It took us two attempts to hook up, but on a rainy evening in South Wales, spending half an hour in the virtual company of Vinnie Moore, guitarist of UFO and solo artist extraordinaire, seems a pleasant way to pass the time. Vinxnie’s latest album, the excellent Double Exposure, arrives in the UK on 11 November 2022. You can read the review on Metal Talk here.
Interview: Paul Hutchings
Vinnie is doing well, and as he explains, Double Exposure is released in the US a few days ahead of us. “Everything is really good. I’m really excited and just hanging out and doing my thing.”
Of course, by the time the album is released, it’s a relief to put it to bed. “There was so much work to get to this point,” Vinnie says, “and I’m happy to have it behind me. It will be interesting to see how people react to the record. You never know.” Having reviewed Double Exposure, I’m confident that the response will be positive.
Having spent so long with the record, is it already time to move on to the next piece of work? He explains that it is very much the case. “With writing these songs, recording them, the mixes, the mastering, I’ve heard everything so many times that I’m immune to it. You know I don’t hear it and get moved. And so, I won’t have that fresh perspective. Maybe for a year or two after I’ve put it aside, I don’t generally listen to my own music. I work on it, finish or put it out and then I’m on to the next thing. I don’t like to stagnate and stay in one area. It’s not fun to listen to your own stuff because you know I’m really critical. I stay in creative mode. I’ll hear a song and think, why didn’t I do this? I’ll continue to come up with creative ideas, and the only way to let it go is to just not listen to it.”
When you hear Double Exposure, you may be surprised to find vocals on there [Ed Terry, Keith Slack, Mike Dimeo and Brian Stephenson, to be exact]. This is the first album that Vinnie has released with vocals. A question he’s no doubt been asked in every interview is why it’s taken so long to get to this point.
“Apart from UFO and the Red Zone Rider records I’ve been involved with, it’s my first solo record with vocals,” Vinnie confirms. “I’ve thought about it and wanted to do it for years, but it’s just never happened. You know, for many reasons. One is being on the road so much with UFO. I’m doing the instrumental records and just not kicking myself and making myself make the transition. And there was never a suitable time for whatever reason. That’s stupid to say, but I’m glad I finally took the initiative and got this thing done. And now, to me, it’s like a gateway into what could come next.”
That is great news in many respects because the songs with vocals bring a new dimension and a completely different feel to the first six songs. Vinnie agrees. “I love playing on a vocal song and being part of the band and playing the middle eight or whatever and then other little melodic embellishments here and there. I like playing rhythms and chord structures. Superimposing one chord over top of another chord, all that stuff is interesting to me and part of songwriting and part of being a guitarist and a musician.”
Whilst Vinnie is now an established and respected musician, back in the mid-1980s, he was very much starting out. We know about the Pepsi commercial [which, amazingly, I only saw for the first time a couple of days ago], but what was the desire to go solo as opposed to being in a band all those years ago? “Well, when I was in the band locally, we were just doing cover tunes, and I decided I didn’t want to do cover tunes anymore,” he says. “I wanted to be in a real band writing my own material, and so I started writing vocal stuff. My demo led to me being with Shrapnel Records and being on that first Vicious Rumors record. It’s a great band and it was a wonderful experience playing on that record. But for me, I was going in a different stylistic direction than they were, so it made sense for both of us for me to move on and do my own thing. My plan was to get another band together and do a vocal thing”.
It was Mike Varney at Shrapnel who noticed that there was interest in instrumental rock records, and he advised Vinnie about a direction that he may not have considered. “I resisted at first, to be honest with you. I didn’t really want to go in that direction, even though all those kinds of players like Larry Carlton, Al Di Meola, Jeff Beck, and all those fusion records like Billy Cobham and Jean Luc Ponty. It was right up my alley, and I knew I could do that kind of thing if I wanted it, but you know, I resisted. I wanted to do a vocal thing. At a certain point, I kind of got it.
