Tyketto vocalist Danny Vaughn is creating some waves with his fine new solo album, ‘Myths, Legends and Lies’, (reviewed here) which departs from his usual melodic hard rock excellence with Tyketto to explore his songwriting influences more deeply than perhaps he has before. The Midlands Rocks’ Paul Quinton sat down with him prior to an early gig on the tour to discuss the album and his dealings with the ill fated Pledge Music campaign, not to mention his work with Dan Reed on the Snake Oil and Harmony tours, Tyketto and Jim Peterik, his plans for the future, not to mention a perhaps surprising revelation about his vocal influences.
Midlands Rocks: To begin with we should talk about the album, and a few people have asked about the title. Where did ‘Myths, Legends and Lies’ come from?
Danny Vaughn: I’ve had that title floating around for so long, I’m not sure I have an adequate answer for that. I love the sound of it, it brought to mind one of those travelling gypsy caravans, come night-time putting on a show for the locals, telling tales by the campfire, and that kind of storytelling is something I very much grew up with, with my parents reading to me, whether it was Greek mythology, Sherlock Holmes, Lord of The Rings, you kind of wash all that together and there’s a bit of all those elements in storytelling to make a story what it is, the legendary aspects, stretching the truth. It just sounded like something would hear and go ‘What’s this all about then?’
MR: I did wonder about the ‘Lies’ part
DV: It’s up to the audience to figure out which is which!
MR: Without going into the whole Pledge saga again, what are your memories of making the album? I thought your choice of studio was interesting as well, why did you opt to record at Llangennech?
DV: Well that was more to do with the cast of characters. I had at one point thought I would be returning to Rockfield. I have an ongoing relationship with Wales, and as I started to piece together who I wanted to play on the album, it was everyone from that area. Then Tyketto did the ‘We Got Tomorrow, We Got Tonight’ video shoot, and as always, I see someone play and I think ‘OK, I want to keep their number’. So, with Elizabeth Prendergast and Emma Bryden, it was ‘Alright, they’re definitely going to be on my album’, and I already knew I wanted Cheryl Kane to sing on it, so it quickly became obvious I needed to do the album in Wales, because it would be central.
It turned out there were problems involved in Rockfield, and I wasn’t sure I was going to get the studio, and I think it was Rhys Morgan who said ‘for the type of album you’re doing, Tim Hammill’s your man’, and of course I’d forgotten we’d met many years ago and I did a little recording with him, and he’s one of those who no one has a cross word to say about him. We chatted for a bit, I told him what I had planned, and it was quite obvious this was going to work, and he was the guy for it. So once you establish the ‘who’, you think about the ‘when’ and make the ‘where’ wherever you have to.
MR; And the personnel obviously worked. One other thing that struck me about the album was that it has an amazing atmosphere. Call it feel, vibe, whatever, it’s something special.
DV: I agree, and I think part of that is because I didn’t have to cut any corners. I knew if I needed a violinist, I could get one, if I needed a horn player, I could get one, if I needed a pedal steel player I had one there. There was no need to fake it with various plug-ins and things like that, I’m much more of a fan of natural instruments wherever possible. Because of the way Tim has engineered it, there’s a lot less of the modern compression that you would get on a standard rock album, and because the album doesn’t have a strong electric guitar presence, that opens up the field for the other instruments. It does create a different kind of sound.
MR: And again without going into the politics of the Pledge business, the fund raising campaign was eventually a huge success. What were your thoughts at that time, while all that was going on?
DV: It would depend which day you were talking about. There were some really bad days. The video I made to tell everyone what was going on, that was the second video. The first one I made, I looked at and thought ‘I can’t put this out, I’ll end up in court’. There was this terrible…your stomach just falling through the floor. I thought everything was going great. Really great, we reached our funding target in 10 days, with two and a half months of the campaign to go. That was the big kicker, I was thinking ‘You’ve made this money, but this company is scamming it from your fans and not giving it to you. Come on! How can this be happening?’ This company had been in business for ten year. So, there was definitely some banging my head against the wall, and some ‘Why me? Why me?’ Then of course you discover that it’s going on all over the place and people were just keeping quiet about it, because the company was trying to dangle a carrot in front of everybody. ‘We’ll get you your money’. When an international, multi-million dollar company tells you ‘We’ll send you a thousand pounds a week for the next two months’, and you think ‘What? Where’s the money you promised?’ and new Pledge campaigns were still starting up, and you think ‘they don’t have the money to pay the artists they have, what are they doing?’ Which is when all the red flags were going up.
