Bassplayer and record producer LEO LYONS may be best known as one of the founding members of Ten Years After, but these days he's roaring along with his new band HUNDRED SEVENTY SPLIT, who have just released their third studio album TRACKS.
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Hi Leo! Hundred Seventy Split have existed for about seven years now, and I see from your website that you've toured pretty much consistently during that time. Your schedule for November 2016 has 17 shows in 18 days! I know you love to get out there and play, but that is insane! You always put on such an energetic show too, so how do you prepare for such a gruelling roadtrip?
I always look forward to going out on the road. It charges up my energy banks. Aside from a little warm-up practice on the bass I don't do any specific preparation. I used to do a lot of exercise, martial arts, gym, swimming etc., but I don't do so much these days although I often think about it. On the road I try to eat well and keep healthy. I think the secret is to conserve energy. I've learnt to relax during long hours of bus travel. If I'm not rocking out on stage I sleep, which probably makes me very boring!
The new album kicks off with a real belter, "It's Coming Back Around". My top three instant favourites from the album are that one, "She's Got The Mojo On" and "Tail Lights". Which songs did you most enjoy writing and recording?
We had done some pre-production before we all got together in the studio and some songs turned out pretty much how we expected, while others took a completely different direction. A couple of the songs we recorded twice - in totally different ways.
Nearly all the songs were tracked at Park Studios in the UK, with extra recording done at Music Box Studios, Cardiff. The sessions were fitted in between everyone's prior commitments so we worked on the project intermittently over a few months. Our recording engineer was Ed Truckell, who also does our front of house mixing. Billy Livsey added Hammond on three tracks which were recorded in Nashville. I used upright bass on a couple of tracks on this record. It's the first time I've used it since the early days of TYA. I enjoy a challenge!
I co-wrote most of the songs with Joe and my Nashville pal Fred Koller. We'd often talk about past history before getting into song-writing mode so it's no surprise that there's a few biographical references in the songs.
My personal favourites are 'It's Coming Back Around' and 'Tail Lights' although I can't think why.
Which tracks from Tracks will find their way into your live set?
Our shows are around a couple of hours long and we include some favourites from earlier albums as well as TYA requests. I'd say we'll try for 70% of the album each night but songs may rotate at each gig. Most nights we'll definitely include 'It's Coming Back Around', 'She's Got The Mojo', 'The Game', 'Tail Lights' and 'Gravedigger'.
I had to laugh when I saw what you've called your record company - Corner House Records... brilliant!
Yes it was an inside joke between me and Fred Koller. When I first moved to Nashville I needed a name for my publishing company and we came up with Lyons Corner House, which many people might know was a famous chain of up-market tearooms which expanded throughout London during much of the 20th century.
As the bassplayer of Ten Years After for so many years, how big a step was it to take the HSS road?
Alvin Lee and I started playing together over fifty-six years ago. It was a giant step and an incredibly sad decision to give up all rights to the TYA name. It's sometimes hard not to think of myself as TYA's bass player, especially when so many of the fans still email and talk to me about those days, but I know that I made the right decision to quit - even though it's much like starting all over again.
Do you get asked for Ten Years After songs during a Hundred Seventy Split set? And if so, which TYA songs do you play?
Yes of course. Fans want to hear TYA classics too and we're always happy to oblige. After all, those songs are a big part of my musical history. Most requested TYA songs are: I'm Going Home, Love Like A Man, Good Morning Little Schoolgirl, 50,000 Miles Beneath My Brain and I'd Love To Change The World. The difficulty is fitting in all the requests now that HSS has a host of its own material available!
I imagine that there's quite a crossover in the TYA/HSS fanbase, but having said that, still plenty of room for both bands to co-exist.
I will always enjoy playing TYA's music but I also like to do things that are not possible within the TYA line up. As far back as the early seventies I was producing other bands and playing on other projects; for example I made two records with my own band Kick.
Hundred Seventy Split was at first meant to be a side project. I had not considered leaving TYA. There are many examples of classic bands whose musicians have side projects that prove musically rewarding and beneficial to both parties. I felt there was room for both TYA and HSS and I think our fans also liked the diversity. My former colleagues did not agree and were not prepared to compromise. At the end the working atmosphere in TYA became untenable and Joe and I had no option but to leave. It was very sad.
Tell us how HSS first started, and how the band has developed since then.
In 2009 I was asked by an American record label to do a solo project. Rather than make a solo record I preferred the idea of making a record with guest players. I asked Joe to be one of those guests and also invited him to co-write with me for the project. Label negotiations became protracted and rather than waiting around I jumped the gun, booked time in a Nashville studio, and with Joe's help, started tracking. It went well and with Sean Fuller and Tanner Jacobsen on drums and Billy Livsey and Rob Stennett on keyboards we finished the record without looking for other guest players.
It was suggested that we do a few shows to promote the record so we gave the project the band name 'Hundred Seventy Split' after a road junction in Nashville near to where we recorded and also where I lived at the time.
We have now released three studio albums - The World Won't Stop, HSS and Tracks - a double live CD called The Road, and a live DVD from one of our European shows.
In which countries do you find your best audiences?
This is a tough one to answer. Currently HSS work a lot in Europe, particularly Germany, and the audiences there are fantastic - but it's difficult to say where the best audiences are. A good gig is an event, a sharing of energy between band and the audience. When both are in sync great things can happen. I've been fortunate to experience so many great evenings playing in venues all over the world. There was a huge energy when we played the Bluesfest in Canada last year.
Catch Leo, Joe and Damon on the road in Europe in November 2016. Showdates are listed at www.hundredseventysplit.com