An EXCLUSIVE interview
By Stephen SPAZ Schnee
Status Quo is one of the greatest Rock ‘n’ Roll bands in the world. Yes, that is quite a bold statement, but one that is backed by 50 years of hit singles and albums, decades of touring, drugs, sex and all of that nonsense. In Europe, they are considered Rock royalty, although the critics haven’t always been kind to them. From their Psychedelic beginnings – including the hit “Pictures Of Matchstick Men” – to their denim clad Boogie heyday throughout the ‘70s, Quo have rarely stopped giving their all in the name of Rock. Even when the original quartet (nicknamed ‘The Frantic Four’) split in the early ‘80s, leaders Francis Rossi and Rick Parfitt took very little time off before deciding to reform a new version of the band, which continues to tour and record to this day. When you think about it, Status Quo has been contemporaries of every great Rock artist, stretching back to the mid ‘60s. Not only did they compete in the charts with the likes of The Beatles, The Who, The Kinks, The Moody Blues and The Rolling Stones, they also shared chart space with everyone from ELO, T. Rex, The Clash, The Jam, Duran Duran, and Spandau Ballet to Nirvana, Radiohead, R.E.M., One Direction, U2, and Coldplay.
Status Quo are superstars in Europe, Australia and practically everywhere else on the globe except for the U.S., which is mind-boggling since their sound is based on American Blues and Rock ‘n’ Roll. They’ve had albums released in the States, but nothing has really bothered the charts in a long time. If Americans are going to be familiar with Quo at all, it will be for being the first band to play Live Aid back in 1985 – they opened the show with “Rockin’ All Over The World,” a John Fogerty-penned track that they have turned into a true blue Quo classic. Speaking of Quo classics, the band’s songwriting has remained top-notch throughout the years. Originally Blues-based, their songs are now more melodic than ever, filled with more hooks than a fisherman’s tackle box. However, they still know how to rock and prove it over and over again with each album release.
In 2014, they finally decided to record an album of acoustic versions of some of their hits and fan favorites. Instead of doing straight-ahead acoustic retreads of the tunes, they’ve opted to rearrange many of the songs to give them extra flair and spice. Aquostic (Stripped Bare) contains over twenty tracks of tasty Pop and Rock ‘n’ Roll songs that prove that the band most certainly does know its way around a melodious tune. With longtime Quo members Andrew Bown and John Rhino Edwards – plus new drummer Leon Cave – Francis and Rick have made their most accessible album to date. With the extra added bonus of accordion, female backing vocalists and strings on some tracks, the recordings on Aquostic (Stripped Bare) bring the melodies to the forefront and reveal layers of beauty that may have been missed before. Just one listen to Quo standards like “Pictures Of…” or “Claudie” will make even the most hardcore Quo fan weep with joy. The album is the perfect introduction to American fans that may not be familiar with Quo’s extensive repertoire while also serving as a ‘thank you’ to their loyal followers. In short, it is simply wonderful.
Stephen SPAZ Schnee was able to chat with Quo member Francis Rossi, who gladly chatted about the album, Quo’s past and future, and much more….
STEPHEN SPAZ SCHNEE: How are you feeling about the album and the reaction you’ve had so far? It debuted at #5 in the UK charts, right?
FRANCIS ROSSI: Yeah, I’m kind of elated, but it’s still early days yet. I’d like to see how it’s doing in five or six weeks’ time – if we’re still hanging in there. We’re getting the best reviews we’ve had in centuries. Thus far, I haven’t heard one negative, and it’s just a bit nerve wracking. I keep looking over my shoulder expecting someone to try and shoot me or knife me or something. Really, it’s been fantastic. I really enjoyed making it. I didn’t think I would. I don’t know what happened, but it was fantastic to make.
SPAZ: I’ve read that you were initially hesitant (about recording an acoustic album). Do you remember at what point during the rehearsal or during a playback that you finally said, “Yes, this is going to work”?
FRANCIS: It was in the first couple days. Rick couldn’t be with us because he had family commitments and such, so it was Andrew, John, myself, Mike Paxman, the producer, and our engineer, and there was this real creative vibe, which kind of sounds a bit weird for somebody of our age. I’d have to go back to when we were doing this ad for Australia with “Down Down.” I’d always liked the melody and then I thought the melody was now being allowed to come through. We did a mockup in Shepherd Studios for this ad. We did kind of that ‘Presley in the round’ thing, and the manager was very, very keen. Unbeknownst to us, he’d been pushed by somebody at Radio 2, their music director, who wanted to see if they could get us to do an acoustic album and Jeff Lynne to do ELO in Hyde Park this year. He managed to get both of them done and both have been ridiculously successful.
