Billy, I'm glad you could join us tonight. Just to get us rolling here, I understand that you're from Australia. Is that right?
English by birth. I have dual citizenship, but I've lived in Australia all my life, since I was a kid. I'm Australian.What brings you to the US?
Well, I've been here, now, for 4 years. I live in LA. I've made 20 albums in Australia, and had a lot of single success, had about 12 #1 records down there with the band that I had. I did television, and radio. There was nothing left for me to do, to be honest with you. A country of 40 million people the same size as the United States, it's easy to become..... saturated. I was fortunate to carry on a carreer as long as I did down there. I came to America in '72 for the first American Song Festival. I was a finalist, or a semifinalist, and it introduced me to the country. I came for 4 days, and ended up staying nearly 4 months. And it was at that point in time that I decided that this was the place for me to come if I was going to evolve any further as an artist, you know?Speaking of Australia, I mean if anybody would know, you would. What's going on down in Australia these days musically?
A hellava lot. I mean, it's always been a very fertile music scene. What's happening now from Australia is just the tip of the iceberg, you know? I honestly believe at times that we were further ahead than the rest of the world in some forms of music. Heavy rock, for one. What's happening with the upsurge of heavy rock in this country happened in the '70s in Australia. It was very big. Punk happened in Australia, as a musical style, not a lifestyle, but as a musical style, before it happened anywhere else in the world.What do you suppose accounted for that?
In Australia, the geography where the country is.....it's a very insular country. And your influences are not just American, or just English. They're both. And kids have a much broader base.....of listening experiences, than, say, Americans do. Because Americans buy a large share of the American records.That's interesting. I had always believed that British and American music influenced what was going on down there because Australia is so "Isolated." But I suppose that isn't the case at all.
Well, let me put it to you this way. I used to see bands playing, you know, doing covers on stage of what would be a hit record. And I've seen the bands that actually made the records here, live. Some of the people, and the people that did the covers were 10 times the bands that were making them. It's a funny situation, because there's no communication between there and the rest of the world. And it's very hard to break out of there. Consequently, nobody in this part of the world is ever aware of what is going on, either.Did you find that because of your background and the previous success that you had in Australia, did you find it easy to break into the mainstream of American music?
Well, I broke in pretty much the way everybody else breaks in. I had a pretty good track record, and that opened up a few doors for me, but basically what I did in Australia didn't count for.....a damn, really. You know, it's really a case of tooling all over again. And I broke in by knocking on doors, and auditioning for people, and playing songs and going to the publishers for a year and a half,... two years.Well, it seems top me that your music of then, as compared to what you've released in the past year or so, is a completely different style alltogether. Can you explain what caused this shift in direction?
Well, I made a lot of different kinds of records. I was very lucky. I started in television when I was ten, and started recording when I was sisteen. I covered a lot of ground. I was David Cassidy for a long time. I was best known in Australia as.......I was probably like a.... not quite as overt, but...a Ted Nugent. I played very heavy rock. I was in a rock band for a long, long time. I covered some...when I say "covered," I don't mean I covered other people's songs, but I've done some stuff in the area before. I did a live recording at the Sydney Opera House which was a futuristic thing. "Symphonic Rock", or however you want to describe it, is something that has been in my head for a long, long time. When you're put in a pattern, an image, and you've had a lot of success in there, it's hard for people to accept anything new from you. And I hadn't done a tremendous amount of writing down there, and when I got to this country, I was forced to write, because no-one was interested in releasing any of my old stuff, and nobody was going to give me any material, and so I got into writing. And all my influences started to come out. And the strongest era that came out of my head appeared to be, you know, '67 - '69 or '70 English rock. Yes, King Crimson, early Purple, early Floyd.Yeah, I wanted to talk to you about that, your musical influences, that is. When I first heard "Children Of The Sun," it reminded me of the kind of music that was unique to the late 60's / Early 70's. You know, the Emerson,Lake and Palmer, the Genesis, and so on. So I guess the music of that time did influence you. Didn't it?