After a couple of weeks, I got a thousand, then nothing for two weeks, and then a trickle, and then I got a very wishy-washy email that said ‘we think we might be able to give you some more money in about three weeks’, and it’s then I thought, ‘That’s it, this is done’, and that’s when I made the video, because there was nothing left to lose.
So emotionally speaking, it was all over the place. And this takes me back to your previous question, that it was such a blessing that, when it came time to actually get to work, I was in this wonderful, quiet, pastoral Welsh countryside. I actually got an Air B’n’B cottage in Burry Port 20-25 minutes drive from the studio, so I had Camarthen Bay out my window, and I could drive in, get my head together, get ready for my first cup of coffee, whatever it was, and it was perfect, I think it influenced the album’s sound a lot.
MR: And then came the GoFundme campaign. Did you actually get as much raised in that as you did in the Pledge campaign?
DV: In a sense I got more, Because Pledge did send me a little money, many people got their money back and sent it to GoFundMe, which was great, and GoFundMe takes a smaller percentage than Pledge did. So overall, when all’s said and done, more money has gone to the album, the promoters, the video I’m making now. There’s room for this stuff that I originally wasn’t sure there would be room for.
MR: So turning to the music itself, when you knew what songs you wanted to record, how much of an idea did you have of what you wanted them to sound like?
DV: Certain ones more than others. I tend to try very hard not to write bass parts and drum parts. I’ll sketch it, I might say ‘Here’s a Peter Gabriel song. I like what he’s doing here’. There were a couple of songs I intended would be percussion and no drums and Rhys came to me, he got much more involved than necessarily he had to, and said ‘I’d like to try a couple more things before you just go with percussion’, and it ended up that he played drums on everything but the last song. Everybody felt like pitching in beyond what they were getting paid for. It was a real, tremendous group effort on everybody’s part.
MR: Following on from what you said before, you got midway through a song and thought ‘you know, we need a cello on this part’ Did that happen often?
DV: It’s not always me. In the last song on the album, (‘What You left Behind’) I just played it as an acoustic song and thought ‘This one’s just going to be me. I don’t think we’ll need anybody else on this’, but Chris Childs said ‘I think that would sound great with a cello’. I already had Emma coming in for ‘Black Crow’, that one I knew I wanted a cello on.
MR: I did wonder where a lot of the ideas came from. I thought back to the Snake Oil tour with Dan Reed, when Lucy McDonald played viola, not to mention the ‘We Got Tomorrow…’ film shoot, and wondered how big a seed that planted.
DV: That had a lot to do with it. I had the idea in my head that I’d like to try horns on some things and strings on others, but all of a sudden, when we really made the effort with Tyketto, I had to sit down and at least sketch it out, if not write the parts, because that’s not my area. I don’t read or write music very well, so I couldn’t just send out scores to people, I had to play stuff on the synth and send it to Emma Bryden, who would then chart everything for everyone. But when it came out and I listened to it, I thought ‘I can do this!’ I didn’t realise I actually had that skill. She did some of it herself too, not all of it is me. Some of the stuff on ‘Faithless’, for example, I’d say ‘Go Zeppelin!’, and she knew what to do.
MR: There’s plenty of music on the album, 14 songs, including ‘Seven Bells’ which is 7 minutes long. Do you have any songs left over?
DV: Oh Yes, there’s another half an album, at least.
MR: There’s another GoFundMe campaign, then. I’m not necessarily joking, by the way.
