Tygers of Pan Tang – Driving the BloodlinesSunday, 23rd April 2023
This writer’s adolescence took place in the 1980’s, the growth of the heavy metal genre included speedier, powerful, explosive movements that all developed out of the traditional style. We all could name favorites sprouting from the UK New Wave of British Heavy Metal scene – which Tygers of Pan Tang were an active part of. Still continuing strong from their beginnings in 1978, their latest studio record Bloodlines proves that older musicians can remain relevant through capturing a proven style with the modern technology tools and behind the scene masters at their disposal – much like Saxon and Diamond Head have through their latest platters.
We reached out to vocalist Jack Meille to discuss the process behind Bloodlines – including work with Tue Madsen, how they wish to remain contemporary even as a NWOBHM act, favorite memories in the band including his audition process, Japan, Sweden Rock and Keep It True festival stories, hopes for humanity coming out of the pandemic, and what’s in store for touring.
Dead Rhetoric: What can you tell us regarding your earliest memories surrounding music growing up in childhood? At what point did you then discover hard rock/metal, and want to start performing in bands?
Jack Meille: First memories straight away – Dark Side of the Moon on cassette. My introduction to rock, because my clear memory of a rock album is listening to this, I was in love with the instrumental “On the Run”, the first time ever I thought about a song that could stimulate my imagination. What is this all about? Even if there are no lyrics, it’s telling a story. My second thing, it was Christmas 1976 or so, I was eight years old, I was at my parents’ friends’ house, and they started listening to A Night at the Opera from Queen. I fell in love with that record, the day after I went to my father and asked him to buy me that record.
Since then, you can tell from the music on my wall I have become music addicted (laughs). I’ve been listening to music all through the years. I started singing in my very first band back in 1983. I was 14 years old, and I joined the band because I was able to speak English, that was a bonus. I had a lot of lyric books – Kiss, Rod Stewart, sheet music I was buying with Motörhead. Because I didn’t play any instruments, I became the singer. I remember the very first band, we were a four-piece, and the first three songs we picked up were “Paranoid” by Black Sabbath, the guitar player was into the Rolling Stones – “Under My Thumb”, and the drummer was into The Police so we did a song by them. I was struggling with that one, as singing Sting material is not really easy. We went through the whole summer of 1983 trying to get them right.
Dead Rhetoric: What do you remember about first joining Tygers of Pan Tang back in the mid-2000’s? Have you always been a fan or follower of the band and understood their legacy and importance on the traditional NWOBHM movement through their early discography?
Meille: The story about joining Tygers was a strange one. Before Tygers I never did any auditions – I was fortunate to always be the right person at the right time in the right place. I had been in other bands, but with Tygers it was the first time there was a real audition. I had to fly to England to do the audition. With the audition and my first rehearsal, it was in the north of England. It was the same city where David Coverdale took a train down to London to do his rehearsal when he auditioned for Deep Purple. I took that strange sliding door – he was going down south to do that rehearsal and I flew all the way from Italy to do an audition, and it all started here. I took it as a good omen, and it was. Darlington, it’s in between Durham and Middlesbrough. I went to the station to see this.
The first song we played was “Take It”. When I started to sing I could see the smiles on the faces of the members, I was doing it right from the start. I was optimistic that I got the job – and I did. So here I am. Almost twenty years later, less hair, white beard, grown up – well, almost grown up, playing in Tygers and still singing with them.
Dead Rhetoric: Bloodlines is the 13th and latest studio album, and your fifth for the group. How would you describe the songwriting and recording sessions for this record – were there any surprises, obstacles, or challenges to work through in this set of material?
Meille: It was a big challenge because of two main reasons. One is it was written and recorded during COVID. The downside of it, we were never in the studio together, we all had to record our parts separately. That’s not something… all the previous albums I flew to England and recorded in the studio. This time I had to record in a studio in Florence, my hometown. Secondly, it was because of the changes in the lineup that seem to have occurred with Tygers on a regular basis. We have to find somebody new, the strange thing about this is Francesco Marras the guitar player, we saw him all together for the first time last year in May. We recorded the album, and we wrote the songs without literally having met. As Joe Perry from Aerosmith would say, “Let the Music Do the Talking”. What happened is, the ideas we were bouncing to each other were really good – there was no need for explaining. I have never seen Robb as inspired as these sessions. He had a great amount of riffs, chord progressions, everything. It is the very first time since way back when John Sykes met for the Spellbound sessions, he felt so comfortable with Francesco even with the communication by video via email, Zoom, technology. He would send a riff, and within a couple of days he would work on those ideas to have a song, adding what was missing. Robb’s idea would be taken to the next level. Robb is an essential part of the Tygers sound, but Francesco would add something completely new that was at the same time very in the wavelength of the past, something personal.