That's what I'm saying. I've toured with a lot of overseas artists when I was very young. My original influences were people like Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry, the early Memphis sound, Carl Perkins, Elvis Presley. But I also toured with people like Sarah Vaughn, and jazz/blues artists. Personally, I've been influenced by everybody I've ever really listened to or worked with. But I never really started playing guitar until I came to America. I played rhythm guitar in the bands that I'd been in, but I was primarily the lead singer. And it seems that my strongest influences in terms of writing with a guitar, and as a player that played guitar/ lead guitar on the albums that I was going to make,...the strongest influences are those, that period you mentioned earlier. The Hendrix, the Floyd, not so much Cream, but the early King Crimson, Yes. You know, the late '66 up until the '70's.Yeah. Billy, just to change the pace a bit, let's regress about a year ago. I want to talk to you about "Children Of The Sun," to say the least. And I feel it's a real intriguing piece of music. As a matter of fact, I would venture to say that most of our audience is familiar with it. And what's interesting is the fact that it was released about a year ago. We still get calls from people asking, "What's the name of the song?", and "Who did it?" How about offering a little insight into the record? To begin with, is there a message, or a theme?
Well, the song is part of an overall theme. "Children Of The Sun" is Part I of a trilogy. This current album, "21st Century Man" is Part II. And, subsequently, the third part will be the next album. See, when I went into the studio to cut the last album, "Children Of The Sun" was one song out of the 16 or so songs that we were going to cut, and then chose the best tracks, and make a...fairly conventional album. And then approach it from the point of view that they were individual, unrelated tracks. And it was a rock and roll album. But when we cut "Children Of The Sun" and I recorded the back tracks for it, there was something else there, you know? When you listen to the lyrics, they made a lot more sense, they had a lot more impact than the boy-meets-girl lyrics that were on the album, you know? And I stopped recording, went home for a week, and pulled a lot of material apart, and came back with a whole, fresh approach. It was a spontanious thing. The concept, and the conceptual direction, and the thought of going in that direction, as opposed to individual tracks on an album, and trying to write singles, developed very naturally. But the theme, the idea... "Children Of The Sun" is essentially the story of a visitation to Earth by an alien race called the Sun Children, a friendly race. In the first cut, they actually arrive on Earth and make their presence known, and invite anybody that wants to leave with them the opportunity to go. And everybody leaves. And by the end of that side, on "Children of the Sun,"I think the last lyric on that is.... "No more gravity, nothing holding them down / Floating endlessly, as the ship leaves the ground." And by the end of that album, they've actually left Earth's atmosphere, and they're now just heading into space, ready to make the next migration. The problem with doing something like that is finding a reason why it occurred, if you're going to carry it on. I mean, it could have occurred in the past, it could be in our future, or it could have happened in our present time. I decided, given what's going around in the world with the Middle East Crisis, the point in time whre we are in 1980, and approaching the year 2000, and predictions from people like Nostradamas, and whoever else, that a catastrophe was the reason that they came. So the first cut on Side One, of "21st Century Man," "1991", essentially is the story of a World War that starts in 1991, and half the population is wiped out, and as a result, the Earth, as a result of the atomic blast, ...the Earth has changed in its orbit, and is projected towards the sun. It's at that point in time that the "Children Of the Sun" cut, which is cut one on the last album, appeared. In other words, that's the reason why the visit happened, and that's the reason why everybody left.So now we find what's left of the Earth's inhabitants. Travelling across the universe with the Sun Children to a world of another time. On "The journey of a thousand lifetimes," to quote Billy Thorpe. But just to backtrack a bit. The first song on Billy's new album actually explains what happened. Like he said, nuclear holocaust caused the Earth to shift on its axis. And because of humanity's inability to negotiate and solve the problems of the world, the Human Race, or, shall we say, what is left of it, are on Planet Earth. Destined for the sun and certain destruction in the year 1991.
The title is a track that's on the album titled "21st Century Man." And it blows apart the story of the album. It's the first cut on Side 2. Being that he is one of the people that was involved in the mass exodus. And he is selected by the princess of the planet that they go to, called Caledrus, the planet is called Caledrus, and she seduces him, and they make love, they become lovers, and then are formally united in a ceremony and he is crowned the new king. And it's at that point that he's no longer an Earthman, but in fact the new king of the planet. It's a significant change in the point of view that he's not just an Earthman. He's now one of the people of the future. Do you know what I'm saying? There's a very subtle theme between this album, the last album, and the next album.Yeah, I'm leading up to the last one, here.
Essentially, it's a story of hope. It's a feeling that there is something other than what's going on here right now. Because if you look around you, right now, and see what's gooing on in this world, and decide that that's the be-all and end-all of life's experiences,.....it's a little shallow, you know? I have some feelings of the children of the world being the future of the world, and in a sense, WE are the Children of the Future. You understand what I'm saying?Yeah. Is this what the end of the trilogy is going to establish?
