Purpendicular – Stepping Out of the ShadowsThursday, 15th September 2022
Although originating as a tribute to Deep Purple, Purpendicular musically evolved into an original act – including Ian Paice as the drumming foundation. They’ve released two previous studio albums while being able to play across Europe showcasing their sound. Human Mechanic is the latest record – broadening their influences of hard rock and classic influences with a bit of funk, swing, and blues nuances. Older musicians who are comfortable with their instrumentation, interplay, creating songs with amazing hooks, riffs, and distinctive qualities so as to not be a carbon copy of anything Purple has done in their massive discography.
We reached out to singer Robby Thomas Walsh who gives us insight into his personal musical background, the work behind Human Mechanic, how they sound different than Deep Purple, the changing music industry models past versus present, a little football (soccer) talk, plus numerous plans for 2022 into 2023.
Dead Rhetoric: What can you tell us about your earliest memories with music growing up in childhood? How did you make the move into heavier forms of hard rock/metal, and eventually want to start performing yourself in bands?
Robby Thomas Walsh: The first time, my aunt is a brilliant jazz singer, and my uncle always had a guitar. My dad always loved music, so I was introduced to this straight away as a kid. That kind of music would have been Fleetwood Mac, Wings, Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple – In Rock, Pink Floyd – Dark Side of the Moon. My first album Abba – Arrival was given to me by my aunt. I was a long time into Pink Floyd and relaxing, soothing music – but when I heard Deep Purple with Scandinavian Nights, that turned my head and Led Zeppelin too. I had to do something about this. I was seven pretending I was Robert Plant in front of the mirror – and still do it by the way (laughs).
I loved drums. I remember buying a little kit with my pocket money. A terrible drum kit, a three-piece and it was all over the place. I remember driving my parents and the neighbors absolutely nuts for a period, but I kept practicing at least three or four hours a day. I was just about semi-professional, I joined a little blues band called Double Trouble, we went around Dublin, Ireland but you couldn’t go any further. I accidentally fell into being a vocalist. I had this fantasy that I wanted to be up front. One night I was doing a cover gig, we were covering Queen, Bad Company, all these bands. We had a new singer, but we didn’t know he had lit a joint. During the break, he took a drag too much, he couldn’t get up off his seat. Everybody knew I could sing, so they asked me to sing a bit – I was like not these songs. I can only just remember what I heard from the records. I could see people sitting in the chairs- and if I did anything bad, I could hide behind the cymbals. And then the lads afterwards asked me to change.
I went to Germany, because you could only go so far back then. You could either be a massive artist, or just stick to the local bars. There was no middle ground. You have to keep playing in front of people to learn. I moved there, and that’s when I made the transition fully as a vocalist. And being a rock singer, I put the hours in and played as much as possible to get comfortable. My first gig with a little band called Dakota that I formed, an original band, I was comfortable. I thought I would be nervous. I’m more scared actually going shopping for clothes or groceries.
Dead Rhetoric: Human Mechanic is the third Purpendicular album – as you started to work on this material during 2020. In the background information there are details about a new lineup developing for this record – can you fill us in on these changes, and do you believe there were specific benefits regarding this set of songs that the pandemic afforded you as musicians when it comes to those little details that enhanced the final output?
Walsh: Lineup changes in a band like Purpendicular are inevitable. When you start off and you are semi-professional, and you try to make that work, not everybody is going to buy into the business plan. Nobody wants to play for low wages, especially guys coming out of university whether a drummer or a guitarist, they want x amount (of money). Sorry about that man, but nobody knows you. You might be the best musician in the world, you are nothing though until you get a name for yourself. And I mean that from a business side. You have to get out there, play as much as possible, and then people will remember you. Especially if you have a good character and personality. It was difficult in the early years, I needed to set up seventy shows and not all of them had nice hotels, good wages, you had to do the groundwork. A perfect example is, I hate to say this word, playing for free. But if you have an important gig in an important place, and you are not established, do it. What happened to us is once we got to play a massive festival out of playing for ‘free’. It’s like a live practice, and you never know. The early days, not everybody bought into the business plan, and when it ends up being a hobby, even though you try to keep that hobby inside you interesting. When it becomes a business, it’s a little more tricky. It could have been family issues that cause people to leave, some just couldn’t tour.