“I started to see that it could make sense to make that first record an instrumental record and then kind of build on from there and add vocalists later. But then what happened is people really liked that record. It was successful. So, then I almost had to do the second record as an instrumental, which is what I did. I made the Time Odyssey record. I still tried to get a band together. I wrote a bunch of vocal songs and made demos, and it just didn’t take off. There were some problems with the personnel in that scenario, so I had to revert to the Meltdown record, which was another instrumental record. So, I have made attempts and tried over the years, but the guitar gods just kept smacking me down and saying no, you’re to make another instrumental record first!”
Although Vinnie was establishing himself as a solo artist, he also got to play with the legendary Alice Cooper on Hey Stoopid in 1991. What was it like working with someone who’d been in the business for over three decades? “It was amazing and surreal at the same time,” Vinnie says. “It almost didn’t seem like it was happening. At first, I got the offer to play a couple of songs on his record because he was doing the Hey Stoopid record and having a lot of guest guitar players like Slash, Steve Vai, and Joe Satriani. I think Mick Mars might have been on that one too. It was a total honour for me to even be asked to be on it. So, they sent me the two songs in advance [Hurricane Years and Dirty Dreams], and so I got to learn the songs and get some creative ideas.
“Then, one evening, I drove up to Bearsville, New York, which was a four-hour drive for me. It was really cold, and there was snow everywhere. I spent the night, got up in the morning and then drove to the studio, and I met Alice there that day. I went into the control room. We miked up my amp, put on the song and just started going for it. I did the two songs, rhythms, and the leads in five or six hours, then we all went out to dinner and then I drove home. So it was a 24-hour turnaround. It was pretty quick.”
Doing my due diligence in advance of the interview, I discover that Vinnie was support for one of the legs of Rush’s Roll The Bones US tour. As a massive Rush fan, I had to ask him about being on tour with Neil, Geddy, and Alex. “It was amazing, and there are some funny stories because that was during the Meltdown tour. I was out with Brian Tichy, the drummer and John DeServio, who is the bassist with Black Label Society now. We were doing a club tour. We didn’t even have a tour bus at that time. We were out in a minivan, like a Ryder truck that was carrying our gear.
“We got the Rush tour, and when we arrived at the first arena, we pull up, and Rush have at least ten tour buses and all these big trucks for all their gear, maybe ten or twelve trucks. We drove our minivan into the actual arena and up to the dressing room door. It was a hockey arena, so you could drive in. Everything was concrete, and it’s like, oh, there’s our dressing room and the van’s parked right outside of it. It was hilarious in a lot of ways.
“But they were cool guys. Very welcoming, and it was an honour because I’m a big Rush fan too. And you know, some of the first stuff I learned growing up was Alex Lifeson parts, and it almost didn’t seem real. It was nerve-wracking in a lot of ways because their fans can be tough, and I went into it knowing about that reputation as a fan. I was thinking, what have I done, throwing myself into here, but it really went well. It was a wonderful experience. They were cool guys. It was so amazing to hear them play every night and see their fans, and it’s one of the all-time times that goes in the archives as one of the greatest things I’ve done.”
Having taken that awesome trip down memory lane, we moved back to Double Exposure. When you listen to it, you will quickly realise that the album is front-loaded with the vocal songs followed by the six instrumentals. “It was deliberate,” Vinnie explains, “and I struggled with that a little bit. I thought I should mix it up a little more. There was something to be said for having vocal, instrumental, vocal, instrumental, that kind of formula. But in the end, I just thought, hey, let’s hit it and make it powerful and direct. And you know there was no right or wrong answer. It’s just the feeling I had, and I went with it.”
For me, this works well, allowing the listener to enjoy the change in direction with Vinnie a little more laid back before he lets rip with six superb instrumental tracks.