Uh.......I don't really want to get into what the next part of the album's about. It's something I've been working on, and obviously, it's very important to the nature of this whole thing. If we get into it, and discussing how the plot ends, is, by any degree, suicide. (laughs)You don't want to spoil it.
Really. I mean, this is a story of a migration of Earth people to the planet Caledrus, which is the biggest planet in a 7-planet system, which revolves around a common sun. Each one with it's own moon orbiting it. It's the story of Earth people being brought down to a very humble state, being indoctrinated into a whole new system, a whole new society. And...of the meeting of the Earth Man and the Sun Goddess, in "21st Century Man," and the birth of the first of the new race, which happens in "She's Alive," and that child growing up to become the new princess, in other words, we have a new race occurring, you know? And, then, in "Rise," which is the last track of the concept, tells of the future, the reason for all this happening, and of a whole new, all-loving race of people going out to re-establish the universe, to re-colonize the universe, and to re-colonize the planet Earth. And the third album will be relative to that idea, and also, if you can.... Well, let's just say they arrive here and fly over New York City, and see the remnants, or the wreakage of the war, and half the bridge standing, and half the monuments left. I mean, you understand what I'm saying? There's so much that it can go into. But there really are a few things in the lyrics that mean a lot to me personally. I'm trying to make some statements from my own personal observations about what's going on in life, and I've found a very good vehicle in which to do it, other than talking about cruising around in cars. I mean, it's great for Springsteen, and Tom Petty, and more power to them. But I just don't want to get into that bag.Billy, one of the most important things about your lyrics is, and we don't see too much of this anymore, Fantasy, that is. It seems to me that a huge portion of songs we hear on the radio these days generally concern themselves with love, riding around in cars, ...you know. Really boring stuff. Your lyrics..., well, it's like...a breath of fresh air, you know?
Yeah, for me too. You know, I mean, I can write those kind of lyrics as well as anyone else can.Where do you get your ideas from?
Good question. I have no idea. They just...see, Radio picked up on that side of the album, on the last album, "Children of the Sun." And it opened up a big door for me. A light went on in my head, and I realized that there was a large audience in America that, to a degree, was starved for that kind of material. I mean, Floyd only doing an album every now and again, and Zeppelin, and Yes...and bands of that genere, you know? And there is a big audience out there, ready for this kind of material. And when you come to a new country, and you're looking for a direction to go, it's really hard to find one, you know?Do you have any favorite tracks on this album, on this new one?
Not so much "Favorite Track," but favorite PARTS of tracks. I spent five and a half months in the studio, twelve hours a day, six days a week. It becomes very personal to you. What is a favorite is a favorite for different reasons, you know? You pulled something off it, or a technique worked, or a recording technique, or something like that.Is that the case?
With this album, things like to guitar intro on the beginning of "We Were Watching You," which is the third track on side one. Things like that. The harmonies and the way we got the blend on that track. The middle of "Solar Dawn," which is the track before that. I'm singing, "We're Landing!", where they're actually landing in the Kingdoms of the Sun. Parts of the record, like that, are what excites me, because they were things we tried to do, with difficulty, and pulled them off, and they worked.
There's a lot of possibilities of what our future could be. There's a lot of things happening on the planet right now, that are not.... too "conducive to good vibes," you know?Yes. Are you into Science Fiction? Do you read?
No, not a buff. I do when something special comes along, I'll get it and read it. I used to read a lot of Science Fiction as a kid, you know? How, or where the lyric for "Children of the Sun" came, or the idea, I have no idea. It just happened. It was a spontanious thing that happened. As I said earlier, it was like...a gift, that ... Here is a vehicle by which I can play the kind of music that I like to play, which is rock and roll music. I mean, I used to play 12-bar rock and roll. Bands like AC/DC and Rose Tattoo. They came out of that style of music. That was what we started playing in Australia in about 1969 and 1970. The Aztecs were famous for playing that kind of music. And, to be able to make records with elements of that, and elements of things that I like to listen to, and have the ability to be able to write lyrics with a little more integrity than riding around in your car, or boy-meets-girl. I mean, what those lyircs say, I'm saying. But in a slightly different format.Yeah, I see a lot more depth to it. I have to laugh when I say this: It's almost Drug-Induced.