DV: I’m actually already thinking about it. It’s funny, because now this part of the process will be going round for quite a while, promoting this ‘new look’ of mine, and we’re going all out. We’re going to publications and radio stations that either have never heard me or Tyketto, or if they have, would keep well away from me, Country and Americana stations, going ‘here’s an artist you’ve never heard of, what do you think?’ Then tell them ‘Oh by the way, he comes with an audience as he’s been out there a while’, and it’s working, we’ve got write ups in Blues publications and Americana publications. I don’t know what they’re going to say but R’N’R magazine is covering it, so there’s stuff happening out there, and I’m starting to look into relevant festivals next year for this album, trying to get involved in that.
I see this as a career extension for me, there’s only so much Tyketto can do every year. The Snake Oil thing is going to roll strong, Dan and I are getting ready to make that album, that’s my real project for the next month or so, so I’m in this very fertile, in demand period, and I want to roll with it as far as I can.
MR: Going onto the writing part of the process, the quote from you I’ve seen most often is that you regard these songs as your ‘orphans’. Some of them do go back quite a while, but which are the newer ones, how old are they? Apart from ‘What You Leave Behind’, of course.
DV: ‘Monkeys With Money and Guns’ is relatively new, and by ‘new’ I mean I might have had the idea for that song about three years ago, just kind of tucked it in the old shoe box and waited until it was time and then I finished it for this album. Let’s see, what else comes to mind? ‘The Good Life’ is relatively new, that one again I got an idea, ‘let’s try something with a bit of a gypsy, jazz flourish’.
The rest of them have pretty deep roots actually. Again, there’s quite a few that I put the finishing touches on quite late. You never throw a possibility away, if you come up with even a phrase…there was a great interview on YouTube where Billy Joel is interviewing Don Henley in New York City somewhere. It’s a songwriting masterclass, just two guys discussing how they have their methods and little tricks and things that they do, and I was going ‘Hey! I do that!’. There are similarities, that’s why I mentioned the show box, Henley talks about a shoe box, he said ‘I get an idea, maybe a line, a thought for a song, and I write it down and stick in the shoe box.’
MR: You said you’re writing for the Snake Oil album, you’ve done this album and Tyketto. How do you know when something you’ve written is a Snake Oil song or a Tyketto song, or something for your own albums?
DV: It’s not always easy to tell. ‘Kelly’s Gone’ was amongst a group of songs leading up to the ‘Soldiers and Sailors on Riverside’ album, that four or five year hiatus when I just wrote songs and didn’t think about anything else. Mike Arbeeny loved it and said ‘we ought to do this with Tyketto’. I said ‘no, it doesn’t fit’, he said we could heavy it up, but I insisted ‘’it’s a country song’. The Eagles influence is definitely there.
MR: There are several times you’ve gone outside the box with Tyketto, though. I’m thinking about songs like ‘The Run’ or even ‘Reach’ itself.
DV: It’s happened more and more. It’s funny, because I’m always talking about this album being left of centre for me. But when I go back and remember how to play some of the stuff on ‘Soldiers and Sailors’ and I realise that maybe it isn’t so left of centre for me. There are tons of songs I’ve written over the years, like where did ‘Dulcimer Street’ come from, that’s an oddball, or ‘Stone Monkey’? There are all these that don’t fit into an immediate category.
MR: One other thing that struck me about the album is that aren’t any personal ‘boy meets girl’ lyrics on the album. They’re observational, storytelling, commentary. Was that intentional or just how it happened?
DV: Yeah, it’s just how it happened. When you say ‘not personal’, I know what you mean, but something like ‘Point The Way’ is incredibly personal. It’s kind of my feelings about us and our lives, the summation at the end ‘love, it must be learned and truth, it must be earned’, and ‘there never was and never will be, someone who knows what is to be’, that’s actually how I feel. ‘Monkeys with Money and Guns’ doesn’t sound very personal, but it does really express my frustration with us as human beings, we can advance so far on one hand, but we’re still knuckle draggers on the other.
MR: Switching to playing live now, you’ve played quite a lot of these new songs on stage over the last few weeks, are there any of them you don’t think you could play live on your own?