It isn’t for everybody. Ian has got a lifetime of knowledge in his head when it comes to musicians and music. The best way that it can work. He will give me very good tips, opinions, and knowledge if something is not working. He doesn’t want to get anyone in trouble, he is passing on information. Round about the time of Human Mechanic, we needed to make a couple of changes. It’s never nice to make changes but it was imperative. We have a nice album out.
The COVID thing did hold us back a little bit. We didn’t do much, we were restricted. We went out for ten dates in France and Germany and came out again. We had been sitting at home for nearly two years. We didn’t do much online, we had the album done but we didn’t want to release it because it didn’t make sense. We wouldn’t have been able to promote it properly, it would have just died on its own. I would rather be out there playing live. I hope we can make the most of these months and years, put it behind us. We have a beautiful tour lined up and we are ready to roll. I can’t complain, you have to take a positive from a negative. During that period, it gave us more time to think. Christoph Hogler is our original keyboard player anyway; he slotted back in from the get-go. We only really got two new guys, Herb our guitar player was mostly doing the studio stuff.
Dead Rhetoric: How would you describe your approach vocally on this record? Are you the type of person that enjoys having multiple takes to choose from, and what do you consider some of the standout moments from your perspective when it comes to your voice?
Walsh: The first question, I love working in the studio with Herb, even though I can be a difficult bugger. Not because I want everything perfect, but I am a very spontaneous guy. I don’t like preparation too much; I start making mistakes if I am too well-prepared. Rather than worrying about the reel-to-reel aspect that happened in the 70’s, you can click, edit, and some engineers will say, ‘sing this word again- okay’ until you go crazy. You lose momentum, you lose feeling, you don’t want to be in the room. Then you get angry. Herb knows me in and out. He will work with me even if I don’t have lyrics ready, but a melody in my head. Another engineer would tell me to go home and work on things. I’m rough and ready, an old school type of rock and roll vocalist. We will sing three times one verse, look at it, and pick the best. It’s very live on the album from a vocal perspective. Usually, one of the takes is great.
I like the power and range that I have. When I was a kid, when I started to do vocals, my favorite singers were Gillan, Rodgers, David Coverdale, Phil Lynott. I took examples from everybody. I knew I couldn’t copy them, but you have to put your own stamp on it. We get accused of not fully sounding like the Deep Purple thing – I don’t want to; I want to sound like myself. You can’t copy somebody really perfect. My willingness not to be afraid on stage, I have great fun with the people, great energy.
Dead Rhetoric: Obviously between the band name and having Ian Paice on drums, comparisons to the work of Deep Purple will always crop up. Where do you see the distinctions and this band’s approach to music and songwriting that may differ from that veteran, iconic act?
Walsh: I would like to have things much more different. I come from backgrounds that include funk, disco, I love bands like Chic and ABBA. I listen to everything, Simple Minds, Motown, soul, blues. We incorporate that into the songs. Sometimes I present something to Herb, and he will say it’s way out for a rock and roll album, off the mainstream. If you present something to people, sometimes you have to be careful. Herb grew up with Toto, his different influences as well. We do realize that we love the Hammond Organ, and that’s a staple of Deep Purple straight away. And when you have Ian Paice in the band, people will think we have to sound like Deep Purple. We don’t think consciously, let’s not sound like Deep Purple. The riffs are more different to what Blackmore or Steve Morse would come up with. We have our own style that way. People hearing us for the first time, they are going to have Deep Purple in mind. I try to bring a more disco element, Ian has some massive swing where he can play the backbeat very heavy, it’s really great. Nick on bass, we have a wonderful rhythm section.
The songs – Deep Purple fans, some of them are hardcore. If we please people, it’s great. If not, oh well, it’s cool. We do what we feel is fun for us. We realize we have to please an element of people. I won’t say it’s a thing around our neck, as it gave us the career that we have at the moment, that would be flippant. Next album, I don’t know if we will make an extreme transition. Just as Purple did in the 70’s, Burn and Stormbringer, that was a complete transition. We like to experiment, but once you have Ian’s drums, Herb’s guitars, and I don’t think anyone sounds like me – it’s pretty original when you hear it.
Dead Rhetoric: How do you view the music industry today, and how Purpendicular is able to navigate the landscape with social media platforms and instant communication technology versus the old business model with physical media, music videos, in print magazines, being the main tools to promote your product?
