Fireworks Magazine Online 85: Interview with TEN

CE Updated


Interview by Dave Crompton

With a studio output of fourteen albums in just twenty-two years, few can criticise Ten's work ethic and dedication to the Melodic Hard Rock cause. The band's guiding light, singer-songwriter, poet and wordsmith Gary Hughes spoke to Fireworks about their new album Illuminati, and "of battles lost and won".

Ten - Interview Fireworks Magazine

I think the vast majority of us were expecting the appearance of the much lauded Ten boxset – therefore the sudden news of Illuminati's release came like a bolt from the blue. Did you intend to surprise everyone, or is this all part of some great master plan?

How astute of you to uncover my tactical masterplan for world domination.......In actual fact the problem with any discography style release is that it can sometimes be misconstrued as a 'swan song' or a 'finale'. I was very keen for the fans simply to see this as a celebration of our work thus far and not as the guillotine falling on TEN's career of output. It was therefore more important than ever, after the box set idea was 'tabled' by the label, that we were seen to continue our output of fresh material. Of course, the double edged sword is that the more material a band releases, the further away it moves from compiling a 'complete works'. To this end the box set is now scheduled for April 26th 2019. It will include everything, even the latest Illuminati album. All 14 studio albums, all B-sides and Bonus material. It is entitled 'Opera Omnia' which is Latin for 'complete works'.

I'm assuming you, as a composer, are in a rich vein of form at this present time. Would that be fair to say?

It's very kind of you to say so. I write pretty perpetually. I never really stop. What this creates is the enviable situation of always having more material around than you need. This in turn allows us choices. I think it is always easier to create albums with a richer blend of material when you are able to choose from a greater selection of songs. In recent times I think the least number of songs we've actually started with is 19. Given that most of our albums are 10 tracks and a bonus mix that's at least 2 options in almost every department. I can truly say that it's a labour of love. It's not unlike seeing your babies into the world and watching them evolve into something unique. Each as different as a fingerprint or a snowflake. Each with it's own DNA.

Could you tell us a little about the album, its themes and of course the amazing artwork?

Many of the songs on Illuminati do have a link. There is a very definite theme and vibe running through the album which led me to believe very early on that these songs belonged on the same album together. The llluminati topic has been debated many times in rock and metal music. I am very much a historian in many ways. When choosing subject matters for songs I try where possible to avoid the obvious. I tend to choose the subjects that leave a lot to interpretation. This allows greater creative input. The Illuminati as far as the modern world is concerned, is believed to stem from Bavaria in 1748, but it is not difficult to trace the same beliefs and theorizations back to the Garden of Eden, depending on your personal beliefs about the bible. Cue the history lesson.... In a nutshell, since the creation of earth and Adam and Eve, Lucifer has worked behind the scenes directly and indirectly conspiring and working to destroy God's plans. Satan would make his move and seduce Eve and through the child of their union, Cain, and the Serpent Seed line of the devil would begin. God's wrath was in full flow at the defilement of all he had created.

He cast out his angels and refused to allow them back into heaven. The angels or 'the fallen ones' mated with human women and create the Nephilim. Giants amongst men. Their race was called The Anakim and some were 30 feet tall. Hybrid children. They are the titans, pans, gods, goddesses, and fawns of Greek and Roman mythology. The Illuminati are the Nephilim and their New World Order is a vast network of organizations and secret societies encompassing government and religion to bring about a New World Religion of pantheism. One of the first secret societies to merge out of the nations of mankind was the "Brotherhood of the Snake", a secret society that refers to Satan (the Great Serpent) back in the Garden of Eden. The Illuminati consider 'Satan' as the good God since Satan gave man knowledge to mankind and they consider 'God' to be evil for trying to suppress the same. It is from this viewpoint that Satanism was developed and is practiced within the secret societies of all ages. The original Brotherhood of the Snake split up into different groups over time as a result of inner fighting and disagreements. As a result groups such as Freemasonry, Knights Templars, the Knights of Malta and others were formed but always led by the Illuminati itself. Secret Societies and the Illuminati believe that power is attached to symbols and thus the symbols of the Illuminati revealing their massive infiltration into every aspect of our society from corporation logos and religious symbols. Simply put, they are everywhere. The insignia of the Illuminati and the New World Order is the "Pyramid with the All-Seeing- Eye", which you can study on the back of the U.S. One Dollar Bill. The All-seeing-Eye of Horus which goes back to the Egyptian era.

