A change in sound, and look, it’s a new Joe Lynn Turner that has just released ‘Belly of the Beast’, his most personal album to date. Blending unabashed modern metal soundscapes to the melodic leanings of his past, JLT 2.0 is an altogether different animal. And then there’s the lyrical content. “The wildest times call for the freest of voices”, so says the press release that accompanies the set, and Turner isn’t afraid to let his ring out. Talking the new release, the ‘dark night of the soul’ that altered his perception, and his time with Deep Purple, we sat down for a candid chat with Joe Lynn Turner. Street of dreams; Eamon O'Neill.
Hi Joe, how are you doing today?
I’m good. It’s just a little crazy with all the work, but it’s a great response to the record, so I’m extremely happy.
First off, it’s been a number of years since your last release, so it must feel good to be back with ‘Belly of the Beast’.
Yeah, well it took a while, and I purposely didn’t do any solo albums because I was waiting to do this particular type of record; a bit more mature and artistic, and meaningful. There’s a lot of message in it, so, as time went by and reality changes, there was plenty of subject matter, so this is how it happened.
The first track that people will have heard is the title track, and musically, it’s quite a departure; moving away from AOR and into modern metal territory.
Yeah, pretty much that was trying to set the tone for the whole thing. It was my indention to move away from the old genre to a new genre. It’s a crossover, really, between classic hard rock and modern metal, so it became a modern melodic metal album. We tried to make a bridge between the two, and I think we succeeded. If we knew we were going a little too heavy or a little too light, we would bring it right back to the middle. We’d cross these formats, and I think we got it.
There is a crossover; there’s melody, Deep Purple keyboards, and then power metal; were you a fan of that heavier style, or was it working with producer Peter Tägtgren that brought it out?
I was aware of his past, and he was aware of mine. He’s an extremely brilliant guy. He’s a wonderful musician, writer, and he said; “I want to give traces of your past”, and of course, traces of what he was doing, for example with Lindemann and bits of Hypocrisy and Pain, but we tried to again to keep that middle ground as opposed to going too far right or two far left. So yeah, he gave me the bedrock to actually bring this particular style to fruition. I don’t think that there is a lot of bands out there right now that are doing this sound anyway; it’s Euro metal but because of the classic rock influence, it completely takes a different colour.
You’re known as an AOR singer, so did it interest you to go in a completely unexpected direction?
Definitely, because if an artist doesn’t change, he dies, in my opinion, and that’s why I took time off, so that I would have a distance between that whole AOR scene and the Sunstorm and the solo albums, although some of my solos, bits and pieces of songs were touching upon this, but nothing quite like this. So I wanted to give it space and time to change, and when the pandemic hit, we had no choice, so that was an extra two years. I’ve been waiting, wanting to do this; something more artistic, something more special, and I think, again, this is a very special album. I don’t think it sounds like anyone else.
It's quite a change, sonically for what your fans are used to; do you think you may lose some fans, but hope to gain more?
Exactly. Most of my fans have responded – and there are plenty of them – and really, are super cool, great to hear the change, the look, everything. I think when the fans are with you, they’re with you; they understand that you’re moving in a different direction, but not completely because it’s a familiar new direction. It’s familiar, but at the same time, it is a change, and again, I will probably lose some, but I think I’ll gain more.
As we’ve said, there’s still plenty of melody on the album, and ‘Tears of Blood’ is a great example of that.
It is, yeah. That’s a good track to bring it together. We could also probably sign something like ‘Rise Up’, because that chorus is very hooky; ‘Living the Dream’, very hooky. I mean, all of the choruses, even ‘Belly of the Beast’ is very melodic; it’s like a choir singing. So, we tried to keep it melodic. That’s my style; I like melody, and within a modern metal format it becomes melodic metal. So, we felt that this combination was definitely going to surprise people from his side and mine, but yet it’s an experiment that worked.
One of my personal favourites is ‘Requiem’, which is an epic.
A huge gothic track, huge! That actually came in at the eleventh hour, because Peter has a pretty big studio, The Abyss, and the front room is his, and in the back room is Jonas [Hörnqvist], and Jonas had written this track a while ago, and Peter said; “we’ve always wanted to do something with this track, but we can’t write to it”, so they said; “why don’t you, Joe?” So I gave it a shot, and right away I knew what the title was, and then I just had to work out the basic story about a man who’s lost, actually, threw away the love of his life, by misdeeds or whatever. It’s a regretful song, and the tonality of it is a very sad, minor, type feeling, so it worked out. When we finished it we just said; “wow, this is really a big track”. It’s huge, with the organ and the big guitars, and the sentiment. The chorus is so singy, very catchy, I think, but at the same time, very sad.
