interviews‎ > ‎

Gareth Noon (Serpentine)

posted 25 Jul 2011, 11:55 by Paul Woodward
Hi Gaz, this is Woody from Midlands Rocks hope you and the rest of the Serp’s are well and up for answering a few questions?

 Looking forward to it, mate!

How did the core of the band come together, as other than front man Tony Mills you're all quite young (for the AOR genre anyway!) I’m presuming you were all friends? Or did you audition?

The whole ‘starting a band’ thing basically came about because Gareth Vanstone and I had been kicking the idea for quite a while. We’d made a few rough demos etc, and they just happened to catch the ear of Chris Gould, who was a friend of Gareth’s brother, and we took it from there. We jammed together for a couple of days and the chemistry between us was there instantly, so that’s how Serpentine was born basically. Getting the rest of the band together is what really took the time. The three of us are in Cardiff and the rest of the band live in Birmingham, so from that I’m sure you can imagine how difficult we found it to find guys with the right influences and look in Cardiff! John Clews was a lucky find via the internet, and in turn he found Roy Millward who replaced Charlie Skeggs in the band last November. So, to answer your question, there was certainly some auditioning, but there’s a real friendship in the band and we were careful to make sure we got the right guys in - we’ve handpicked the talent in the band as opposed to just being 6 guys thrown together, and I think it shows.

How did you meet Tony Mills and impress him enough to join the band?

That was total luck to be honest. Chris bumped into Bob Richards from Shy while he was engineering a session in Blackwood, explained the shit we’d been through trying to get a decent singer, and he just suggested getting in touch with him to see if he’d be up for it. To our absolute amazement he was, and when he got back from doing a couple of gigs in Norway we had a proper conversation about what we wanted to do with the band. Things took off rather quickly from there.

Tony has a large input in the song writing, mostly in the lyrics and vocal melodies, what was it like writing with a musician with over three decades of knowledge and experience in music?

It’s probably made us mature as musicians about ten times faster than we would have otherwise. Tony is a pro, and has so much wisdom to impart to the band that we’ve just been happy to learn from him. A couple of reviews have said that the band sounds like it’s been making records for years and we have to hand a lot of the credit to Tony for that. He’s done a fantastic job with the lyrics and the vocal melodies on the album to, and the album is all the better for it.

Did working with Tony help raise your game and have you taken much advice & direction from Tony’s wealth of experience?

It’s definitely helped us to raise our game. We’re basically going through the same learning curve as Tony was going through with Shy in the early eighties. The difference in our case is that we’ve got someone there who’s been there and got the t-shirt to help us! Tony’s always got an opinion on what we’re doing whether it’s in rehearsal, in the studio, regarding song writing - you name it - and we try to make sure we take all his advice on board. A lot of the tracks that made it onto ‘A Touch Of Heaven’ were songs that we were working on when we first started working with Tony, and I think that speaks volumes. Working with him is a total inspiration, so we owe a great deal of gratitude to Bob Richards for helping us to establish contact in the first place!

You recorded the album at Mad Hat studio’s here in the Black Country, or more precisely the posh bit of Wolverhampton (its got tree’s!). What did you think of the studio, would you record here again? I know it’s been popular choice with a lot of bands. What was it like working with Mark Stuart & Sheena Sear?

Yep, trees and everything! Mad Hat’s a great place to record an album first and foremost because it’s totally out of the way. If you weren’t looking for it, you’d never find it and I think it’s great not having loads of distractions going on around you like so many city based studios do. It just allows you to concentrate that little bit more. Working with Mark and Sheena was a total blast for us! They are seasoned pros and helped us get the crisp, fresh sounding album that we wanted…and with some great suggestions and techniques probably got that extra ten percent out of the album. We’ll definitely be venturing back to the Black Country for album number two!

I’ve been blown away by just how good the album “A Touch of Heaven” is, especially considering this is your debut album. This is without a doubt for me the best thing Tony’s done since Shy’s “Unfinished Business”. How do you personally feel about how the album has turned out? What are your personal favourites and why?

