Whoosh!: An Interview with Roger Glover
Deep Purple has released Whoosh!, which marks the legendary rock band’s 21st studio album and third consecutive release with producer Bob Ezrin. It’s been a Renaissance period for the band. Similar to the previous two albums, Now What!? and inFinite, the record digs deep into their pedigree of all-out rock riffs while also exploring deeper textures and themes. From anthems to spacey jams, Deep Purple does not shy away from new ideas. And while they’re known for their various lineup changes, the group has stayed constant since 2002. That includes bass hero Roger Glover.
The bassist first joined their ranks in 1969 as part of the “Mark II” lineup, which produced several iconic albums, most notably Machine Head which was chock full of hits like “Smoke on the Water.” He left Deep Purple in 1973 to create solo music and to be a producer for bands like Judas Priest, Nazareth, Elf, and more. From 1979 to 1984 he played in Rainbow before returning to Deep Purple, where he has held down the low end ever since.
Put it all together and it sounds like the recipe for a rock star egomaniac, but Glover is just the opposite. He’s a humble, down-to-earth bassist that appreciates the simple things in life. He’s also quicker to praise his bandmates than take credit for his own groundbreaking work.
We caught up with Glover, who told us all about the new album, how he’s keeping busy, and why he never gets tired of playing “Smoke on the Water”.
Are you enjoying this time off of the road or are you chomping at the bit to get back out?
I try to enjoy everything, whatever it is. I’ve never had so much time off in my life, I don’t think, so the family is very happy about that. Usually, they don’t see me for half the year.
[My days] are full of stuff. I have family business, cooking, gardening… all those kinds of things around the house and things I didn’t have time to do. I’m working on writing my book and I’m doing some painting. I’m always writing songs. There’s always something to do.
How is the book coming along?
Slowly. The more I write, the more I realize there is to write. I’m not going to be finished for a couple of years, yet. I’ve probably done maybe a quarter of the book. It’s not a work of fiction: it’s a memoir. Or my autobiography if you like. I don’t have to think anything up. The plots are already there and so are the characters.
I imagine it must be hard to remember everything. You’ve had so much happen.
That’s the problem! In the middle of a conversation, I’ll tell a story and then think, “Oh God, I have to remember to put that one in the book.”
Congratulations on Whoosh!. It’s number one on the charts, which must be a good feeling.
Thank you. Yes, it’s very gratifying and heart-warming when you put an album out and it gets that kind of reaction. It’s amazing. It always amazes me because we’re unconnected with it. Our connection is just the music. We make the music and what happens to it after that is anyone’s guess. This particular one is very nice.
The last three albums that we’ve done with Bob Ezrin have been a late flowering in our career if you like. I’m very happy about it. Bob brought out the songwriting part of us. When we first met him, he was very encouraging about the spontaneity and creativity of the band. He said, “Don’t try to write hits. Just be yourselves and stretch out.” I think we found a whole new vein of being able to write.
That must be nice to hear from a producer.
Yes. I’m very happy to have someone else take the reigns because it’s not an easy job. If you’re in the band and you make a suggestion as a producer, they’re only listening to you as a bass player. There’s no objectivity. In the end, it becomes more of a committee job. You’re just trying to please everyone in the band. As a producer on his own, maybe he doesn’t please everyone in the band, but he produces something that everyone can be proud of. Working with Bob comes very easy to us. He’s a very good producer and he encourages us to be creative.
Does he push you pretty hard?
Oh yeah, he’s a hard taskmaster. Once we’ve written the instrumental parts of the songs, we go into the studio and record very quickly. The backing tracks take less than two weeks to record, and that’s with weekends off. So we’re all in the studio at the same time and we just bash it out very quickly. That keeps a sort of freshness to it. Things happen in the studio that you couldn’t plan. We’re always surprised at the way an album comes out because] we have no plan, we just write stuff. It’s as a surprise to us as it is to everyone else once it’s finished.
Did you record all the old school stuff the same way?
It’s exactly the same way. That’s how we work. It all comes from jamming. We don’t write songs, we just let them evolve so that’s how they turn out as a surprise to us, as well.
It’s the same as it was in 1969. The band then had Ritchie Blackmore and Jon Lord – such great and powerful instrumentalists just like we have now with Steve [Morse] and Don [Airey]. But back then, it was instrumental driven. Ian Gillan likes to say that Deep Purple is an instrumental band with vocal accompaniment.
Speaking of evolution, how do you feel the band has grown over the last three albums with Bob? They seem closely linked but with a sort of growth.
They’re linked in the fact that Bob is the producer and for the first time, we recorded three albums in the same place – the studio in Nashville. There’s a comfortable feel about it. I don’t know what Bob does, but he takes what seems like “ok” tracks and mixes them with magic fairy dust or something because he comes up with the goods. After we’d finish a recording, we’d get a mix from Bob a couple of weeks later and say, “Wow, how did he do that?” So he’s very creative, as well. He becomes the sixth member of the band.
When you’re jamming in the studio, what do you do to construct your bass lines?