A voice like yours needs to be heard, and the production thankfully leaves space for it to soar.
Yeah I think it just, cohesively, one tight package. It’s eleven songs, and when you listen to the album, it goes by very quickly. I mean, there’s no time that you want to say, 'lift the needle'. We all have favourite songs, and as I play this record more often, my favourites change. Today my current favourite is ‘Desire’, but I went through ‘Tears of Blood; ‘Don’t Fear the Dark’ was the first song we ever wrote, so it’s one of my special favourites. The more I play it, the more I start to get inside each track and go; “wow, that really moves me, that’s great”, so I’m just overwhelmed with the fact that we had this type of success with it – in our opinion – because we set out to make this type of record, and we did make it. That I think, is an accomplishment, right there.
Your decision to remove the wig was a huge moment for you; did you see what Graham Bonett wrote about it, praising you for your bravery?
Well I wrote him back and I just said; “I can’t thank you enough for your love and compassion”. I mean, he staggered me with what he said, but I think he hit upon a couple of good points; he was basically at one sentence scolding the industry, because he didn’t say it this way, but he said it’s not what’s on your head, it’s what’s in your head, because he had problems with the short hair all his career, and he was always getting crap for it. It’s your creativity, it’s your abilities, and that’s the way we should be judged because quite honestly, I think to many people sound alike, look alike, act alike, dress alike, and it’s becoming boring.
I’m an old rebel, and even with subject matter, lyrically – which we’ll get into in a bit – nobody’s talking about these things, and I’m scratching me head saying; “what happened to the rebels, the rock and roll outlaws”? Everything is 'moon, June, spoon', 'I love you'; you can only talk about monsters and dragons so much. This is real life.
Back in the 1980s, did the times demand you wear the wig, and did you have to keep it a secret?
It was an open secret. Most people knew. My fans knew, but it was a preference on my part because I had done it for so long I was very comfortable with it. Then I started to think, and with the support of my family and friends, they all said; “look man, you don’t got nothing to prove anymore”, and; “I guarantee you; you come out like this authentically, they’re going to love you more”, and that actually happened. I think people started calling me an ‘icon’, because they said; “you look brutal, you fit the album, you’re updated”, and you know what? It’s true. I don’t think, years ago, the industry would have accepted it as much, and I wasn’t ready, emotionally or psychologically either, so it just kind of went along, but this is the double shocker, because the music change, the look change, it’s a complete transition.
It’s the perfect package!
Yeah! It’s an accidental marketing strategy.
The press release for the album states; “Joe Lynn Turner speaks his mind as loudly as possible”, which is a reference to the, what some will say, controversial lyrical content on it.
Well to put it succinctly, somebody had to say it. Somebody had to start addressing this reality that we’re living in. It’s always been my contention that art is a reflection of society; it’s a mirror of reality, and if you’re truly an artist, you reflect that in your messaging. I’m certainly not comparing myself, but David Bowie was always different, always changing; different personas, different looks, different music; he was a true artist. I think that I just wanted to take a leap and do something very artistic, right from the cover, because that’s a friend of mine’s painting, it’s a young, edgy, tattoo artist, and I saw that two years before I was making this album, and I said; “that’s got to be the cover”.
Why did you want that as the cover art?
Because it’s shocking. Art has to disturb you, it has to make you think in a different perspective; you may like it or hate it, but you won’t forget it.
For those that haven’t heard the album, talk about some of the topics you cover; from the biblical topics to the more recent past.
Well I mean, ‘Belly of the Beast’ is obviously about the authoritarian, totalitarian take over of the great reset, which is basically, the new world order. And the pandemic, in my opinion, after much research, and also the truth and facts that are coming out now, that they knew this would not sop transmission at all, and they lied. They lied about a whole lot of other things, because many, many people are feeling the effects of it, the negative effects. So what I’m trying to say here is that the compliance; they tried to turn us into slaves, they’re trying to turn us into robots; artificial intelligence is now coming on board. We are now slowly, not only losing our freedom, but we’re losing our humanity.
You take ‘Black Sun’, which was one of the first tracks that Perter and I had written, and I’ve been studying occultism, mysticism, secret societies for years, it’s always fascinated me, and of course the same elites – call them Illuminati, call them Freemasons, call them the Elite. I wrote that even before pandemic, and when I started to see this happening, and it was almost like a prophecy at the time, or maybe a premonition that I had, because I follow geopolitical situations, and anybody with a brain cell can realise something was going to happen, and it did, and now I think its backfiring on them because people are starting to wake up and rise up, which is my other song, which is an anthem for them to join together, because I think we got too comfortable and we forgot to look around us. If we let this go, we will have no freedom. Excuse me, but rock and roll especially has always been about freedom, so ‘Rise Up’ is an anthem towards that.