Firstly, thanks for the complement! None of us in the band could be happier with the way the record has turned out, to be honest. I think we got the songs right, and the production is truly a work of art. I don’t disagree with you either that, from a vocal perspective, the album really got the best of out Tony. He really shows the light and shade in his voice and I know he’s very proud of a couple of performances in particular, especially ‘Unbreak My Heart’, which is a notoriously difficult song to sing. It can be difficult for a new band having a singer who’s got such a great pedigree as Tony, because whatever you do is instantly compared to his past works, but he’s been on some great albums in the past few years, so for you to say that this is his best since ‘Unfinished Business’ is a real complement.

It’s always difficult to pick favourites from the album. I was there at the birth of practically every element of the album from the demo stage to the final masters, so there are elements from every song on the record that I love…but, if you are twisting my arm for an answer then I’d probably say ‘Whatever Heartache’ (the first song we co-wrote with Tony and of course the one we did for the video), ‘A Touch Of Heaven’ (I just think this song flat out rocks, and features some truly awesome performances from every single member of the band), Fashion (just love how bouncy and catchy it is) and ‘Love Suicide’ (this one was written waaaaay back in late 2007 not long after Stone, Gould and I had first started writing together and just seemed to stick. I’ve got some wonderful memories of writing and recording this one!).

What has the feedback been so far for you and how have you taken it? I know the band got a 92% rating from Japanese rock bible Burrn, which must have been great? I know Tony was worried that the album would be a little to “safe“ for some fans, so the mostly positive feedback your getting must be a real boost?

The feedback has generally been pretty awesome. Obviously, Japan was always going to be a big territory for us, so to get the highest score of the year so far for an album in Burrn was tremendous, and has really helped to push to album for us over there. In terms of the album being “safe”, we just wanted it to be as commercial and as anthemic as possible. As I’ve said before we made sure that we put the songs before anything else and that there were big hooks there to catch people’s ears. That being said, I think the songs also have some cool arrangements and we made sure that no two songs had exactly the same formula. At the end of the day our mission statement was to make a commercial and fresh melodic rock album, and that’s what we’ve achieved, the proof of which lies in the fact that we’ve charted in Japan. If that’s “safe” then we’ll be making sure the second album is just as safe! Haha.
 

As a massive pure AOR fan, I like “safe” when it’s done as good as this! If I wanted something that pushed boundaries there’s plenty of other music out there to fill that void for me! For the moment I’ll stick with the Serp’s….


Cool! As I said, the mission statement was to make a catchy AOR record, and I actually like the fact that some of the songs translate to the more pop/rock orientated market. This is our first album, and we needed to make sure that it didn’t get swept under the rug, as so many albums do in what is quite a saturated market at the moment. I think we’ve done that this time around, and we’ll see what we come up with for the next record.

The album is been released in Europe via the AOR Heaven record label, did you find it hard to get signed? I know a lot of newer bands in this genre find it hard to get signed and for some bizarre reasons British bands even more so.


Actually, no, getting signed was one of the easiest hurdles we’ve faced. We recorded the album without the burden of a record label and I think that was a blessing in terms of no deadlines being set for getting the album finished etc; it just gave us our own sweet time to get the album right. While we were recording it, Tony was telling us about his negative experiences with certain labels and what each label would do for you in terms of sales, advertisement, promotion and things like that. Georg Siegl, the label’s head honcho, also expressed interest in the record time and time again while we were making it, so it just seemed like a the natural choice in the end. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that TNT and State Of Rock are signed to the label for Europe either…they are a great label who really look after their bands.

You recorded a video for “Whatever Heartache” how was that experience?

It was a great experience, and has proven to be a really cool advertising tool for us, which is something that a lot of bands in the genre don’t have.

Where was the video shot and how do you personally think the video turned out? I think given limited budgets it turned out really well and a video is in my opinion an essential marketing tool in the visual age.

You’re right, it is excellent for marketing and helps you to reach some people that you otherwise wouldn’t have found. It was shot at the Victoria Baths in Manchester and was a total blast to do, despite the fact that it was absolutely freezing that day! We’ve been really fortunate actually to have a great manager who is able to go out and find companies to give us sponsorship which, in turn, gives us the funding to be able to do things like this. It’s come out great in the end, and has added to our arsenal of stuff to keep our listeners entertained!