When we’re in the studio, the jamming is a whole different thing from when we’re in a writing session. In a writing session, it’s all totally free. You listen to other people playing and you play what you think is natural to the rhythm. Then you learn how to change it to make it a little better while everyone is learning their parts.
When Don and Steve are left alone, they’ll play some amazing stuff. It’s not written, it’s just purely in feel and just one take. On “Man Alive,” there are lots of extended pieces in there. That was absolutely live in the studio. We had no idea what it was going to turn out like.
That track is epic. Do you feel like the band is becoming more progressive? There’s a sci-fi kind of thing going on with the lyrics and astronaut imagery.
I don’t know, really. As soon as you label something, it becomes a constriction. We have great players in the band and you can’t stop them from playing what they feel. And sometimes it’s quite complex. That’s ok, and I’m guessing that’s what you mean by prog-rock reference in our music. But to me, it’s just music.
How did you first get into the band?
My audition for Deep Purple was a recording session that I didn’t expect. They’d offered Ian Gillan the job of singer. The band I was in was torn apart because we’d just lost our lead singer. We were having meetings about how to find another singer. Ian and I had been writing songs for a couple of years at that point. He called me up and said, “This band I’m joining has a hit in The States, and they’re looking for songs.” So I went up with him and played our songs for Jon Lord. He didn’t like any of them, which is quite right because they weren’t suitable for Purple at all. But then he played an acetate of a demo for a song called “Hallelujah”. He said, “We’re recording this tonight. Do you want to play bass on it?” I said, “Ok. I don’t have a bass or anything.” He said, “It’s alright, we’ll take care of it.”
That evening, I went to the studio and met Ritchie and Paicey for the first time. We recorded the song and at the end of the session, Jon came up and said, “Would you like to join the band?” That was quite a moment. I actually turned him down because I felt loyalty to my previous band members. I thought about it overnight and changed my mind the next day. How close I came to not being in Purple is frightening.
In interviews, you often say you’re just a lucky guy that falls into the right place. It seems to me that there must be some work ethic and talent to keep you there.Yes. Once you get that lucky break, then you work very hard. I always felt more as a songwriter than a bass player. I think they needed songs because the early version of Purple had great playing, but they didn’t have the direction of songs. They wrote a couple of songs, but all the big hits they had then were covers of songs: “Hush,” “Kentucky Woman,” “River Deep, Mountain High”. When Ian and I came in we started writing so it changed. I think there’s a balance, in a way, in the naive writing style and the sophistication of the instrument playing. It seemed to work.
The thing is, you can’t plan things like that. You can’t plan the most amazing things in your life. They happen to you. So I’m a great believer in not planning and just going day by day and reacting to what happens.
At that age when we were in our 20s with nothing to lose, so it’s easy to go with the flow and see where things take you. If I had that position years later when I was married and had kids and a different job, maybe I wouldn’t have taken that chance. But when you get a chance like that, you take it.
When you look back on that time, does it feel like a different person or are you still strongly connected to it?
That’s a very profound question. I do look back at old videos of us in the 70s, and I know it’s me, but it seems like a different person. Obviously inside I’m the same guy. But what I didn’t know then and what I know now is what divides us. I’m much more aware of where I’ve been than back then I wasn’t aware of where I was going.
Do you get tired of people harping on all the old stuff?
No, not at all. I once met… I’m not going to tell her name, but I won her dad one big hit. I met her at a party and she was complaining about it. She said, “When I die, they’re going to play that [expletive] song.” I thought, “Well, that’s the wrong attitude.”
I’m proud of what we’ve done. I ended up in a great band. The songs we still play on stage… I don’t think we can get away with doing a show without “Smoke on the Water” or “Highway Star” or “Lazy” or something like that. The older we get, our audience gets younger, which is a beautiful thing. I’m very happy about that. To see ten- and twelve-year-olds in the front with their fathers is really an amazing thing.
People say, “Don’t you get fed up with playing ‘Smoke on the Water?'” I say, “Absolutely not!” How can you get fed up with playing something that drives an audience wild and everybody loves it? It’s a no brainer. Part of the time you’re playing it to an audience that hasn’t heard it live before, especially the younger ones. They know the song, but they’ve never seen us play live. I’m always aware of that. I’m playing the song, but I’m listening through their ears and how they’re reacting to it. Plus, you can have fun with it. It’s a skeleton of a song. I play a different bass part nearly every night. I never know what I’m going to play.
I was wondering how the song has changed over the years. How are you changing it?
Just little things that I know are different. I try different little bass parts every night. When you’re playing eight bars of G, there are lots of things you can do with that without ruining the song. We all feel the same way. The solos are always different.
When you’re on stage every night, it’s a unique experience. It’s not the same every night. Every gig is different. Every audience is different. The way to not feel like you’re working at a factory is to be different yourself. Play it differently. Have fun with it.
The thing is, we’re not celebrities – we’re players. We’re not interested in that celebrity or glory thing that seems to be current these days and we never were. It’s always been a band that is interested in making music and what happened to it after that [wasn’t the point]. We didn’t have PR guys getting us into gossip columns and anything like that. We’re a fairly anonymous band and we live fairly private lives, considering. So we’re not interested in fame and glory. That happens anyway. If it comes with the music, that’s good, but it doesn’t come without the music. If it does, it’s hollow and it won’t last.