There are, of course other subjects covered too.
There are other subjects. ‘Living the Dream’ is about rock and roll and the lifestyle, and; “are we really living the dream?” It’s asking the question; “is this all there is? Is this really what we wanted”. We fought like to hell to get it, we got there, and you look around and see, in many ways fame is a trap, it’s not everything it’s pumped up to be. Back in the solo days I wrote a song called ‘Fame and Fortune’ that echoes pretty much the same sentiment that it’s not everything you think it is; it takes a lot of pain and sacrifice, this business.
You’re clearly very passionate about these subjects; did you think to yourself that some people aren’t going to like this?
Yeah, sure, all the time. Even my friends and family came up to me and said; “oh, you’re really poking everything on this one”. I don’t give a shit. We’ve been played too long, we’ve been lied to, and that brings me to ‘Tears of Blood’. ‘Tears of Blood’ is basically about being betrayed, being taken over, and given a kiss like Judas. So there’s a lot of personal insight. I had a heart attack a few years ago, and that’s what you call a ‘dark night of the soul’; when you have a realisation of what your life was about, what it is. It was actually a term came up by Saint John the Divine who said it is a revelation of a man who goes through a big tragic event and realises the true purpose of their life. It’s that realisation of, life is a gift, and I think we take it for granted too much. I know it changed me. I thought I was grateful, but I am now; I’m grateful for every breath.
Personally, you must be glad that you were able to have the courage of your conviction to follow through with the album.
Yeah, I think I’ll have to paraphrase the sentence, but when you know what’s right and you don’t do it; that’s just cowardice, failure, and I know what’s right. This is not conjecture or opinion; this is all based in fact, and I’m convicted to feel what’s right, and like I said before somebody had to say it. Everybody is so afraid to say it or talk about it for a myriad of reasons. I understand, but that’s not going to change things. It doesn’t help to bury your head in the sand.
The lyrics do marry to the edginess of the music; do you think it would have worked less well in your AOR years?
Well, it does, so you’re absolutely correct about that, which is why this was an album I wanted to make in the long run. It’s always been a subject that I’m fascinated with, so in my AOR situation, I did write about these things. For example, I took ‘Black Sun’ directly out of a song called ‘Babylon’, which is on the ‘Holy Man’  solo album. I had Akira Kajiyama playing on it, and it’s really bizarre and has a really cool riff, and this is about the new world order; I say; “the party’s always going on / welcome to the new world order”. So, I’ve been writing bits and pieces of it, but never cohesively. As one fan pointed out; “Joe’s just following through now, pretty much on a total album, about a subject because here it is, right in our face”. He was right, but I would write ‘Blood Money’ [from ‘The Usual Suspects’, 2005], things like ‘Evil’ on ‘Slam’ , ‘Cover Up’ , which is about the government, ‘Eye for an Eye’ , I mean, dark subjects. I’ve been touching on it.
I wanted to talk about the videos you’ve released so far from the album.
Well, Wayne Joyner is my guy. He’s a super, super talented guy, and also, he works with the artist, so the vision that the artist has, lyrically or whatever, he also collaborates with. It’s sort of like writing a song, in a way; he brings that visual aspect to the lyrics, and when you see it and when you hear it, it really connects, that audio visual. We’ll be doing static videos for, pretty much every song, I think. ‘Tortured Soul’, which is coming out with the album, that is an actual video where we shot over 24 hours’ worth of footage, and it’s going to be a hell of a story because the song itself is pretty epic. I just wrote a dissertation on it today because a lot of the fans want to know more about it. A lot of my fans are pretty intelligent, I’ve got to say, and they grasp it, but they want to know some deeper facts, so I wrote a dissertation. I did one for ‘Belly of the Beast’, and also for ‘Black Sun’, and I did one for ‘Tortured Soul’.
What’s the song about?
I played in Iraq and I knew a couple of guys from that that had post-traumatic disorder, and I originally was writing the song about them, about him in particular because he’s almost suicidal sometimes. It’s a really, really heavy subject, and then I realised, in the narrative in the lyric that this could apply to anybody who was traumatised, and I think that events and situations in our life, we all have trauma of some kind, to some degree especially in our childhood. I mean, I had trauma, I was bullied and pushed around which I was smart enough to use that anger as a tool and motivator to take me further. Of course, you’ve got to let that anger go or it’ll kill you or it’ll eat you up inside, but what it is, is a great tool to motivate. So ‘Tortured Soul’ could be about any level of trauma that we experience.