You’re the keyboard player in the band, and a damn fine job you do as well! I’ve never hidden my love of keyboards in rock, and to be honest I think they are essential for AOR/Melodic Rock. Although sometimes it feels like Keyboards is a dirty word in rock. How do you see your role in the band and your instruments importance to the overall sound and vibe of the music?

I think you’re right. Keyboards occasionally are a bit of a ‘dirty word‘, and I think that some of that is linked way back to the early eighties when labels were forcing bands that had made the transition from the seventies to commercialise their music, which involved adding keyboards in many cases. Old school fans didn’t want them to change their sound and so the keyboard player got some dirty looks! There are a lot of keyboards on this album, that’s true enough, but in turn I don’t think people can accuse us of being a one trick pony while we have the two extremely talented guitarists in the band that we do. I’m just one of six components that makes up the sound of this band. I definitely think it has an influence in terms of adding melodies and dynamics to the songs, which is something I think a lot of bands without keyboard players can really lack, but everyone has brought their best to this record and every element is important.

By the way if you’re ever advised to step down and the rest of the guys are told to hire a third guitarist to beef up the guitar sound, I want names and numbers because I’ve got a baseball bat with their name on it! Hell if heavy metal bands can have keyboards without criticism or shame so can we!

Well, exactly. There are so many metal bands these days with uber-talented keyboard players. I think that part of the problem in the melodic rock genre at the moment is that a lot of bands lack full-time keyboard players and have other band members program basic repetitive melodies, which doesn’t really fulfil their potential in terms of influencing the sound or creating strong melodies or dynamics. And hey, if they kick me out, we’ll both hunt them down together! Haha!

I feel given the ages of most the band, the future of your careers lies with a singer in his / her early 20s. In my interview with Tony I realised very quickly that he’s not a hired gun, he’s a full time Serp! So I presume if you were to find another singer to work with there would definitely be a change in band name?

I think as long as most of the band is there, I wouldn’t see any point in changing the name. Toto changed their singers lots of times over the years but they were still Toto at the end of the day weren’t they? Van Halen did the same. I think it splits opinion, that’s a definite, but name changes mean starting all over again, and that’s not something I think we’d even contemplate unless the sound of the band changed dramatically. Tony obviously has many, many things on the go but he is certainly a member of the band and hopefully will continue to be for the foreseeable future. Finding a great singer in their twenties who wants to front a melodic rock band is something that the band spent a great deal of time looking for an never found, so whether that happens or not in the future I don’t know. We’re really happy with what we’ve got at the moment, so we’ll just take it from here and run with it for now!

Obviously finding a young singer who is talented enough to bring quality song writing and vocals to the band is easier said than done, but will you always be on the look out and taking names for the future?

I think Tony’s got a few more miles in the tank before we have to really think about doing that! It really IS easier said than done to find someone who fit’s the bill in terms of being in their twenties and having tons of ability…god knows we tried to find one for a LONG time. As I said, we’ll see what happens in the future. At this point in time we’re enjoying ourselves and are more than happy with the six members we’ve got.

I’m sure the band are just concentrating on Serpentine at the moment and given the positive reactions you’ve received so far to the album, I’m sure you’ll wish to carry on with Tony for as long as possible? Have you gotten any ideas for album two yet and do you think the band can better “A Touch Of Heaven”?


We’ve been really delighted with the response to the record, and likewise we love the way ‘A Touch Of Heaven’ turned out. That being said, you always want to make a better second album, and that’s exactly what the six of us will be shooting for with the next release. We’ve already started writing the album, and have written a couple of tracks so far that we’re absolutely delighted with, so we’re confident it’ll turn out well.

Given the ages of yourself and some of the other band members, it does beg the question, how the hell did you get into AOR?

Growing up I always remember hearing classic rock. From being scared out of my wits hearing ‘On A Storyteller’s Night ‘ by Magnum at the age of about 5, to hearing bands like Survivor and Journey from my father’s record collection it seems to have become ingrained in me over the years and I guess Serpentine is what you’d call “going full circle!”

Do you have much knowledge of the Underground AOR/Melodic Rock scene? How do you personally see the state of the scene?

