Posted on by Oran

With new album ‘Heavy Fire’ doing all kinds of damage in the charts, BLACK STAR RIDERS are back with not only a bang-tidy follow up to 2015’s sensational ‘The Killer Instinct’ but are also about to kick off a selection of live dates in Ireland and the UK this weekend, with their performance in Dublin’s Academy on Saturday March 4th. Overdrive caught up with Damon Johnson to shoot the shit about the new album, the forthcoming tour and the future of the band’s plans.

Black Star Riders Damon Johnson

It’s a Friday evening and as the unpredictable February temperatures take a nosedive and the local watering holes rapidly fill with the nine to fivers, Overdrive is hanging back in the office for our scheduled call with Black Star Riders shredder, Damon Johnson.

I’m greeted with the same humble and pleasant temperament as I have experienced before with Damon and as we chat about his passion for the band’s new album ‘Heavy Fire‘ and his respect and admiration for his fellow band members, it’s beyond apparent that things are looking good for Damon and Black Star Riders. And why not? The album charted at an impressive number 6 in the UK, which no doubt fired up the desire for the band to hit the road and get down to the business of doing what they were born to do.

OD – Great to talk to you again. Now firstly, let’s get to the business of “Heavy Fire”. This is another fine slab of quality of hard rock, as was ‘The killer Instinct’ and ‘All Hell Breaks Loose”. I can hear you guys owning your own sound more and more with each release. Not forgetting the band’s roots and links to Thin Lizzy, would you agree that it’s been a very important journey so far to establish BSR as a separate entity?

Black Star Riders Damon Johnson 3

DAMON – Absolutely man, I totally agree with that. If we are going to move forward, evolve and grow as a band we need to venture into new music and new experiences to take us to where we need to be. We never in a million years thought that we would be doing what we are doing now in terms of direction. The debut album was kind of a stepping stone for us and we didn’t want to be this band that was planning to continue as Thin Lizzy because that’s impossible. It cannot be done without Phil Lynott and everybody knows it.

Everything that has happened to us over the three albums is just a testament to the fans that have made this happen. The Thin Lizzy faithful have been so supportive of us and while they were there back in 2013 when we started out, we have managed to welcome new fans on board and it’s really fun for us, because we get to educate them about the magnificence of Thing Lizzy, the genius of Phil and of course Scott’s (Gorham, guitars) legacy in the band.

To be honest, it’s a very bizarre place to find ourselves and we never imagined that we would be in this situation when we started Black Star Riders. We are beyond happy with the way things are going and just can’t wait to get out there and hit the stage with the new material.

OD – Let’s talk about the writing process of Heavy Fire as I know that in the past, you had Ricky (Warwick – vocals/guitar) come out to you and vice versa. How did the material come together for the album this time around?

DAMON – The process was very similar in the way that Ricky and I would get together and hammer out the initial batch of ideas. Ricky always comes with loads of lyrics and his own guitar melodies and I had my own collection of ideas, riffs and concepts for arrangements, so we had a really positive and productive first writing session back in January of 2016, where we jammed for three days and in that one time period we left there with seven or eight completed songs. That’s just a testament to our work ethic as we like to get down to business and not waste any time. I mean in that one session, we wrote ‘When the Night Comes In‘, Testify Or Say Goodbye‘ and ‘Dancing With the Wrong Girl‘, which are three of the key tracks from the album. That’s pretty incredible to have achieved so much in such a short amount of time but that’s just the chemistry that we have, which is priceless.

Download 2015 - Day 2

When we had the bare bones of the tracks, we sent that over to Scott, Robbie (Crane – Bass) and Jimmy (DeGrasso – Drums) and they got fired up immediately saying “aww man, that’s really good stuff that you have there” which kind of get the wheels turning and we all just got down to business to see what else we could come up with.