We were all stuck in the houses, we were all very unhappy to see gigs cancelled. We were so excited to have more time to write and arrange songs, work them out. Since I joined Tygers, there have never been so many songs to pick and choose from to include in a record. We worked and demoed at least twenty songs, and finalized thirteen, of which ten ended up on the record. On this side, in a way it was thanks to COVID we had the time to concentrate on songwriting. A lot of bands are used to new record, gigs, two years, that’s it. Bands like Saxon, Diamond Head, or other bands like The Cult, were able to release really good albums because they had the time to work on the album without too much pressure on them.
Dead Rhetoric: You worked with seasoned producer Tue Madsen in terms of mixing / mastering for this effort – giving the record a bit more of a contemporary, modern aspect to the tried and true sound of the band. Where do you think Tue’s experience has made the most impact on this record – and is it important for an established group like yourselves to continue to advance with the times for technology while not sacrificing the essence of who you are as musicians?
Meille: It’s tricky. I have to be brutally honest. I never thought about the fact of him being too well-known of a producer for modern metal bands that would interfere with our sound. We chose Tue mainly because we recorded A New Heartbeat, that EP and had Marco Angioni mixing it. Great guy, he really got it. Then Robb told me the record label said Tue was available, and he was more than happy to work with us. We sent him stems of that EP and said, let me hear what you can do. The sound he came up with, what Marco had, was so loyal to the song but it had an edge, a brightness, an aggressive punch that we all liked. Why shouldn’t we ask him to work on the whole album? I think what he did, I have been listening to Bloodlines a lot which is quite strange because a musician when he finishes an album, he doesn’t want to hear it because he’s sick of it. Everything, he’s been very respectful. He kept the vibe of the album, and there are two elements we wanted the people to get. It’s a riff-based album, with a lot of melody in it. These two elements are there for Tygers, but never well put together. If you go back in the past you have Spellbound, The Cage, aggressive and then an AOR type of band. Why can’t we find a way to put both elements together? We did pretty well with Ambush, we went too melodic on the 2016 album. We were very happy with Ritual, still one of the best things I’ve been involved with.
The first time ever with this album, those two elements are well glued together. Tue has taken our hard rock elements, but if you listen to a song like “Kiss the Sky” there is this 70’s element there. He has done a few little things we never thought about – “Edge of the World” to put more emphasis on the voice. When I heard it, the song ended up being so epic, and it needed more drama, especially in the verses. The contrast is really affected. Tue has been listening to the album and the songs, he was really able to understand the essence of the album and make it sound as it sounds now. Some New Wave of British Heavy Metal fans are very strict, they want to hear everything as it was in the 80’s. I keep on saying, it’s 2023 – we never consider ourselves as a retro-band. We always said we have a heritage, we have a catalog, we love the old stuff and never stop playing “Hellbound”, “Gangland”, fantastic songs but we are in the present, we listen to new stuff. We know exactly how a Tygers song should sound, sometimes it’s also challenging to change the dress, or fancy boots and see what happens. A different leather jacket, but its still me, I’m not putting on a disco suit and pretending to be a rocker.
Dead Rhetoric: Obviously I would agree. As you mentioned, bands like Saxon, Diamond Head, even Raven, have advanced with the times using the technology at your disposal without sacrificing the sound or style of the band…
Meille: I know that some countries like Greece, or very loyal fans from Brazil, they want to hear a new album that should sound like the 80’s – with also the vintage elements. I would suggest going and listening to the old albums. Go and discover old bands that probably didn’t get the success they were aiming for and deserved. It’s really from the 80’s. You have to allow a band that wants to move forward, or at least be contemporary. It’s difficult to evolve when you stick to a genre, but you have to be contemporary. The album should always be the expression of the members of the band which are now – it’s Robb, me, Craig, Francesco, and Huw. We all have very different tastes when it comes down to music. When it comes down to Tygers we all know exactly how we want a Tygers song to sound like. Bloodlines has all those elements.
Dead Rhetoric: What have been some of your favorite memories with Tygers of Pan Tang – albums, tours, festival appearances, or other cool events/experiences that will stay forever embedded in your memory banks?