It’s the difference between being a leader or a follower. If you’re a leader, you don’t listen to fashion. You do what’s in your heart. If it’s successful, then it’s really successful for the right reasons. Yes, you can write a hit song and have success with it. That’s pop music, and I’ve always felt that pop music and rock music share the same industry but are very different.
I was thinking about that. The music you made fifty years ago is still getting young people all riled up. Pop songs are here and gone within a few months.
Yes, and these days, anyone can make very good sounding pop records with computers and drum machines and all kinds of stuff. You can have a lot of fun with it. I guess we’re old fashioned: we play. There aren’t many bands going around still from that era. A few, but not many. I take each day with a great deal of gratitude.
Getting back to the record, you remade “And The Address” from Deep Purple’s debut album. Why that song in particular?
Since we’ve worked with Bob, we’ve made a habit of doing a cover on every album. Although it wasn’t fully spoken about, there was an assumption that this probably is our last album. We felt that about the one before this and the one before that, as well. We never know which is going to be our last album, but there is a feeling that we’re pushing it now.
Bob said, “Wouldn’t it be fun if the very first track on the very first Deep Purple album was the last track on the last Deep Purple album?” It’s a nice closing of the circle, if you like, so that’s why we did it. But maybe it was a bit premature because I think now that we can’t tour, we might as well make another record.
Seems like you have another one in you, for sure.
All we have to do is figure out where to go and how to get there. We live in different parts of the world and traveling is pretty constrictive.
I know after inFinite, you said you were ready to make another album right away. Is that how you feel now?
You know, I don’t know how we feel. I feel very up for doing another album. We’ve all agreed to do it, so it’s just a question of sorting it out. Where and when and how. We don’t talk about albums. When we’re on the road and traveling together, we don’t talk about writing songs for an album. We don’t write songs. We just jam and they appear.
What advice do you have for up and coming bass players?
I did a talk at a bass show some years ago. I’m a very simple bass player. Even just going in a shop and listening to people playing, they play better than I do. I’m a very simple guy. The bulk of my lecture was basically that, and I said, “My advice to any young bass player is to find three brilliant musicians and hang on tight.”
I think the advice to anyone doing anything is you have to learn how to fail before you learn to succeed. If the first thing you do is a success, you haven’t learned anything. You learn from mistakes and failures. You learn to hit the bottom when your expectations are dashed and you get up and keep on trying. It’s not easy. Back in the 60s when I was playing in local bands, we used to do five or six gigs a week. I did eight years of playing. By the time I met Deep Purple, I knew the road. Nowadays, it seems if you’ve turned 19 and you haven’t had a hit, you’re a goner, which is a shame. Music doesn’t always come instantly. Sometimes you have to let it build. I would say don’t expect too much. Expectations will kill you.
I never practiced that much, which is a bit of a shame, but I would suggest if you’re going to play you should practice a bit more. Practice more than I did, anyway.
In your latest interview with Bass Player magazine, you said if you’re just around the house you’ll pick up a bass and start playing. What do you play when you pick up a bass just for fun?
I have no idea. Sometimes you get an idea in your head. One of the great things is you get an idea for a song in the shower and it’s all raging in your head. Then you get out and quickly dry and pick up something to record it with. Of course, it’s never like what you had imagined.
Usually, if something comes into my head or I’ll hear a nice groove, I’ll just quickly jam it down for fifteen or twenty seconds. I’ve got hundreds of those and they’re all pretty useless. Every now and again I’ll listen to something I did ten years ago and think, “Actually, that’s quite good. Why didn’t I finish that?” There’s a whole lexicon of ideas yet to be born.
So should we expect a new solo album?
Yeah, I’m working on a solo album. I did two recent ones. Snapshot came out twenty years ago or something. I liked that album a lot. It was a band in the studio that I managed to get together and there was a lovely feeling in the room. The second one I did was done in the midst of lots of changes in my life: divorce, moving countries, losing my house, and things like that. Most of it was done on a computer by myself. I think it suffers for that.
I like playing with a band because you get something that you could never think of yourself. I’d like to get something like that back together, but in these days it’s pretty impossible. But I keep writing. I have about twenty songs of varying quality that I could go into the studio and make an album with. When I get the right circumstances, I’ll do it.
We’re looking forward to that. Last question: How is your gardening going?
It’s confined to mowing the lawn. I don’t dig, I don’t plant, I don’t water unless I’m asked to. My job is cutting the lawn. To me, it’s meditation. Like I said, I’ve tried to learn to enjoy everything. I’m in my 70s now. How long this goes on, I have no idea.
Warren Zevon died of cancer, but a couple of months before he died he was on [The Late Show with David Letterman]. Letterman said, “So now you’re in this situation facing your end. Do you have any thoughts?” Zevon said, “Yeah. Enjoy every sandwich.” I love that because it puts things in perspective. It’s the little things in life that you take for granted and don’t even think about. Enjoy them.