Vinnie has a vast network of musicians to call upon, and it was interesting to hear how the selection of personnel on Double Exposure came about. He explained that all of those who feature are long-time friends or acquaintances, and for someone who is blind to much of the way the world of music works, this was a revealing section of the interview.
“Well, Richie Monica has been playing drums on my last few records, and he does not live all that far from me. So that was a no-brainer to have him again. And I use some players that I’ve worked with in the past. Michael Bean played on my Time Odyssey record, and he played on a track or two from my last record, Soul Shifter. Pete Griffin had played in my band when I toured with Tony McAlpine in Japan, and so he was amazing to play with, and you know, definitely a guy I wanted to work with. So, it happened that way, people you know and have worked with. When it came to the vocals, you know it’s the same thing. Keith Slack sang on two of the songs, and I’ve known him since 1999. I opened for the Michael Schenker Group on a tour, and Keith was Michael’s singer. We became quite close over the years and always talked about working together. It just never came about and so he was foremost in my mind, it was a no-brainer to want to work with him.
“Mike Dimeo had played in my band as keyboardist and singer on a tour in Europe, and played in my band on a cruise we did. Brian Stevenson is a guy I met. He’s from Toronto. His band Old James opened on a tour I did. I got to know him and liked what he was all about, creatively as a person and his voice. And then Ed Terry, I did a project with him in the last year or two for another band; I was asked to play guitar and when I got the final mix, and I really liked his voice and what he did as a vocalist, so that’s where I heard about him. So, it’s just choosing guys in your little circles.”
Whilst I’m keen to move on from the pandemic and quarantine, I wondered if the fact that the album created during that period provided more opportunity to pull in people that might not have been available in more normal times or would the wonders of modern technology have eased it? It causes Vinnie some thought. “It’s hard to say,” he says. “I don’t know. I’d like to think they were available, but you never know. And one thing about that period is it gave me enough time to feel like I could put it all together because we had a lot of shows postponed and cancelled, and I would have been in and out of the country a lot. And you know? It’s just what I needed. It was the time to feel like I could put it all together and do it. It was a big undertaking, so that contributed, and there was something else about that time that just made me feel like OK. Let’s do something quirky and a little different. And who cares, whatever?”
It was time in the interview that we moved on to UFO. I explained to Vinnie that my wife and I were in Athens about eight days prior to the interview as we had tickets for the last scheduled UFO show. Having bumped into several UK UFO fans whilst in the Greek capital, it was evident that this would have been a momentous event. But more importantly, I was keen to find out how Phil [Mogg] is doing in his recovery from his heart attack. “He seems to be doing great,” Vinnie says. “I text him every day. We’re always joking, and he’s in good spirits. I think he’s in physical therapy now, and I really get the feeling he wants to do more shows and end it on a more proper note. But it’s going to be contingent upon his health. It seems like he’s doing well right now.”
It’s been 20 years since Vinnie joined UFO, and the band had some hot guitarists in the past, no more so than Michael Schenker. With UFO setlists always filled with the classics, I asked Vinnie what it was like when he joined the band and how he put his own style on those Schenker songs. “You know, the coolest thing is when I joined the band, Phil just really wanted me to do my own thing,” he says. “and put my own stamp on it. The first thing we worked on was not a tour. It was that first record, You Were Here, and he wanted a guy to come in and be a big writer. Contribute a lot. So that was a big part of why I wanted to do it, and so I wrote a lot and then when we went on tour, I was familiar with all those old songs. Of course, I had jammed in my bedroom and played some of them in bands when I was younger, so I didn’t feel like it was a stretch for me to fit in.
“Musically, it was right up my alley, so to speak. I approach them the way I approach my songs live, which is some things are part of the song. There are certain little quintessential melodies or whatever, and you must do those as they are part of the song, but there are other areas that are more open to improvising. So that’s what I try to do with UFO. Any other guitar player who played in UFO, who had written a song with them and went on tour, wouldn’t be copying the album solos note for note. They would be vibing in the moment and improvising, except for the melody parts, which they copy. So that’s what I tried to do because I play the way I play. And that’s gonna come out. I’m gonna have my own approach and do my own thing in a lot of cases, and my personality naturally is gonna come through.”