It is a large subject matter to encompass, especially for an artist asked to create a cover for such a collection of work. For our sleeve art I imagined a very detailed and intricate illustration and gave Stan Decker a very detailed idea as an indication of the intricacy forming the basis of this suggested piece. Based on the Aztec Sun Stone the concept was that the artwork should be divided like a pie from the centre. The centre of the artwork should be an all seeing eye with the winged TEN logo above it. Around the centre piece, each piece of the 'pie segments' radiating outward, should depict an individual element in the history of the illuminati. Starting with the Garden of Eden. Adam, Eve and the apple. Moving clockwise, other segments to include Lucifer 'the light bearer', The fallen ones, The Serpent and the brotherhood of the snake, The Nephilim, The Gods Goddesses and Titans of Roman and Greek Mythology, The Knights Templar, The Knights of Malta, and The Freemasons of present day. Here and there you could use the logos and insignia of the New World Order, the Illuminati and any logos influenced by the Illuminati in modern times i.e. - the American dollar bill etc. .Segment by segment until the circle was complete. Most importantly, each 'segment' should 'bleed' seamlessly into the next so that the whole schematic seems without divide. Radiating out and away from the centre rather like an intricate tapestry or an Egyptian hieroglyph. I appreciated that this is no easy task to create but it could be spectacular, and draw the eye deep into the piece, discovering new things all the time. In the end Stan created such a great piece that even I could not have imagined it any better. He is an astonishing artist and takes every idea to the next level and beyond.

This is now the fourth album with the current line-up. Does this mean that the recording process runs much smoother than ever before?

I think that Illuminati says much about the band now, and in particular about this line up, than any album before it. This is the 4th studio album we have recorded together as a unit and I think the cohesion in the band at this moment in time is very strong. This shows through the performances here. Dann, Steve G and John playing out of their skins once again, and Max and Steve Mack as solid as ever. Illuminati has a slightly more progressive feel to it too allowing Darrel to push the boundaries more. This only comes through confidence within the band. I feel that Illuminati is our most forward thinking album so far, and in some ways it's a more 'modern' sounding album than its predecessors and to me it takes up where Gothica left off. During Ten's evolution the solidarity of the line-up has never been a strong point. This lineup has a great solidarity currently and I can foresee this lineup continuing for many albums to come.

I must congratulate you on yet another stunning set of songs. Personally I feel you have rolled back the years somewhat and recaptured a vibe not dissimilar to the Stormwarning era. Would you agree, and if so, is this due to personal creativity or because you were aware that some fans were beginning to disengage.

The selection of songs is simply down to the strongest 10 songs at any given time. I never consciously try to write to suit a certain era, the new songs themselves totally dictate the stylisation of any new album. There would be little point in repetition. That was then and this is now. It is nice however, when people recognise essences and flavours that are reminiscent of our early material as it confirms to me that we are not losing our way and that we are still the same trademark band at our core. I also feel that most of our fans are very loyal. Sure we have our haters. I'm constantly being told that we are a marmite band. But Love us or hate us we have been around for a considerable number of years now and show no signs of disappearing into the ether. We are, more than ever, still proud to be a stalwart British Rock Band, and in a sea of American and European counterparts we feel like the Rock of Gibraltar. We are bold and unceasing, for the most past because of our fan base and their unshakable belief in us and our music. Sure, some disengage, some engage, but the core of our long-time fan base remain unflinching and drive us on. It is also not healthy for the evolution of a band to regress themselves. I believe it is better to say "Don't look back....that isn't the way you're going"

Regarding the lyrical content of Illuminati, and indeed all Ten albums; does it not frustrate you, as a songwriter, that many outside of your staunch fan base feel the lyrics and stories you tell rather ostentatious, and don't take time to delve deeper into their meanings?

No it doesn' What can I say, I like to be a storyteller and I prefer to think of the lyrics as informative and thought provoking. Our 'naysayers' make me smile. There are always finding something new to moan about. When I sing about Historical or Biblical subjects then "it's all too Dungeons and Dragons". Equally when I sing about rock chicks in stockings and suspenders I'm branded "sexist". Well "It is what it is." In a time when the new Xbox or PlayStation games are £50-£60 pounds each bands have to find a way to tap into that revenue as it is not a bottomless pit. With hours of storyline and multi character play on gaming discs, Audio CDs have to be more than just 'oh yeah baby' on a disc. There has to be more to engage the listener if bands are going to compete and for a slice of that revenue. In any case, the vast majority of our fan base love the depth of vision in our work.