Meille: There are so many. The first time I went to Japan with Tygers, my first time in Japan. Three days, it was exciting as never before, the travelling, spending at least a day walking around Tokyo. The time we played Sweden Rock Festival, at the time Dean Robertson was on guitar. Both he and I are great fans of Michael Schenker. We went to see him on the front stage, and we realized we were on in five minutes! We had to rush to the other stage, get dressed, and yeah – here we are! (laughs). That proves that you are a musician, and you are still a fan. Last time, we have played Bang Your Head festival in Germany. I love the people, the after show I can go to the record stores. If you want to find me, and Tygers are there, to have a chat with me, just go to the record store as I will be looking around picking up new pieces.
Fun moments, last time we played in November, in Germany at the Keep it True festival. It was us, Diamond Head, Doro, Saxon. My flight got cancelled, I got another flight, and that was delayed. I literally arrived fifteen minutes before going on stage. I changed myself in the van while going on the motorway. We play the first song, I had this moment of complete relief. It was so liberating. It was a nightmare, luckily it was an early flight so I had time to get to the city.
Dead Rhetoric: How do you think humanity has handled coming out of this global pandemic where life priorities shifted for a couple of years? Do you believe people are ready to enjoy live entertainment and the performing arts a bit more due to this extended downtime when there wasn’t as much happening in those arenas?
Meille: It’s strange. It’s already a year that COVID is gone, but not really gone. This summer will prove if humanity has coped with those two years of absolute chaos, because it was chaos for everybody in everybody’s life. There wasn’t a country where this pandemic didn’t have an impact. This is the summer where we can prove that people are back to some kind of normality, enjoying going out, seeing live shows. During the winter with Tygers people were still wearing masks at venues. Everybody should do what makes them feel comfortable, at the same time it’s really strange.
I’ll answer you again in September when we finish all this touring and festival action. If people are ready to enjoy the vibe of watching a live show, standing one next to each other without fearing they may catch something.
Dead Rhetoric: What do you consider three of the most important albums – metal or otherwise- that helped shape your outlook on music? And what’s the best concert memory you have, purely attending a show as a fan?
Meille: It’s an easy question and a tough question all at the same time. I have my top three albums, or top five are still there, the albums I consider perfect. But when it goes down to what shaped me, it’s not necessarily a perfect album or more what got the impact on me. Definitely A Night at the Opera by Queen is one of those albums. I would surely put one like Dressed to Kill or Rock and Roll Over from Kiss. Kiss was one of the bands that got me at ten years old, and as you know as a kid, Kiss got your attention, you were addicted. Last, an album from Led Zeppelin, who are my favorite band. Still my favorite band, it could be III, II or Presence. They keep on changing from year to year.
Thinking about concerts. There are a lot that had an impact on me. There’s one concert in 2009, when I went to see in Birmingham Heaven and Hell. It was my third time I have seen Ronnie James Dio. When they started “Children of the Sea” and he started singing, I was completely into tears. It was perfection. Emotional perfection, it really got me. As a singer I was hearing him and saying, ‘how can he do this’. It was fantastic. That’s the best thing I heard in my life. It’s a more recent one, in my hometown in 2018 I saw Iron Maiden without any expectation. I’m not a big fan of the latest release, but I respect them a lot. And the minute they started with “Aces High” I was blown away. It was two hours of absolute fun. I was back to being a kid. The first time I saw them on the Powerslave tour in Bologna, they had Mötley Crüe opening for them, and they were fantastic too at the time. “Two Minutes to Midnight”, yes. That was the best metal concert I saw in my life, the songs, the stage acting, the energy that they were transmitting to the audience. Bruce Dickinson was incredible, jumping, singing at his best. He sang the high notes in “Flight of Icarus”. I was literally a kid again.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s on the agenda for anything related to Tygers of Pan Tang or other musical activities you may have going into the next twelve months or so?
Meille: The album will be out in May, we will have another single out before the release. We have a lot of gigs already planned. We will start off in Holland, in May in England, in Denmark, Sweden and Norway. And then back in England, down to Germany at the Iron Fist festival in June. We will do a festival in Spain with Deep Purple, Helloween. It will be a busy summer. Hopefully, the gigs will continue, if they don’t close us in again in our houses. We are hoping for more shows in the fall. There are plans to go to Mexico, we were planning to go to Australia. A lot of American fans want us to play in the US, we have played there once in Chicago back in 2016. We would love to come back. It’s not about convincing us to come to America, it’s about the logistics, it’s not easy. You need a good promoter, all the paperwork sorted out, you get into trouble. We keep looking, we would love to do at least a couple of festivals if there is not a proper tour. To touch base and do more afterwards. It looks like a good year, so far the reception to Bloodlines has been really good and we want to get out more to the fans. Hopefully they will appreciate the hard work we’ve put behind this over the last couple of years.
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