ITW de Leo Lyons et Joe Gooch – Hundred Seventy Split
Préparée et réalisée par Frankie Bluesy Pfeiffer
Photos : Frankie Bluesy Pfeiffer
Retranscription : Nathalie Nat’ Harrap (Blues Matters)
ITW publiée dans Blues Matters (UK)
Leo Lyons and Joe Gooch from the legendary English Blues-Rock band Ten Years After, have come to a musical junction and it’s called Hundred Seventy Split! Not wanting to let the grass grow under their feet, they’ve created a new and exciting partnership: Hundred Seventy Split. Leo and Joe talked to us about their project whilst still performing with Ten Years After.
Frankie: Hundred Seventy Split (HSS) is a project created by the two of you outside Ten Years After. Why didn’t you get the other TYA members involved? Is it because they didn’t quite fit in or because they weren’t interested?
Leo: The whole point of forming Hundred Seventy Split was to do something outside of the TYA box. Ten Years After’s musical style was conceived over forty years ago. The TYA sound is a mixture of each member’s playing style and tastes. With no disrespect to Ric or Chick, the idea of Hundred Seventy Split was to have a different style and approach to music.
Why did you make up this new band?
Leo: The simple answer is I needed a new challenge. The past seven years I’ve been fully committed to TYA and although I’ve enjoyed every minute of it I’ve had no time for outside projects including any production work. Last year, a US label asked me to record a Leo Lyons solo album but I decided instead that I’d make a record with guest musicians. I asked Joe if he’d like to write some songs with me for the project and perhaps play on a few of the tracks. Joe’s a great player as many people will testify and I thought it would be good for him to shake off Alvin Lee’s shadow. We made a start and somewhere down the line the direction changed and the record became ‘Hundred Seventy Split’ a project for the two of us. The inspiration to form Hundred Seventy Split as a touring band was out of enthusiasm for the new material we’d recorded and the anticipated enjoyment of playing it live.
Why did you create HSS together without an official drummer? Is it to have more freedom or because you didn’t find the right drummer for this project?
Leo: Things moved very fast. Hundred Seventy Split became a band from the recording project. When we decided to go on tour, we wanted a certain style of drummer, someone who could play similar but not necessarily exactly the way Sean and Tanner played on the record. We had a few players in mind including Sean who played on our record but logistics were a problem and in the end we had to be practical and look closer to home. Damon Sawyer was recommended to us and from our first rehearsal things clicked. Damon will be with us on all our live gigs. He’s a great player. Sometimes the river flows the way you want it to.
How did the other TYA members react when they found out you‘d created HSS?
Leo: I think at first they were concerned that we might quit TYA but it’s never been our intention.
And how did they react when they heard your compositions for HSS?
Leo: No one in TYA talks about our new project. However Ric came to see us play in Paris and commented that the band played well.
Who does the writing, how do you work together?
Leo: Joe and I write together but on this particular project, we also collaborated on some songs with an old friend and co-writer of mine, Fred Koller. The writing process often starts with a groove, a riff or a lyrical idea. Sometimes things flows, sometimes it’s a long drawn out and for some a painful procedure. The important thing is to have an empathy and respect for the people you’re working with.
By the way, why did you pick the name of Hundred Seventy Split?
Leo: My son Harry suggested the name ‘Hundred Seventy Split. It’s a road junction in Nashville close to where I live. There’s a small café nearby where Joe and I had breakfast before going to the recording studio. I also think of the name as a musical crossroads.
Joe, you have been playing with TYA for 7 years now (right?). How do you feel now, better than in the beginning?
Joe: I feel very comfortable with TYA now, but the biggest challenge is keeping it as fresh as possible.
Maybe you created HSS to leave TYA and do something else?
Joe: No, not at all. I'm a musician so that means I will always be involving myself with varied projects. During my time with TYA I have often been involved with other projects it's just this one has a bigger profile because of Leo’s involvement.
Leo: I wanted to do both, to do something else and something different. There will always be new horizons that I want to strive towards.
By the way, from the two of you, who first wanted to put HSS together?
Leo: We’d both been thinking of doing something outside of TYA. I’m not sure exactly when we decided to do something together.
Do you think that HSS may take you away from TYA?
Leo: I hope the opposite. Our music is different and if our audiences accept us as two different bands it will be more interesting for everyone concerned. Besides I enjoy playing with TYA. I think the support we get from our fans is my greatest motivation.
Do you think your public still feels a kind of nostalgia for the Alvin Lee era or have they moved on?
Leo: Some older fans, understandably, feel a certain nostalgia for the early days but they also fully accept and appreciate Joe’s contribution to the band.
Joe, doesn’t HSS allow you also to show/prove that you have a life outside TYA?
Joe: I'm not out to prove anything, It's just nice to play some different songs with different musicians for a change.
Are you not fed up with journalists always going back to TYA and Alvin Lee when they interview you?
Joe: No, I think it's inevitable and comes with the job. I still feel surprised that anyone wants to interview me at all!
So that people get to know you better, could you in just a few words tell us what your journey has been before joining TYA?
Joe: I have always been passionate about the guitar and prior to TYA I was more focused on creating instrumental music. I grew up in an isolated farm house and spent most of my time practising and composing. I was in a few bands but often felt frustrated and suffocated by having to conform to other peoples’ musical ideas and would compose instrumental music that for me wasn't bound by anything other than the limits of my own musical imagination. At the time, guitar music wasn't considered very hip and it seemed every band I joined was trying desperately to be as non musical as possible and so it didn't tie in with my playing style too well! I'd spend the day practising sweep picking arpeggios or learning a Stevie Ray Vaughan solo only to go to band practice to be told to play one note with a "spacey" sound on it. What I liked about TYA when I joined was the freedom to play whatever I wanted on the tracks, whatever I did the guys were cool with it and so that was great for me.
To date, do you ever regret joining TYA?
Joe: No, it's been a great experience and I will be forever grateful to the guys for giving me the opportunity.
Leo, can you tell us why a man with your experience and the wisdom which comes with age has decided to follow a younger man in this new adventure? Is it to prove that you are as young as ever?
Leo: I’m on my own journey and taking control of my own destiny. Right now, Joe and I are on the same path but no doubt he will carry on his own way long after I’m gone. I don’t think about my age. I love what I do and I’ll continue to follow my dreams.
If you could keep only one memory from the whole TYA experience, which one would it be?
Leo: I was lucky to have been in Hamburg during the Beatles era, London during the swinging sixties, San Francisco, Woodstock etc. They’re all fabulous memories but if I’m allowed only one memory it would be of me standing on stage in a field somewhere playing to thousands of people.
And what are you expecting of this new adventure, the HSS adventure for you, personally?
Leo: New horizons that will help me grow musically but mostly I expect it to be fun. It’s like the thrill of going out on a first date.