DV: From the new album, and then strictly logistically, it’s ‘Man or Machine’. I would love to play it live, but it’s in such an odd tuning, everything’s low Bs and low F-sharps. If you put a guitar into that tuning, it will never forgive you. If I did that live, I’d have to have one guitar just to play that one song and it would probably ruin the neck by the time the night was over because you don’t want to keep a guitar that loosely tuned. ‘The Run’ is the same, but I found a way to do it, where only one string has to get tortured. That’s the only sad thing about that because that song is a favourite. I may have to figure out a way at some point, but right now I can’t.
MR: If I hadn’t already seen you play it live before the album came out, I would have said ‘Seven Bells’ because of all the orchestration.
DV: I wasn’t sure either, until I did it the first time and I knew ‘OK, this is actually working.
MR: Which leads us to what might be a flight of fantasy on my part, which is wondering about playing these songs as they were recorded; to bring the musicians together, probably in one place over one or two nights, and do a proper performance of the album.
DV: That would be something. I have thought about that, and then I thought I could get some of the older songs, just a few of the right songs, give them to that band and let us change those songs around. Something like ‘Handful of Rain’ came to mind, it would sound great with those guys playing it. Who knows? It’s certainly not something I would say no to if there was a way of doing it, if there was a call for it. The slimmest of chances is that if this album were to catch on with radio and it might because we’re pushing it, then suddenly if there’s a demand you’ve got to take your window when it comes, like if people are saying ‘Who’s this “King John” thing? I really wanna hear that live”, then we’ll have to call the band in and put something together.
MR: My thought was something like Tyketto’s DVD shoot in Pontypridd. Let them come to you for one or two nights. I imagine the logistics might be difficult, though.
DV: Yes, that’s the hardest part, it’s whether or not your finances can cover what it would cost to do. But don’t let’s rule it out just yet.
MR: Turning to something a bit more personal, and without any undue flattery, people have been saying how your voice doesn’t seem to age. Apart from it deepening over the years, I have to agree, I think it has more depth, if that’s the right word.
DV: A different timbre. All you got to do is listen to the Waysted album, (puts on higher voice) it’s up here on that album.
MR: Is that the production or is that coming from you?
DV: A little of both. It’s more to do with how the voice changes and matures. When men get into their 50s it’s supposed to be the best time for their voices as far as it getting richer and stronger. That and knowing your craft 30 years better than I did when I did the Waysted album. There’s a lot more to it than shutting your eyes and letting it out. I keep learning as I go, different approaches.
MR: Interesting what you said about the 50s. Would it drop off as you go into 60s? Some singers do seem to struggle at that time.
DV: So many reasons for that. You see a lot of groups, some people, their approach was tough to begin with. I often wonder with the thrash bands and the heavier death metal guys, how do you even know when you’re too hoarse to sing or when you’re doing damage?
MR: As far as singers go, who would you call your influences? You’ve talked about your influences as a writer, especially where the new album is concerned, but who inspires you as a singer?
DV: Oh man, who isn’t an influence. There’s so many that I listen to and I think ‘I’ll have a bit of that’. As a kid it was Steven Tyler and Mick Jagger, kind of two sides of the same coin. Tyler patterned himself on Jagger, and I still hold them as the archetypal rock’n’roll frontmen. Now I can do a bit of that, but I don’t have quite the swagger those two gentlemen do. I have something else, what it is I’m not quite sure, a little bit of Coverdale is there, and David Coverdale is certainly an influence.
Vocally, it’s never the same thing twice. Does Stevie Wonder influence me? He must do, I listen to him constantly, but I can’t attempt to sing like him, I don’t approach music from that school of thought, he comes from a different world than I do. Everybody wanted to be Steve Perry in the 80s when he came out, I think that’s another reason why we were all singing at the tops of our ranges, it was just showing off. (Puts on high voice again) ‘Look what I can do’, and it wasn’t singing. Then Queensryche came along, and we all went ‘Aw, fuck that, nobody can do that’. I didn’t really start liking Queensryche a lot until he started dropping his voice every now and again, so when they started doing stuff like ‘Mindcrime’, or a little bit before that with ‘Rage for Order’… Queensryche opened for Bon Jovi in London, and the high stuff was all very impressive, but when he nailed stuff down low, you thought ‘God, that is a good singer, that can move between those registers’.