Over the course of the Spring and Summer, Ricky and I kept writing and we eventually had a writing session at Scott‘s house in London, which was a first for us. As always, Scott is good for two or three killer guitar riffs, so he came in with those and we developed them into songs and it also gave us a chance to work through the stuff that Ricky and I had already come up with. It was such a mind-blowing honour to get Scott’s endorsement on songs, guitar riffs and licks.

Scott Goram

For me, it was just such a fantasy to be playing with this guy that I admired and idolised so much growing up and I’m here in his house and we’re jamming together. I was such a deep Thin Lizzy fan when I was younger and still am to this day. It’s just insane to think that this is my life now and we are all playing music together and it’s working so well.

OD – There is no doubt that Black Star Riders have that ‘lightning in a bottle’ or natural swagger when it comes to writing genuine hard rock/blues-driven anthems. In my opinion, there are so many bands that try so hard and don’t come close. When you all get into a room together can you feel the charge in the air, as I’m sure it’s incredibly inspiring?


DAMON – That energy is totally there when we all get into a room together and it’s basically due to the fact that we are all so passionate about music and the art of songwriting. In addition to every component that makes Black Star Riders work, Ricky Warwick and I are incredibly passionate about writing songs. Not just for our band, but for solo stuff also. To be at this position in our careers is just amazing. Being a part of such a powerful and incredibly special band as well as having the opportunity to have other outlets; is so special.

We don’t put any of our songs in any kind of category. If we know that BSR is not the right fit for a song, or if there is an idea that’s just not working with the rest of the guys, then we’ll find another home for it.

One of the other big differences with the writing process for Heavy Fire was that we wrote far more quantity of material than we had ever done in the past, prior to recording. We came to Nashville with twenty-two complete songs with full lyrics, chorus and guitar solos etc. There’s a batch of ten or eleven songs that we now have in our back pocket and I’m telling you, man, there are some real nuggets in there that will no doubt feature on some future BSR releases (laughing).

OD – You found yourself back in Nashville, working with Nick (Raskulinecz – producer) again for this album. Was there any hesitation with working with another producer, or was it just a no-brainer to get Nick behind the desk again?

damon_johnson_at_download_2_by_thehellpatrol-d3js5l1DAMON – We didn’t give it any more thought! I was actually a case of “hey Nick, what’s your calendar looking like?” and he had a similar mindset to us and we are just grateful for that. He’s a very inspiring man that we all connect with on our own personal level as well as collectively.

We really feel like we captured something special on ‘The Killer Instinct‘ and it was actually Ricky that said “everything’s working great, let’s not mess with the chemistry“, so we had Nick back in the producer’s chair and I feel like we stumbled onto a great team and I’m just so grateful for that. It’s just amazing to have five ‘veteran’ musicians that are all so passionate about making new music right now at this point in our lives. With all of our combined experience from recording, touring, writing and general salve’s to our art, it’s an incredible position to be in for us all.

We are just so elated about the tour that coming up, as we have a mind-blowing setlist of Black Star Riders material as well as some Thin Lizzy gems.

OD – Will you be airing a good portion of the new album or a fair mix of all three plus some Lizzy stuff?

DAMON – We just emailed the setlist to each other not 48 hours ago and it has six new tracks from Heavy Fire which is a lot but, they just rip as live tunes and we had to get them in that setlist. We are totally gonna tip the hat to Lizzy also, as there will always be gratitude and respect there for those classic songs.

OD – Can you tell me if ‘Who Rides The Tiger‘ is gonna be included in the live set?

DAMON – I wouldn’t show up for the tour if that wasn’t in the setlist (Laughing). Our friends over at Nuclear Blast are huge supporters of Black Star Riders past and were just so excited about the new material when they heard it. They sent us a bunch of emails when they heard the new stuff and ‘Who Rides The Tiger‘ happened to be one of their favourite tracks, so we couldn’t exclude it from the setlist.

We have three BSR albums to choose from now and you can be damn sure that the crowds will get their fair share of new and old material from our legacy.