UFO’s last shows were in the summer, with a run of shows and festivals that ended in Germany. “We had a bunch of festivals, really nice festivals in France, Italy and Spain, and then we ended in Germany for some club shows.”
With fingers crossed, I said that we might get to Athens again to catch that final show. “Man, I’d love to do some more stuff,” Vinnie says. “I really think we should go back to the UK. It’s a UK band. It just makes so much sense. If there’s gonna be an end, have it in England. I mean London especially.” I think that’s the news we all wanted to hear, and from a selfish point of view, if there are a few more shows, then I’ll be a happy bunny.
As we ended, we returned to Double Exposure and the plans to promote the album. Vinnie is keen to tour the album. “We’re looking into next spring,” he says, “and my agent is looking into that right now, so hopefully, there will be some concrete dates coming soon. But I want to get out there and play.”
Given the increasing challenges that we are seeing on a regular basis for established bands to tour [Shinedown, Anthrax], does that cause Vinnie concern?
“I’ve heard about that,” Vinnie says, “but you just must have a lot of faith and go out there and hope for the best, maybe. I can get an arena tour and drive in a minivan right to the dressing room!! [laughs]. There are certain situations where you’re a big band where it’s just not monetarily feasible to go out and play because you’re gonna lose a lot of money, but with my thing, it’s more on a small scale. It’s not a big production. It’s just guys playing their instruments, and so, it’s a little easier and more realistic to do those kind of things.”
On a final note, I wanted to ask Vinnie a slightly curved ball of a question. When doing my research, I noticed that amongst the plethora of credits attributed to Vinnie is a solo that he delivered for the German thrash band Destruction on the 2008 album Devolution. With due respect, this isn’t Vinnie’s usual ballpark, so how did he end up doing this for one of the Teutonic big four?
“I was with Dean Guitars,” Vinnie says, “and Schmier was endorsing their basses and I got to know him at the music Mesa in Germany. Then when we played Friedberg, Germany, it was with UFO. He came to the show, so I just got to know him. Really cool guy, and he asked me if I would play on it. I did it, and they never sent me a copy. I’ve never even heard the song I’m on. I don’t even know what it’s called. I don’t think there were vocals at the time. He just said here’s your spot, so go for it. I was thinking, I hope I can do something that they really like because this isn’t the kind of music that I play. I hope I did something that they like. If not, they could just cut it, but they ended up using it, which is really cool, but I’ve yet to hear it.”
If you’re a fan of Vinnie and Destruction, the track is the opener on Devolution, and it rips with a storming solo from Vinnie, which stands out as a highlight across the album. Vinnie and I concluded our conversation by touching on streaming, an area he’s been quite vocal about in the past.
“Yeah, I’ve been pretty outgoing about that,” he says. “A lot of people say put your stuff out there on the streaming services because people are going to hear about you. OK, I’ve done that a few times and maybe some people are hearing about me, but I don’t see a hugely significant difference. You get paid a fraction of a penny. I’ve joked with my musician friends when we split up some of the publishing with the songwriting. We could labour over these splits, but you know I’ll get a couple of pennies in a saw, and we’ll start cutting them like into pies. And I’ll send you your quarter of a cent when it comes to streaming.”
It’s an area that provokes emotive responses, and we could have spent a few hours discussing the pros and cons.
What is certain is that the package that you get for Double Exposure is well worth purchasing because, as well as the 12 tracks of top-quality music, you’ll also get a 12-page layout and lyric sheet in a thoughtful and value-for-money package.
Vinnie is a fantastic person, laid back and interesting to chat to. With his latest album, he’s confirmed that there remains plenty more in store.