Roppongi Rocks’ Stefan Nilsson checks in with Gary Shea about the new Alcatrazz album that will be released later this year. It’s a great chat about a new sense of unity in the band, the musical direction and upcoming tours as well as an unexpected collaboration between Gary and Dimmu Borgir’s Stian Thoresen.
Since the band was founded in 1983, Alcatrazz has seen many different line-ups. Among its past members are Graham Bonnet, Yngwie Malmsteen and Steve Vai. The band’s most recent album, “Born Innocent”, was released last year and now co-founders Gary Shea (bass) and Jimmy Waldo (keyboards) are working on a new album that is planned for release later this year. In the current line-up of Alcatrazz, Gary and Jimmy are joined by drummer Mark Benquechea, guitarist Joe Stump and lead vocalist Doogie White.
Based on the yet-to-be finalised recordings I have heard, Alcatrazz seems to be moving into hard rock and power metal territory. Is this a deliberate move or is it just coming out that way? “I’ve been playing heavy music all my life since the 1960s when I first heard The Who play ‘My Generation’. I knew then that I wanted to play powerful rock music. Alcatrazz has always been a heavy band of thunder, keyboards, guitars and vocals. It`s true that we have gone up a notch now that we are in the 2020s. It all seems natural in our progression of making music.”
Your new vocalist Doogie White has terrific pedigree from Rainbow, Yngwie Malmsteen, Michael Schenker, etc. and he sounds fantastic on these new songs. Was he an obvious choice for Alcatrazz when you needed to find a new vocalist? “Yes. At this point in time, we all know each other from years ago and Doogie was our first choice. He has an amazing voice and tremendous credentials over the years. It’s also a plus that we are all thinking the same as to the style of music we play and how we want to go about touring the world.”
How big of an influence is Doogie on the musical direction? Is he participating in the songwriting? “Doogie’s direction is spot on for what we want to do as I was saying. He has written the majority of the lyrics and we love them. Great melodies and themes perfect for the Alcatrazz style. We can’t wait to get out and play them live. Our manager, Giles Lavery, is an excellent singer in his own right and wrote a few song lyrics as well. We have a great team and a new sense of unity.”
On the new track “Guardian Angel”, Nigel Glockler from Saxon is guesting on drums. How did this come about? Can we expect any other guest appearances on the album? “Again, we have all known Nigel for years. Mark ran into some difficulty rebuilding his house during the pandemic shutdown and couldn’t record his drums with the tight schedule we had. We asked Nigel if he would like to guest on a couple of tracks. He said yes, turning in a stunning performance. Life is too short and it’s a joy to play with this group of great musicians.”
You have a joint tour with Girlschool later on this year in the UK. Pandemic aside, once normal touring can resume, does Alcatrazz want to be touring a lot or will you be more selective with your travel in the future? “We hope to tour everywhere we can as we have fans around the world that would like to see us. Some for the first time. We had to cancel last year’s two dozen European summer shows due to the pandemic lockdown. We want to re-book those shows as well as many new ones.”
With last year’s very strong “Born Innocent” album and a new one coming out later this year, how will you balance newer material with some of the obvious Alcatrazz classics when you put together setlists? “It will be tough to make a setlist but we feel we will have a great combination of classic material from the early years and what we are up to now. We will be playing hard so there won’t be much down time. Everyone should go to our Facebook page (www.facebook.com/alcatrazzband), like the page and let us know what you would like to hear!”
How does playing with current Alcatrazz drummer Mark Benquechea compare to when you and Jan Uvena made up the original rhythm section in Alcatrazz? “That`s a great question. Both of them are stellar and I have loved working with both of them. They have much in common such as great timekeepers and cool drum fills. Jan had a cool jazzy swing to his playing and Mark is much more powerful. The core of the band is the bass and the drums driving everything. They both have cool fills which, to me, makes more drama going into a new part. The beauty of both is that they use their abilities with taste, not overplaying. The bass and drums are like the two pedals on a bicycle. If you lose one, you’re not going very far quickly. If you are synchronised you are in harmony and you glide along with ease, smiling.”
At a first glance, current lead guitarist Joe Stump is quite similar in style to Yngwie Malmsteen, Alcatrazz’s original lead guitarist. What do you feel are the differences between these two guitarists? “Both Joe and Yngwie are avid Ritchie Blackmore fans. What we have now, is that Joe plays to the song. Joe is very easy to work with and we don’t have some of the drama we had in the beginning. Also, Joe knows where the best deli food is in every city worldwide. His hotel room rivals most Italian markets. Where are you guys going after the show? Joe’s room!”
With Jimmy Waldo and you now busy with Alcatrazz, is there any time for your other joint groups, New England and Rock Island Orchestra, in the near future? “There will always be a big part of mine and Jimmy’s hearts in New England. The band plays periodically and at this time nothing is scheduled. I have just done a recording with Stian Thoresen from Norway. He has Vinnie Appice and Bruce Kulick among others playing with him on his new project. We plan on being super busy with Alcatrazz but there will always be room to squeeze other music in going forward. We look forward to playing our new music for all of our wonderful friends in Japan and beyond. Disturb the peace and keep rockin’!”