So thinking back to the early 70s, there was always criticism for the Quo that they had these “poppy” melodies and some people didn’t like the melodies, but loved the grungy Rock & Roll thing going on underneath, and accepted the melodies. I suppose the thing that makes this work is people are now thinking, “Oh, I really like the melodies. I never really heard the melodies or the lyrics before.” Everybody’s talking about how we’ve reinvented the band. I hate that expression, but that seems to have been what’s happened. Everyone’s now thinking, “Oh yeah, we really like you.” (This album) opens it up for people who aren’t necessarily receptive to Status Quo and are now going, “Oh yes, we rather like this.” We’ve had more downloads than we’ve ever had before and far more people that are kind of coming out of the woodwork that you just didn’t think liked Status Quo and actually admitted to not particularly liking them until this project. I’m very enthused, I’m very up, and I’m committed to the next two years, I suppose. If this really does carry on and does well, we’ll do some shows early next year. There may be a full blown tour late next year. I suppose it’s like when we were younger and the first couple of albums had taken off, it’s all kind of thrilling, you know? And with the guys of our age, doing what we’ve done for so long, it’s kind of “Well, yeah, it’s just what we do.” And, I suppose if we’re really honest, if you go to the press, particularly in this country and Europe, that Quo’s got a new album, they’ll go, “So fucking what? They’ve had loads of new albums. It’s another Rock album. We know where they’ll be.” With this one, we’ve seemed to have sidetracked everybody and made them think, “What the fuck are they doing?”
SPAZ: Did reworking some of the songs give you a new appreciation or maybe reignite your passion for some of the tracks?
FRANCIS: Yeah, and I think that’s the same effect it’s had on other people. You know, the project was supposed to take us four to six weeks and it took four and a half months. I was coming back from somewhere with a driver and I had the acoustic in the car, and I was playing the acoustic and we got home and the driver said, “I never thought you could play an acoustic.” “What the fuck are you talking about? Of course I can!” And it seems a lot of people think, “Ah – that’s real music if you play an acoustic guitar,” which is kind of weird. Most of the songs that we’ve done were written on acoustic guitar. I think my reluctance (in recording an acoustic album) was that people would say, “What are they doing? They shouldn’t plunder their own catalog.” Whilst one might say you shouldn’t be bothered by what people will think, we’re in show business – of course we’re fucking bothered by what people think.
SPAZ: I’m more of a fan of the Quo stuff starting in the early ‘70s. But when I heard the new version of “Pictures Of Matchstick Men,” I heard a real beauty to the song I never heard before…
FRANCIS: The same things have happened here with that song, and I believe that’s possibly going to be the next single. These days, the band doesn’t really get involved with what we want or don’t want as a single because we don’t really understand the market anymore. But, that’s one that everybody’s talked about that perhaps in the American market you might be able to get some airplay. Wouldn’t that be wonderful if Status Quo, this late in their career, got to have a hit album in America? I’m dribbling, I’m dribbling (laughs).
SPAZ: There are Quo songs that I didn’t pay much attention to like “Rain,” “Don’t Drive My Car,” and a few other things, but these versions hit me this time in a way they never have before.
FRANCIS: That’s the same with me. We were trying to do “Rain” and we tried it one time and thought you can’t really do that. The following day, John (Edwards) came back and had pared the riff down somewhat, and then we all bounced off that and lo and behold, got the new version. The same with “Car.” This is the first album since the advent of the CD that I’ve actually listened to all the way through without getting tired. I find with the advent of CDs that we were all putting loads and loads of tracks on there, and in the end people really do get tired. You think, “Oh fuck, I can’t listen to it anymore.”
SPAZ: Aquostic does not include anything from your albums post ’91. Is there a reason for that?
FRANCIS: Somebody asked me the other day from Switzerland why didn’t we do “Roll Over Lay Down.” I said, “Well ‘Roll Over Lay Down’ was written on electric guitar,” blah blah blah – and as I was on the phone talking to him, I thought, “No, no, no – I can see how we can do that one now.” And, I think, if this one continues with the success it’s having, we will be asked to do another one. And again, as much as I would think, “No you don’t want to do it,” you should want to do it. It’s the world we live in. You’d be a fool not to. In the dressing room the other night, we mentioned a couple of songs we could do – “Oh, that one would be good!” I’m sure if I go onto the next one, we will address some of the later songs and maybe even some earlier stuff, because if it appears successful, success does breed success. I mean, it will encourage us. I’ve not finished this one yet, and I’m looking forward to the next one.
SPAZ: “Little White Lies” off of Under The Influence, I think that would work…
FRANCIS: I adore that, yes. I think we should’ve done that one too. We did think about “Little White Lies.” I thought it’s already where it should be. I remember when Rick was writing, and he took a long, long time to write it, and he said, “Does it sound like ‘There She goes’ (by The La’s)?” I said, “Yeah it does.” He went “Oh.” I said, “No, that’s still fucking great.” I don’t care. I love that song.