Yes, probably too much knowledge! I think the scene has picked itself up a lot from the days when I was first getting into the genre. There seems to be some new blood coming through as well now (especially from Sweden), which is very reassuring. The real downside seems to be that a lot of bands have been replaced by these ‘project’ albums featuring the same old faces time and time again, and I really don’t think that’s doing much for the genre except making A LOT of records sound exactly the same and stifling bands which could have otherwise come through. Fortunately it hasn’t hindered Serpentine, but there are some really talented bands out there that can’t make the waves they deserve to, and I think that this probably has a lot to do with it.

I think you're all nuts, if you choose to write in a more mainstream rock vein there would be far more chance for you to make a little bit of money out of your talents. Would you ever consider writing in a different style in the future?

We make the music that we love, and that’s the most important thing as far as I’m concerned. I’m not going to say that we would never stray from the formula or style of writing that we used for ‘A Touch Of Heaven’, because that would be artistically very limiting over a series of albums, but we seem to write best in the melodic rock direction and that’s what we’ll be aiming for on the second album.

Unfortunately most bands in the underground scene put more money in than they ever get out of it, all for the love of the music, it does get to me how disrespectful some fans can be. Obviously not every album is good, but even if an album is shit, whilst still being honest in your opinions a nod of acknowledgement, respect and appreciation to some musicians for trying to keep the scene and the music alive isn’t too much to ask for. Your front man Tony Mills especially does a lot for the scene not only with his own contributions but also with other bands. After my interview with Tony I developed a lot of respect for him in his honesty, work ethic and his outlook on life - one of life’s good guys. Tony’s been there, seen that, done that, and got the T-shirt. So I’d be surprised if he didn’t take most comments on his music with a pinch of salt, although I’m sure personal insults can be upsetting. How do you handle negative criticism being new to the game?

When you release an album, you pretty much put yourself in the firing line in terms of criticism. Bands are happy to take the positive comments so at the same time you have to take the criticism that comes with that. We came in for a bit of flack recently on a certain forum, but that’s par for the course quite frankly. The exposure we received on that website amounted to us receiving nearly 10,000 views for our video on Youtube, so does the fact that few people don’t like the album bother us? Not in the slightest. The label have already indicated to us that sales for the album have been excellent, so somebody must be liking what they hear. We’re more interested in looking after the people that do like the album than worrying about those that don’t.

Do you have any gigs lined up? I know the band do plan to play live, so I’m already gonna throw in a demand for “In My Blood” to be part of the set list!

We are in the process of lining up some live stuff at the moment, which is really a must if you want to give your product any kind of longevity, and we will without a doubt be throwing “In My Blood” into the set list, no sweat!

What songs are you looking forward to playing live?

Personally, I love playing “Fashion”. It’s a really bouncy number and translates really well live. So does the title track of our album, which I think will pretty much smoke live. That being said though, we rehearsed one of our new songs intended for the second album in our last rehearsal and I really think that one is gonna kick peoples asses as well. We are making sure that the songs we write at the moment are really rocked up, driving tracks that’ll come over well in the live arena.

What bands/artists are you currently listening to and enjoying?

Well, I just bought a load of albums in the legendary ST Records in Dudley a couple of weeks ago before the Winger gig, so am just getting through those at the moment. The new Treat album is absolutely killer, and I’m enjoying the remasters of Balance, Virginia Wolf and Boulevard as well! I think the new one by Newman is probably his best to date, too.

So as things stand at the moment what’s the future for Serpentine? Do you have any plans?

Lots, actually! Playing live is something that we definitely want to make happen this year. As most people know we were scheduled to play the ill-fated Rockfest gig that sadly never happened. In turn we postponed the warm-up shows we were gonna do in preparation for that, but it’s just delaying the inevitable really. Playing live now will be better anyway because we actually have some product finished and ready to promote now. We’re also talking about getting on the UK leg of a tour of a well known British band next year too, so look out for that! Our current plans also include writing for the new album; a process that we’ve started pretty early on actually, so that we don’t wait too long and end up leaving a massive gap between releases. We’re a new band so we can’t afford to do that - we’re working hard!

Anything you would like to add or say to Midlands Rocks readers?

Thanks to everyone who’s been kind enough to check out the album. For those of you who haven’t heard anything by us yet, feel free to point your browsers at
www.myspace.com/planetserpentine, where we’re streaming four full tracks and the video for ‘Whatever Heartache’. See you out on the road, and thanks for listening!  Love For The Future x
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