MR: And he can sing something like ‘Silent Lucidity as well’.
DV: Oh yes, and I love the way Todd La Torre sings that, though. He’s got the same high as Tate, but when you talk to him, he’s got a very low speaking voice, and when he sings I can’t sing as low as this guy either. It’s phenomenal.
MR: Moving onto your other projects, can I mention the Jim Peterik album that came out this year, where you sing on the track, ‘The Hand I Was Dealt’. Have you thought about doing that live, because that is a great song?
DV: I heard rumblings that Jim’s talking about doing some of the World Stage stuff with some of the singers. He hasn’t contacted me yet, but I’ve seen some interviews where he’s mentioned it. In that context, yeah, I would go and do with him.
MR: Have you considered doing it on your own in the same way you play the Burning Kingdom song?
DV: Not yet. There comes a point when you think ‘how much stuff can I possibly learn. I did the album for Duane Morano, and I couple of people said ‘are you going to do any of those songs?’ and even though I sing four or five of them, I don’t feel comfortable representing them live. With Jim, though, I did write the song with him, so I’d feel on more comfortable ground with it. To be honest, I hadn’t thought about that yet, so maybe on future tours, I’ll start to work it into the set.
MR: Moving away from the singing and onto another part of your show, I don’t know if anyone’s mentioned this before, but your guitar playing is coming more to the fore, and I’m honestly enjoying hearing you play.
DV I don’t hear that very often.
MR: Seriously, I think it’s a much underrated part of your performances.
DV: That’s been coming out a little more and more with people, and that makes me very happy, because I’ve never really …you put an electric guitar in my hands and it’s pretty ugly. I can make some sounds, but I don’t have the connection that the natural guys do, the Chris Greens, they know how to draw the sounds out of the instrument. An acoustic I have an affinity for, always have.
MR: Obviously when you’re in a band with Chris or Brooke St James, it’s easy to think ‘OK, over to you, chaps’.
DV: Oh yeah, without any hesitation or jealousy. ’No, you do this well, go ahead’. I’ve never tried, I never once asked Brooke ‘let me play a little electric guitar’. There was no need. I’m enjoying playing guitar now more than ever before. I’m beginning to feel a little more worthy, I suppose.
MR: So if we can now look forward, this tour runs for another month or so, before the Tyketto shows in October. What comes after that?
DV: Well the first thing I’m going to be doing is taking ‘Myths, Legends and Lies’ to Europe. Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Greece and the Czech Republic. That was a really nice surprise, and a nice surprise for my agent in Europe as well, who said ‘I was pleasantly surprised at how excited some of the venues were: “Oh, we’d love to have that”’. So there’s something going on out there. I’ll probably roll that trip to Prague into recording the Snake Oil and Harmony album with Dan Reed. Got to get it written, though, that’s on the hob now. When I go home I’ve got a couple of weeks before I’m back, so there’ll be some songwriting going on and some demos happening. That’ll be all through August, we have some ideas simmering, now it’s time to step up and get them done.
MR: So for Tyketto, is it just the two dates in the UK?
DV: We’ve got Switzerland in August and there’s a date in Hamburg, what happens after that, I’m not sure. We’re going back to do something in Europe next year, in May. We have to look for the next step with Tyketto, I don’t think we can just come back with another tour, so it may be finding the right package to get on, being a second or a third for a bigger band.
MR: Are you looking much further past Tyketto doing those shows next year when you’re planning things out?
DV: Not really. Again, there’s a bit of a grey area now, because of the life that this album is showing and the fact that we’re going to attempt to approach BBC2 and radio stations like that with some songs, some Blues stations and also approach some of the lighter festivals, the Americana festivals, folk festivals, things like that, and see what happens.
I’d like give my huge thanks to Danny for his time (and patience) in doing this interview. His new album ‘Myths, Legends and Lies’ is available now from Townsend Records. His UK tour ends with show at the Eleven club in Stoke on August 29th, and the Asylum in Birmingham on August 30th.