SPAZ: One of the main things that always drew me to the band was the fact that you guys wrote and still write great songs. In fact, I can tell you that the Bula Quo album is probably one of my favorite batches of Status Quo songs and that’s saying a lot, because I’ve loved loads of Quo albums.
FRANCIS: I thought the album before that (Quid Pro Quo), we’d actually got to the point of where we were kind of full up. There were no highs or lows. They were all pretty much the same keys and pretty much the same tempo. So luckily, although the movie was a bit (makes a raspberry noise), the soundtrack allowed us to say we can do this, we can do that because there were no boundaries – they didn’t say you can’t do that. You just do what you like.
SPAZ: Well, both you and Rick sound great on the new record. Like the actual songs themselves, I think people tend to overlook how great your voices sound together. Was it daunting to think about the fact that people are going to be able to really hear the vocals? People are really going to hear the melodies?
FRANCIS: Well, luckily, we didn’t give that a thought because now that you’re saying it to me, it makes my bottom twitch a bit. (laughs) But, no, I didn’t give that any thought. At the very early stages, the first day or two, I was so taken with the project that I would just keep going if I could. This project was fantastic all the time. I was really looking forward to getting up in the morning, get in the studio. It was the most enjoyable time I’ve ever had in the studio with the band ever. I mean, the old stuff, new stuff, everything. It was just a joy. I can’t really put my finger on why…
SPAZ: Are you planning to add an acoustic set into your normal electric show? Or maybe take the acoustic show out on the road?
FRANCIS: We are talking about that. We’ve got to finish this year out because there are some electric shows to be done in the middle of next year. Again, should the success carry on and one has to plan like this – this is what show business is about, I’m afraid – it may well be that 2015, at the end of the year, we would do an acoustic tour. People say, “Can you not do half this and half that?” Well, no we can’t because apart from the setup being so vastly different, the amount of people being brought in would be so different, we’d be carrying so many people just to do half a show. And if it does appeal to the people, some of them will definitely not come to an electric show because it’s too fuckin’ loud.
SPAZ: I’ve seen a lot of shows in my time, but my absolute favorite show is when I saw you at the House Of Blues in Anaheim on the Heavy Traffic tour in 2003. I still tell people about that show.
FRANCIS: So do I, because they talk about gigs – they ask me was Live Aid good, was doing this one good… But that one show – I don’t know what happened, but it was better than wanking (laughs). It really was. There was just something happened that night, and it’s one of those shows you think, “Oh fuck, why can’t we take that one around with us?” I’m glad you saw that show.
SPAZ: How did you get Canadian superstar Bryan Adams involved to do the album cover?
FRANCIS: So fuckin’ easy, it was ridiculous. We talked about the album cover (with our manager). “What do you mean fuckin’ naked?” I was in a serious argument with him. Then I stopped and thought about it. I thought, of course, what do you do? You’re stripped bare, you’ve got an acoustic in front of you and even from a negative point of view, people will go around and show somebody else, “Look what these two dickheads have done.” Well, they’re doing your PR job for you. Then he said we’ll get Bryan Adams to take the photograph. I’ve never, ever been asked who did the album cover other than this album. Everybody’s said, “I see you’ve done it naked.” So, I’m afraid, it’s become mostly about marketing. It’s sad to say that in the music industry that it isn’t necessarily about the music. Unless you have the marketing angle, people won’t listen to the friggin music anymore. I don’t know. Maybe it’s just older bands. But, like I said, if we just sent you “another Rock album” you’d go, yeah, nice. You like Quo? And you’d go yeah, fine. But there’s so much more to talk about with the fact that it’s acoustic, we’re in the nude, you had Bryan Adams, and lalalalalalalalalalalalalalalala. Our manager is very, very good at that, and that is the world that we live in.
SPAZ: I have never felt that Quo just went through the motions. Every record – there still seems to be that passion and love for making music. Now, how do you maintain that?
FRANCIS: I don’t really know, and I believe with mankind, generally, whatever we do, once we think we know what’s going on, we start fucking with it and ruin it. So we just kind of kept going. It’s the same with the shows. There is such a commitment in those live shows – they physically hurt in the end and the older we get, the more it hurts. But you can’t help it. When you’re out there, this tension comes about the body and it hurts afterwards. But when you’re out there, I can’t explain it. I’m so lucky to have done this so long with any amount of success.
SPAZ: Well, would you consider it the greatest job in the world?
FRANCIS: It is for me, because I would be shit anywhere else.
Thanks to Francis Rossi