How many songs did you bring to the table prior to the recording of Illuminati? Is it solely down to you to make the final choice, or do the rest of the band have an input.

We began with 24 songs for Illuminati, that's 5 more than on Gothica. I and I alone decide which songs we use because I rule this band with a rod of iron. You can see the whip marks if you remove the shirts from any member of this band. Of course I'm only joking. If they do indeed have whip marks that's their own private business and nothing to do with me. Seriously, it usually becomes obvious which songs will progress. When things move forward and time becomes more precious we drop the songs we don't intend to develop in favour of the ones we need for the album. It is usually agreed at the 'roughs' stage.

I think every song on this album is wonderful (but I would, wouldn't I?), in particular Shield Wall, Mephistopheles and my absolute favourite The Esoteric Ocean, but do you have personal favourites? Do any scream out to you " Play me live!"?

The band as a collective usually decide which tracks will be played live. But to me, 'Be As You Are Forever', 'Shield Wall', 'The Esoteric Ocean' and 'Mephistopheles' are all contenders for inclusion in the live show. With maybe an acoustic interlude for 'Rosetta Stone' or 'Jericho'. We are hoping to roll out material from Gothica, Albion and Isla De Muerta too in 2019.

One thing that is irrefutable is the standard of Ten's ballads. Rosetta Stone is another powerful piece of lyricism and musicianship. Are ballads harder or easier to compose?

In many way the ballads are harder. It's the constant search for a different lyrical angle on a love song. I try to avoid any and all repetition and a love song is a love song however you paint it. Therefore I like to try to come up with a different slant on things each time. A different concept or perspective. Something 'out of the box'. I thought the idea of Love having its own Rosetta stone was interesting. The idea that we've had the instruction manual all along and yet we are no closer to deciphering it.

You decided to go with Jericho for your first 'single'. Can you explain the process and reasoning behind choosing a song that first introduces a brand new album?

Frontiers Records have a big influence over what we release as singles and in which order. We as a band were happy for them to release anything from the Illuminati album. I think their reasoning behind choosing Jericho to lead with was the fact that the song itself had been earmarked for heavy rotation airplay in Italy and Germany by the radio stations there. Frontiers and Ten also felt that Jericho was unlike anything we'd recorded before. Very hypnotic almost psychedelic. They followed it up with 'Rosetta Stone' and now 'The Esoteric Ocean'. I think 'Shield Wall' will also get the 'single' treatment before we've finished this time.

Now that Illuminati is done and dusted, so to speak, do you immediately move on to your next project(s)? If so, could you explain what it/those may be?

On the TEN front, although the details have yet to be finalized, we plan to film 2 x DVD/Blu-ray products over the next year. The first is at Frontiers request and is likely to be a 60 minute 'stand-alone' set from their festival in Milan which we are appearing at in April 2019. The second release will be a 'long form' DVD product encapsulating our full 2 hours 30 plus live headline set, recorded in several cities around the globe. To include 'on the road' and 'backstage footage'. This longer form DVD is the band's idea as we feel it will give more idea of what TEN are all about. These products will be the first ever DVD/Blu-ray releases by TEN and as such are highly anticipated so we want to make them as good as we can. Some would say that they are long overdue. In some cases they will give fans from around the world an opportunity to watch the band live when a live show in their home country is not feasible.

It's recently been announced that the band will be playing a gig in Spain, with further European dates to follow. Are you looking forward getting out into the live arena again? I'm assuming there will be several songs in the set that have never been played live before.

We have added Milan to the list since Madrid and are shortly to add Athens. There will also be one or two UK sightings next year too. It is so hard for bands nowadays to tour without losing money. The success of any show depends on turn out and we truly hope that people will understand the commitment that we are trying to show when we announce live dates, embrace this, and come see us. The plan is to rehearse in 3 hours material and change the set around so that fans don't see the same show twice. This way, not only do we end up with footage of 3 hours or so music recorded in different cities but we make it more interesting for the fans. The set list will no doubt contain tacks taken from across the entire discography. We are looking forward to getting out there and meeting people once again.

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