OD – Let’s talk a little about the band’s decision to use Pledgemusic and what can we or anyone who donates expect to receive from this?

DAMON – Yeah, we did. It’s the first time that we as a band used the Pledgemusic model. Ricky has had some great experiences from it and we decided to give it a shot. We reached out to some of our fanbases to see what they thought of us trying this our and they loved the idea. There is just so much product that we put up there giving a number of interests to the fans, which were fantastic to see. It was such a success for us, with all the fans going for the pre-order and giving us such a good charting position when ‘Heavy Fire‘ was released earlier this month. It came in at number six which was just insane and you know what? That would never have happened without the pledge system that we introduced.

We really planned the whole thing so well as we hired a videographer to catch all of this behind the scenes stuff that was exclusive to the Pledgemusic campaign. There’s loads of studio footage including Ricky laying down live lyrics and myself trying out a bunch of different guitars as well as the guys just goofing around.

If I could have seen that type of stuff when I was growing up for bands like Thin Lizzy and Led Zeppelin, I would have lost my mind (laughing). You can imagine that by giving that insight to the fans was something really special. I don’t know if we’ll use Pledgemusic again, even though it was a success for us. We’ll just have to see where we’re at in the future with things.

OD – What are your thoughts on this as a platform for future BSR releases or even a consideration for re-releasing some of the old Brother Cane stuff on vinyl?

DAMON – Wow! I actually haven’t thought of using Pledgemusic for that. That’s actually a solid idea that’s totally worth looking into as it is with Ricky with his solo stuff. We’ll have to have a talk about that at some point. I think it’s a great idea and although it’s early days with the promotion for ‘Heavy Fire‘ that would be something that could actually work.

ODRamblin’ Man Fair last year saw a very special performance in honour of Phil’s 30th anniversary as well as the 40th anniversary for Jailbreak. It must have been a fantastic memory to have been a part of and will we ever see anything like that again in the near future?

Thin Lizzy 2015

DAMON – It was over the top man!I’ve got to give credit to the fans who were just amazing and I was just so happy for Scott, who had given his endorsement to honour the 40th anniversary off ‘Jailbreak” at that show and of course marking 30 years since Phil’s ThinLizzy-Jailbreak-Frontpassing. We got to play on stage with some great friends such as Tom Hamilton (Aerosmith) and Scott Travis (Judas Priest / Racer X) who are just premier league musicians. I could not have enjoyed the experience any more than I did. Will it ever happen again? Who knows man, it’s just one of those things that came together so well and everybody was available to play. Right now we are just overjoyed with what we are doing with the new album, but looking at 2018, who knows man?

Thin Lizzy Ramblin' Man Fair

OD – When you finish this run of dates will you be taking a break or undergoing another leg of the tour?

BSR-2017-UK-Tour-ArtworkDAMON – We finish up with Ireland and the UK and then we are home for another month then we’re back out in Germany and possibly some Scandinavian dates and a couple of festivals. There’s also talk of a run of dates in Japan as we’re getting a lot of love from there right now, so we’ll just have to see what way the logistics work out for that.

Then we are most likely going to concentrate on some U.S dates as we kind of have a to push things a little harder over there. Black Star Riders and Thin Lizzy don’t have the same profile as we have over in Europe but we just feel like it’s an amazing opportunity to get out there and spread the good word.

OD – We will be seeing you on March 4th in Dublin’s Academy. With the history of the band and the ties with Dublin, this must be a special show for Black Star Riders?

DAMON – Every time we play in Dublin, it’s just super important for us because of the history linked to the band. That city holds a very special place in the band and we promise that we won’t disappoint when we get over there. It’s gonna be one hell of a show, that’s for sure.

A limited amount of tickets are on sale NOW for Black Star Riders with GUN and The Amorettes via Ticketmaster and Sound Cellar. Please check MCD for all the latest.

Black Star Riders banner

Oran O’Beirne


Black Star Riders Aftershow