Bursting out of Glasgow in 1989, Gun’s flame burned brightly with the success of their debut album ‘Taking On The World’, peaked with their chart-bothering 1994 cover of Cameo’s ‘Word Up’, and fizzled with the confusingly-titled, direction-shifting ‘0141 632 6326’. Making a comeback in recent years, the long standing Gizzi brothers Dante - formerly bass, now lead vocals - and Giuliano – more commonly ‘Jools’, guitar – have steered the group to pastures new. We caught up with Dante on the road in Belfast with Black Star Riders, to chat about the band’s ricochet. Popkiller; Eamon O’Neill.
Hi Dante, how are you today?
Aye, very good, yeah. This is our third or fourth show into the tour. We started off in Cardiff, Wrexham, and then Dublin yesterday.
How have you been enjoying this tour?
It’s good, I’m really enjoying it. We’re getting forty / forty-five minute sets, and you wish you could play a wee bit longer, but it’s been great. There’s been a great reaction from the crowd, and obviously we’re reaching out to a different audience as well, from Black Star Riders fan base. I think there’s still that rock element, but it’s good to make new fans.
Gun and Black Star Riders front man Ricky Warwick must go back a long way, with Gun and The Almighty coming up in Glasgow at the same time?
That’s right, aye, back in the day! I remember some funny stories. We were talking about it on the first day of the tour. It was some laugh touring with The Almighty. They were supporting at the time, and I remember one time in Newcastle, we ended up, both bands, in a fight with the security. And I can’t remember, but Ricky actually mentioned it was over something really stupid – it was like a box of guitar picks, or something like that that went missing. It’s great reminiscing, and when you see somebody for the first time in a long time. Things always come flooding back.
Has it been a while since you last seen Ricky?
I haven’t seen him for a while. We’ve had, even in Europe the opportunity to bump into him, but it never worked out. We were too far away distance wise, but it’s great to see him.
1989 was when Gun broke through with your debut album; how did it feel to be in the middle of that?
‘Taking On The World’, yeah. You kind of felt as though it was the norm, in the sense of; “oh wow, we’ve made it, we’ve had the success”. You didn’t actually think about it, you just thought; “this is happening to us”. [BBC] Radio One were on board right away from the start, ‘A’-listing ‘Better Days’, which in turn got us a top 40 single, and we were playing sold out shows all throughout the UK. This momentum took over; “This is great! Is this the way it should happen?” This was a first time for us, and with your debut album, you just never know how it’s going to be perceived by the fans. But I knew we had a great album there. There was a hunger, and there was a great energy, and I think playing live, it took on a different sort of monster all together. We were nothing like the album. I think Gun were very different live to what we sounded like on the album.
There was definitely a production sheen to the first album.
Totally, and we didn’t want to be coming out with a generic album. We wanted it to be a wee bit different. The way that that worked was because of what we listened to, what inspired us. We were listening to a lot of stuff. We always had the rock gene in us, by listening to your AC/DCs, and your Led Zeppelins, and stuff like that. That was always there, but we wanted to do something slightly different, and what came from that is we started listening to a lot of Prince stuff, a lot of Bowie, Bruce Springsteen.
Gun did seem to stand out from the pages of the rock magazines at the time, as less obviously a hard rock band.
Yeah, that’s one of the things - it’s very hard to pigeonhole Gun. Initially, we were just a rock band. But we love melody in songs - we love a bit more substance. If it’s a guitar riff, then it’s got to be a really cool guitar riff. Solos? We love solos, but again, it’s got to be melodic and work well with the song.
You actually pushed that pop element much further, on your controversial fourth album ‘0141 632 6326’.
That was the album that we were always fighting against, mainly Jools and I, against the rest of the world. We didn’t want to record that album. On that album we wanted to work with somebody who, again, was a bit different, and it didn’t work out that way. It was [Inxs guitar player and founder] Andrew Farris, and we wanted to have an album like [Inxs's] ‘Kick’, or ‘Listen Like Thieves’ – still quite rocky, but great melody, great lyrics, stuff like that. But what transpired was something completely different, and Jools and I were at the point where we were about to walk out on that recording session and head back up to Glasgow. We had spent a lot of money, something like over £100,000 in recording costs at that time, and we were down in Sarm Studios in London recording it, and there was one moment where Jools and I went to a shop to get some juice and some water, and it was like; “why don’t we just head back up to Glasgow? Because this certainly isn’t working out”.
That must have been incredibly tough to dealing with.
It was just; “How the hell are we going to do this?” You know? And it was because, dare I say it, there was a lot of influence by the management team telling you; “this is the way you should do it”.
Were the trying to get hit singles out of you?
That, as well as the money being spent on it; “you can’t really turn back here – you need to continue this”. The label at the time were pushing towards that, and also, if truth be told, our singer Mark [Rankin]; he was the one that wanted to keep it [the pop oriented direction of the album] the way it was. We love pop rock songs, we do, but that was just taking it one step too far.
So Mark was in favour of the direction that the album was going in?
Yes, it was Mark and our management team, against me and Jools, and it was like; “this isn’t working out for us”. That’s why we disbanded shortly after that.
There were moments that worked however, such as lead single ‘Crazy You’.
That’s one of the very few songs that didn’t change from its demo form. The rest of them did, big time. We had them sounding really heavy in the demo form, and when we went in and we recorded it, Andrew Farris was playing around with keyboards, making it all just ‘flowery’, and not in the way we wanted it to sound at all whatsoever. But yeah, ‘Crazy You’, I still think is a great song, and it’s probably one of the most successful songs, in a chart position that we’ve had.
It struck the right balance.
It struck the right chord with that one, but the rest of them, the rest of the album, it was just not what we wanted. Jumping forward to where we are now, and I think that was the catalyst to jump back in recording for Jools and I. Whatever happened in the latter stages there, and with Toby Jepson on vocals, it kind of got us back into it. When he left, we thought; “do you know what? We should actually record a proper album”.
Was it a difficult decision for you to step out from being the bass player and backing vocalist, to being the front man?
A wee bit, because you’re taking over the mantle of somebody else’s songs. The only saving grace for me, and what felt easier, was the fact that I wrote half of these songs anyway. I sung half these songs live, so I can hear Mark singing it, the way I’m singing it. So in that sense, it felt quite easy to step into it. Having a previous band like El Presidente which I had in 2005 -2006 when we were signed to Song BMG, that put me out there as a vocalist for the first time, and lended me through the transition.
The band has a catalogue of great songs that deserve to be heard.
We just didn’t want to leave it at that with the Gun thing. It’s a great back catalogue. I’m very proud of it, and we won’t stop playing it; we won’t stop playing those songs.
And looking to the future?
I think, more than anything, it’s more invigorating to play new material when you’re onstage. There’s so much life in it, and so much energy. But at the same time, you’ve got to give the fans what they want.
Catch Gun on tour with Black Star Riders and Backyard Babies on the dates below.
14th Mar - Rock City, Nottingham
15th Mar - UEA, Norwich
16th Mar - O2 Academy Bristol*
17th Mar - O2 Kentish Town Forum, London*
18th Mar - O2 Institute, Birmingham*
19th Mar - O2 Academy, Bournemouth*