Earlier this year, Northern Irish hard rockers Million Dollar Reload announced a one-off summer headline show at Belfast’s historic Empire Music Hall. However, very shortly afterwards, the band also announced that this would, in fact, be their last ever live show…
Needless to say, confusion reigned both here in little old Norn Iron and elsewhere across the rock ‘n’ roll universe: what the fuck was going on? Were they splitting up? What in the name of all that is rock ‘n’ roll was happening? With everything clouded in secrecy, only a very few select people close to the band knew the answer to those very pertinent questions… and now PlanetMosh can exclusively reveal exactly what the story is, as frontman Phil Conalane (pictured right) discusses the state of play in the camp of the band that shortly will be no longer known as Million Dollar Reload.
So, is this the end of the M$R story, or just the closing of one chapter in it?
“It is the definitely the end of Million $ Reload,” the singer says, adamantly.
“We’ve been trying to end M$R for a while now so it’s fair to say that the 15th of August is the last ever M$R show…..it will draw a line under it all… and that will be that. But, at the same time, it’s not the end of us collectively making music together that’s for damn sure! I’d say we considered breaking up completely… for about two seconds… [then] laughed really hard at that option and pondered how we would end M$R and move forward.
“All bands say this, but we are genuinely thankful for everyone who supported M$R down through the years. Everyone who bought a CD, T shirt, ticket for a gig etc., the promoters (especially the local guys), the journos, the social media ‘posters’ and the support on Facebook/Twitter etc… even the ones that ‘had a go’ at us! Some of those where hilarious.”
So, what has prompted this move? The recent change in personnel? The change in direction we have heard both on the limited amount of new material you have teased us with and in your live shows? Or a combination of both?
“It has been quite an organic transition that probably began a soon after we recorded ‘A Sinner’s Saint’.
“M$R has always tried to evolve as we went along; we never wanted to be one of those bands that would stick rigidly to a formula or style when it came to writing and recording. Every time we would work on new material, or someone would bring in a song, the dynamic would change slightly. It was difficult for that to be very evident because we were only two albums into our career, but as people would be influenced by different types of music and experiences, it would show in the song writing and different elements that aren’t really heard on the first two albums started to emerge.
“It got to the point that we felt it wasn’t right to keep going with M$R. Things had changed: we had a new line up and the band had grew so much that it would be a struggle for people to really fully embrace what we are doing, putting it up against the style and sound of the first two albums. From what we started out as to where we have ended up at this point doesn’t even resemble anything M$R was in the beginning.
“We are all extremely proud of everything we achieved in M$R! We have been lucky enough to play along side our heroes, tour across the UK, Europe and America, and put out two studio albums that we all can stand over to this day.
“The personnel change really had no influence on the direction change whatsoever. I’m pleased with the line up change: Kev (Brennan – keyboards) and Fionn (O Haigan – drums) are great guys, exceptional musicians. In fact, Fionn has been in M$R for three years now: he is definitely, without question for us, the best drummer we’ve ever had (no disrespect to the previous drummers). He’s very creative and he’s really a ‘hands on’ type of guy… he gets involved in all aspects of the band: the business end, organizing stuff etc.; he has as much ownership to the band as the any of us.
“Though I will say it’s a change in direction that Brian (Mallon – guitar), Kie (McMurray – bass) and myself had wanted to make even during the recording process of the second album.”
So, now that we have stopped the rumour mill and have ascertained that the constituent members of M$R will continue making music together, what is the name of the new band? The singer remains slightly secretive:
“Aha!… You’ll just have to turn up to the Empire in Belfast on the 15th of August to find out what the craic is ;)”
PlanetMosh doesn’t give up that easily and we keep probing, wondering if there is particular inspiration behind the new name? Or is it just the result of many sleepless nights of brainstorming?
“Let’s just say that it’s not a decision we arrived at lightly! We all thought long and hard about what we wanted to do and the way we wanted to do it… and without giving everything away we feel we have made the right choice and decision.”
Obviously, with the band, to all intents and purposes, changing its name, this will bring challenges in itself… is it going to be like starting all over again?
“It’s not really as simple as Million $ Reload changing it’s name: it IS, in fact, the end of that band.
“Like I say, it’s hard to really explain exactly what is going on without giving it all away. It’s been three years since our last album came out, and in that time the band has went through quite a lot of change and upheaval. It got to the point that everything we were doing was not necessarily in keeping with the ethos and aspirations that we had in Million $ Reload at the beginning. Everybody’s mindset has changed, and changed for the better, and over this past year or so we had to start making decisions about what we were going to do. When a band breaks up, or changes its name, or moves in a different direction, it can be hard for people to accept. It’s a bit like if a band changes its lead singer – you tend to get the ‘Bon Scott or Brian Johnson era’ argument. That kind of ‘before or after’ scenario is something we didn’t want to get into.
“There will be difficulties in winning over new fans , but that’s just the way it goes. We hope that some, if not most of M$R’s fans, will come along with us (let’s be honest we are only talking a few thousand fans , not millions!)
“We knew there would be a backlash from some quarters when we made the announcement that it was the end of M$R … mostly on social media. We read comments on Facebook such as ‘Assholes!…why can’t they just get along and act like adults?’. A lot of people were assuming we were breaking up and hated each other!