Walsh: Well, it’s two different generations. There are plus and minuses to both. If you look at from years ago, you only had a manager that could get on the phone sending telegrams. They would get to work that way, faxes would come in. It was basic. The good thing about that was, generally, only good bands got a chance. Nowadays, you don’t know who’s real and who’s fake, what’s real and what’s not real. It’s very saturated, and that’s a shame. I’m not trying to diss young people who are trying to be musicians, but I think the music today is suffering. I was talking to Ian about it, when Deep Purple got together, they were all into different kinds of music: bluegrass, funk, Elvis Presley, swing/big band. Unfortunately, when I started this band, I thought we had to do a tribute thing – otherwise we wouldn’t get paid. It was very difficult with the original music – hence the internet, hence the saturation. We have to do what people know, otherwise we won’t have a chance. You have to work very hard, and setbacks are a part of being in every rock band.
Nowadays, the internet from the plus side is you connect with people very quickly. I am with you right now, press, promoters. The downside is, everybody talks to each other, so you have to be careful. Bands rather than copying, even if they are original, you can be tasteful even with the different influences. You have bands like The Police that added reggae with their guitar player, Sting was pop/rock, you create a whole new different sound. What I will say is we are willing to work very hard as long as we can because we enjoy it. The only way to get forward, if you want to stay alive in the industry, is to play live as much as possible, while it’s still there. It’s getting harder and harder. When you do, you are more confident, you collect more contacts that you deserve. And you start recording much more. We are only on our third album; we are going to do a lot more recordings. We are already working on material for the next album.
Dead Rhetoric: Being a fan of football (soccer in the US), what teams/ leagues do you follow, and how do you feel about the worldwide love of this sport?
Walsh: Since 1984, all my friends were Manchester United, Liverpool fans. The English league, not the NFL you have. When I went to school, I announced that my new team was the Queens Park Rangers, and everybody started to look at me and laugh. We weren’t so good, but we had really cool looking shirts with Guinness written on it. Just because I am from Dublin, I don’t even like (Guinness) to be honest. It was great when we started to beat teams like Liverpool.
Worldwide I think football is getting worse. It’s evolving, and like anything, there is big, big money. When there are big bucks, you get World Cups in Qatar for example. I don’t think today any of the players would go to the pub after a game and have a beer or go on the Metro at home with their football boots in their bag. Nowadays it’s all very star and celebrity status – the rules of the game make it not the game it was. There was a match between Leeds against Chelsea in 1972. A modern referee said there would have been seven red cards if it had been played today. I still follow my club and my team. What’s increasingly frightening is watching the younger players as I’m getting older.
Dead Rhetoric: How do you define success as a musician today – and has that definition changed from your early days to your outlook now?
Walsh: When you are a kid, it’s like I said earlier, you think there is champagne and roses. Those days are gone, unless you are a major artist. Success to me is living a good life, being well-paid. A car, a house, a good family, food on the table, happiness. That’s the most important – if you are happy, you have everything. When you can pay your bills, and if anything goes wrong and you can take care of yourself, you are doing alright. Anything else on top is gravy.
Dead Rhetoric: What are three of the most important albums that helped shape your outlook on music?
Walsh: It would be Dark Side of the Moon – Pink Floyd. ABBA – Arrival. And Abraxas by Santana. That would be my three. The guitar playing on the final one is absolutely phenomenal. The simplicity and the feeling from guitar players like Carlos Santana and David Gilmour, you wish current guitarists would think about their playing. Really, really great. And Animals from Pink Floyd. I could say ten – three is very difficult. Deep Purple as well, there are so many records that shaped what I wanted to be later on down the road.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s on the agenda for Purpendicular over the next twelve months to support Human Mechanic? Are there other bands, projects, etc. that the members of the Purpendicular work on outside of this that have things in the pipeline as well?
Walsh: I’m not sure what Herb is doing, Ian has his own studio, so I know he does some session work, bits and pieces here and there. Ian has to do a summer tour with Deep Purple and writing in 2023 in March. Me, myself, I am tied up with Purpendicular, starting to write new material. We have a tour coming up in the Czech Republic, four dates there. A French tour in November, twelve shows there. Then Germany, Sweden, and the rest of Scandinavia. I am hopeful for some festivals in 2023. We are all pretty busy. Nick is doing some sessions in Paris. During the summer we will write together and shape the new record that will follow Human Mechanic. I am really looking forward to going out live and play this album. We will make the people love it!