I wanted to touch on your past a little, and how was your experience working with Deep Purple in 1990?
First of all, doing the album with the guys was amazing. They were always one of my favourite bands, if not one or two on the top of the list, and so to write with them, and let me just preface this, whatever people say; “four guys from Deep Purple, three guys from Rainbow; they’re going to call it Deep Rainbow”, regardless of that, people are afraid of change, so they go; “oh, we want [Ian] Gillian, we want [Ronnie James] Dio, we want this” – fine, whatever, but if you open your mind and you open your ears, it’s pound for pound, song for song; singing, writing, performance and production, a great album. If you didn’t know who it was and you’re putting it on, you’d say; “that’s a great album!” So, I preface it by saying we put out a great album, we had a blast on tour, we played big shows, and I think the novelty of me being the lead singer at that point brought in all the Rainbow people as well – not that they weren’t there for Ritchie [Blackmore] anyway.
There’s some great footage of the tour on YouTube.
We had enormous crowds, great reactions and responses. I believe the timing of the record was a little off, simply because of Nirvana and a lot of other things that were happening, but I knew that I was performing a service to keep the band together because otherwise Ritchie would have split and would have probably done something else. Ian Paice [drummer] in an article referred that, I think it was in Fireworks magazine, and he basically said; “Joe was kind of like the glue that held us together, that made it possible for us to go on. Maybe he wasn’t the most perfect guy for the job, but he was the right guy at the right time”, and he even reiterated that we had a great time, and we love each other, we really do. I mean, what can I say? A lot of memorable stuff. And being on stage with those guys was the best. Again, ‘Living the Dream’ – one of the songs from my album - am I right? So all I can say is good things about the guys and the record.
Were you happy to see Deep Purple finally admitted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2016, and were you disappointed not have been induced with them?
No, because I don’t believe in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I think it’s the Rock and Roll Hall of Shame; it’s a business. It’s really a money business, it’s a money grab. Ritchie wouldn’t go too. First of all, in Rainbow, we were never about awards or videos. We had to make them – which we did – but we were always half-hearted about it because we were about live performance, kicking ass on stage, making records. So awards shows, unless it was like a people’s choice, never mattered to us. We barely wanted to receive our gold records because it was just like; “so what?!” We really didn’t enjoy that as much.
There are some really great bands that are still not in that hall of fame; why? And if it’s the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, why are there rap stars and everybody else? It’s a money maker; big money for the seats and all that, and it’s this big thing. I got the skinny from Roger Glover actually, when they were saying; “no, we’re not going to go”, and then he said; “let’s just do it for the fans”, and that was one of the main reasons they went. They do deserve some recognition of course, but they have that recognition. So, I had an honourable mention, I think it was Ian Gillian who said; “…and Joe Lynn Turner, Tommy Bolin, all of these people that were in the band at one point or another really made us the some total of the parts that we were”, and that actually went over.
Ritchie said - and this was really something – in an article, he was talking about it, and he was kind of disparaging this ‘hall of shame’ thing, and he didn’t want to go and all that, and he said; “but I think Joe Lynn Turner should get an award for his writing ability and singing on the album”. I was floored. The respect that I got from that, I go; “that’s the kind of award I like!
Finally, and coming back to the present, have you any plans to tour behind the new album?
Sure. We’re talking to different agencies now. Managers are doing that, but at the same time, I know for a fact I won’t go out until the beginning of March. I don’t want to tour in the winter. I’ve seen too many accidents; I was there for the Metallica bus turning over, everything. I’m not going to do that because the black ice, the snow, the travel, flying; it’s very dangerous. So, let the weather break, let’s strategize over the winter. I’ll even do some more writing and things like that, but I don’t want to tour until March ’23.
Then lets talk about this for a second; will there be concerts? Will people have enough money? I was talking to some guys in bands that are on the road, and they said the attendance is weak simply because people have no money, the promotors aren’t really sure that they can afford the venues; everything is just down because of this whole pandemic and everything. And now look at the economy and inflation and chaos that’s in the world, so I’m just hoping that we have a touring situation. I mean, if it doesn’t pay to go out, I’ll do selected dates, I’ll do to bigger cities, and do a lager venue, and be happy with that because I don’t intend to get in a bus, seven days a week with ten guys! I’m 71 years old; I did that when I was 19 / 20! [Laughing]. I don’t have to do that; I want to get this music out to people, but I’m not going to kill myself doing it.
Like this interview? Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter for regular updates & more of the same.
Joe Lynn Turner's 'Belly of the Beast' is available now, via Mascot Label.