared in the fan group, once the documentary’s finished. I can’t give you a taster as such as it’s all video, but I can say that we talk about everything from the guitar styles of Malcolm & Angus Young to Nazi propaganda and Lord Haw-Haw!”
Dystopia Rising – Thats a bit different from your usual style!!! I’d like to have it on the headphones while sitting in one of the bars of the set of the original Bladerunner film. Was this your Lockdown statement? There are some spoken words on there too… what is the significance of those?
“Dystopia Rising is full of weird spacey noises that I created using a Moog Rogue synth, along with a WWII era oscillator, hooked up to loads of vintage FX pedals and tape delay units.
“There’s also a bass guitar played through a leslie speaker, loops of backwards guitar taken from the RHR ‘Hotel Toledo’ record, my stepson’s voice reading excerpts of ‘Gullivers Travels’ slowed right down and heavily effected, so it sounds like alien space whales or something.
“It was originally put together as an untitled thing, which I’d edit down to use as the ‘transitions’, that you can hear between tracks on the CD version of TCL2, but it turned into this 35 minute piece of really spooky, atmospheric music that stood up well on its own.
“I had no plans to release it until lockdown, when a real live ‘Dysyopia Rising’ event seemed to be a distinct possibility, so I quickly mixed and rush-released to provide a soundtrack to the weird times I was experiencing.
“I got a lot of feedback from fans saying how much they identified with the weirdness of the music mirroring real life around that time, so….job done!”
Covid – It’s devastating for the Music industry and releasing an album in the middle of it, is difficult. How have the fans reacted in helping you through this time? Eager to buy merch, music and suchlike?
“Fan support has been incredible. I’ve been bootlegging myself (!) via a series of ‘Road Case’ albums, which I’ve been releasing monthly on Bandcamp Friday – live recordings from various shows over the past few years and they’ve been very popular.
“I’ve been selling merch from my webstore and pre-orders for the new record are out now on there too, so every little bit helps. It’s not just the money though, it’s knowing that the music I put out is helping other people who are also going through tough times emotionally, as well as financially and I’m really grateful to be able to do my part.”
If difficult to see much happening before early/middle next year…. have you made any plans for livestreams? Are you making plans for 2021 yet?
“My album launch on 29th October is going to be live-streamed, I’m selling tickets via my web-store and WeGotTickets and we’re planning a multi-camera stream with some pre recorded video content (actually excerpts from the feature length movie ‘The Clovis Limit Pt.2 ‘Transitions” that I’ve made, with videos for every song from the album in.
“It’s being broadcast from the venue at Brighton Electric studios, with support from local heavy blues rockers ‘The Dead Reds’. We were hoping to be able to have a smallish crowd, but changes to the regulations on social distancing mean that’s not really going to be possible.
“Aside from a load of postponed festival dates that have already been re-booked for 2021 (including Ramblin’ Man & LoveRocks in Bournemouth) I haven’t tried to book any other shows yet.
“I’ve seen artists moving shows back multiple times already, since the start of lockdown and I don’t want to get into all of that – it’s way too disheartening for me.
“For the time being I’m just focusing on the album release. That said, Troy and I are talking about putting together a short double headliner UK tour in Feb/March which would be great. He’s just finishing up a new album which should be out by then, so it makes sense for us to tour both of our new albums together.”
Good luck for the album release…. any message for our readers?
“Thanks to you and to all the readers – without all of you guys there’s no industry.
“There’s so much doom and gloom about the ‘future of live music’ at the moment, but if we all keep the faith, if the musicians keep creating and releasing music and the fans keep supporting it, attending the shows (in person and online!) and buying the merch, then we’ll make it through! Take care x”
Mike Ross – The Clovis Limit Pt.2
Release Date: 30 October 2020
Thanks A Lot
None Of Your Business
The Only Place You Ever Take Me Is Down
Don’t Say A Word
Shoot You If You Run