“In fact, I’d say we’ve never been closer as friends as we are right now, as corny as that sounds. We are all a bit older and a bit wiser from when M$R started out and we know how the business works with labels, agents and promoters, etc . So ‘starting all over again’ doesn’t bother us at all. I don’t believe we are viewing it in that way in any case… we are just doing what we do and whatever happens happens.”
I mentioned new material. Earlier this year, you travelled to Wales to record what was originally going to be the third M$R studio album: can you tell us a little bit about the album?
“We recorded a bunch of songs at Rockfield in Wales with the intention of starting work on a new album. Neal Calderwood was the producer on our first two albums and he was brilliant, but we decided this time to force ourselves out of our comfort zone and go somewhere new and work with a different producer. We got Sean Douglas (who we have known for quite a few years – and, in fact, I played in a band with Sean years ago) to basically record the band live, which straight away brings a completely unique element to the sound and dynamic of the tracks. It was really enjoyable to record in such a famous studio, and with a friend of ours who was as hands on and involved as any member of the band. So, come August 15, we WILL have a new EP available at the end of the show.”
[Interview continues after video stream…]
It’s your first album recorded with keyboards. Assuming that the recruitment of Kev Brennan on piano/keys has been at least partially responsible for the change of direction mentioned above, how has this affected the dynamic of the band as a working unit?
“Kev has really brought a lot to the table within the band. He’s an exceptional musician!
“It was never the case that the keys were the catalyst for us changing, but more the fact that the newer material lent itself more for keys than anything we had done before. We purposely wrote new material with piano/keys in mind before we even had a keys player! It was a premeditated decision that we would go and hunt down a keys player , though whoever it was going to be had to be a suitable ‘fit’ with me, Brian, Kie and Fionn. There were songs that we had written a year or too ago that suddenly just came alive whenever the keys were introduced..
“It’s working really well, and we consider ourselves so lucky to have found Kev as good keyboard players are so hard to find!”
You yourself also have taken up the role of “second guitar player” in the band. You had previously played the guitar occasionally live, but what challenges has doing so permanently posed to you artistically, both as an individual performer and as a band as a whole?
“You see, this is the thing: I’ve always been a guitar player. I played guitar in all the bands I was in when I was a teenager. The singing bit came after!
“I never played guitar in M$R: why would I? There were two great guitarists in M$R with abilities far beyond mine! Having said that, any of the songs that I had written on the two studio albums were written on guitar. Do you think Bullets in the sky was written on a tin whistle (ha ha)!?? Seriously though, with the demise of our previous guitarist, we never really considered NOT continuing with a second guitarist. I had explored options with other potential guitarists, but nothing really developed. Then Brian told me to quit fucking about and strap a guitar on and be the second guitarist. So that’s what I did.
“It took a little bit of time to get ‘back into the swing’ of being a singer/guitar player again but its enjoyable. I’m kind of a the point now where I look back and scratch my head and try to figure out how I managed onstage NOT playing guitar!”
So, moving forward… you’ve told us that there will be an EP of new material made available at the end of next week’s gig: can we expect the album to be released, and what are your plans for live work, touring, etc., to bring the “new identity” to the public?
“Everything is up in the air at the minute in regards to an album or tour. We don’t feel any pressure to rush with putting an album out straight away. We definitely will tour properly more frequently moving forward .
“What I can say is that we have made the right decision in ending M$R. Closing the book on that band and its modest history [is] a relief, if I’m being honest. This is me, Brian, Kie, Kev and Fionn’s ‘thing’ now.
“Inevitably we will have the usual haters and keyboard warriors snipping from the sidelines on social media… predictably they will come off with “they’ve only changed their name , ha ha ,still the same band, who cares….blah blah” crap. We’ve already had a chuckle amongst ourselves about that scenario. Whether they like it or not, this is fresh and new, fun and exciting for the five of us… no label issues or any of the typical nonsense associated with that situation.
“We’ve turned down two offers from labels! We never thought we’d ever do that: but, IF we ever get involved with a label again, it’ll be because they are going to put as much effort and commitment into the project as we will… and know exactly what they are doing- and not just a nostalgia label that hasn’t ‘broken’ a band in 20 years, just throws money around, talks a good game but doesn’t deliver. We`ve already been there and we`re not doing that again!
“These days everybody knows with the internet most bands can do so much for themselves, promote their music and get it out there without labels: BUT, even now, a good label with the ‘right’ people can be a real help. Having said all that, hopefully we can nail a few things down and announce them very soon! We have a lot of things to organise for this show on the 15th. There will be a few surprises on the night, so anyone thinking about coming down, it’s one not to be missed!”
So, there you have it… there’s the story in all its glory… well, as much of it as the singer is prepared to give away! Sounds like the farewell Million Dollar Reload show at the Empire Music Hall, Belfast, next Saturday (August 15) is going to be one helluva special night. Support comes from The Irontown Diehards and The Rising, with DJ sets from Rock Radio NI. Tickets are still available.
- Photographs by The Dark Queen. All content © PlanetMosh 2015