Well, perhaps it was. I mean, I was part of the Acid Generation too, you know? I appreciated what went down in that era, and the freedom that came out of it in writing, and the freedom in attitudes. People today, you know, it's funny, because it appears to me that the era that the record business, and the musicians by and large are chosing to revamp, being the '65-'66 era of English rock and roll, or the English music business is the wrong era. They missed the true emergance of English music, which was about 2 or 3 years later.Backing up just a little bit, Billy, to "Children Of The Sun." It's something I've always wanted to ask you, I thought that it was kind of unusual. That was about the label you signed with, Capricorn Records. Now, Capricorn had bands like the Allman Brothers, Dixie Dregs, Elvin Bishop, Marhsall Tucker, a number of "Southern Rock" bands. Now, all of a sudden, here comes Billy Thorpe with music that, quite frankly, in no way that I can see, at least, resembles "Southern Rock" at all. I mean, the only thing that you have in common is the instruments, really, and that's about it. What's the story? How did you become affiliated with Capricorn, of all labels?
Well, probably for that very reason. From their point of view. Frank Fenter, who was Phil Walden's partner, Phil Walden being the father of Capricorn, the guy who started it all. Frank had been involved with Atlantic or Warner Brothers in England during the period that we were talking about, the period of Yes. In fact, I believe, he signed Yes to their first deal. King Crimson, and Deep Purple. He was very much into this kind of music. And they heard the record on their was back to Macon one day on their jet, and they called us as soon as they got back, because we had made the record, and then were shopping it around to various record companies, trying to get a deal. And, quite frankly, with NO success at all! I was turned down by EVERY single record company in the business. I was told "This material will never get played," "It's crap," and "It's indulgent," "Forget it," you know? "You'll never get a carreer in this country." And Capricorn turned around and said, "We think it has the makings, the beginnings, of a good future," you know?So did I.
Thank you. So did I. (laughs) But...they heard it. And they put everything on it. Unfortunately, they were in a very bad position financially at the time. Nobody realized that. And when the record was #40 Nationally, in the charts, or #38, and the single was in the #30's, the company folded. And I was stuck in that situation, not that I had anything to do about it, and switching labels to Polydor, because they were the Parent company, and we were an "assumable asset," so I ended up with Polydor. But only for the rest of that album. With the success of that album, it changed a lot of things. That I wasn't shopping anymore. Labels were calling Us. Electra had been involved in a project with the guy that I produce my records with, Spencer Proffer, and through him, a guy called Kenny Batiste came down to the studio, and heard the record, and that was the introduction to Electra. And they immediately loved the project, loved the idea, and it pretty much was signed then and there.Listen, Billy, I know you've got to take off here in a minute. What are your plans for the future? Are you going to be touring?
No, I won't tour 'till next year. I just fromed a business with Laser Image, which is the Laserium people. And we currently are working on a visual show for next year in Laseriums all over the world, and it will be "The 21st Century Man Show."Great.
That will be happening in every Laserium. And, then they'll be coming out on the road with me. To get this show on the road, you know, because of the amount of work that went into the damn thing,...it was a labor of love, but a labor, you know? And to try to re-create it Live, is going to be a very hard and laborious situation from the point of view of rehearsal. I mean, we're looking at two solid months of rehearsal just to get this thing out. And my album's just come out, and... There's just no way we can do it right now. If the album continues to gain the momentum that it's getting in America, and the reaction that it's getting from the public, and the phone reaction that it's getting, and it sells, I could see us out there about May of next year.Well, I can't see anything but great things happening for you.
Thank you.Care to project what Billy Thorpe will be doing in the next 5 years? Or, 5 years from now?
Hopefully, I'll be pretty much doing what I'm doing now. I'm very happy from the point of view of being able to work in optimum conditions, with truly professional people that care for me and my music. And in a country where radios are dedicated to, you know, its beliefs, and the belief that it serves a...a value within society. It's a great country to be in. And, if I can continue to write and record my own music, the way I want to do it, and people are happy to receive that from me, and evaluate me on the basis of that, and allow me to earn a living on the basis of that, and tour, and see the country, I'll be very happy.Well, thank you for sharing a bit of yourself with our audience, and good luck with your new album.
Listen. If there's anything I can do for you, in terms of... I'm going to do some promos when I get back to LA, and I'll be more than glad to do one for you. Do it through here, and coordinate anything you want. If I can do any posters for you, any more photos, if there are any competitions you want to do, like giving away autographed posters, or anything. You know?That sounds great.
I'm serious. Don't hesitate to call, 'cause I'll be more than glad to cooperate.I'm going to take you up on that.
Back To Billy Thorpe Interviews