Interview By Kimmo Tattari & Jari Asell / June 2015
After a long silence, almost 30 years since the last release, came exciting news that there will finally be a new Q5 album released this year. Steel Mill couldn’t resist the urge to contact the guys, and ask about the past and the present of this excellent Seattle based band.
Hi, and welcome to Steel Mill! Just got the news that you’re writing material for the successor of 1986 album ’When The Mirror Cracks’. How is the process going?
Jonathan Scott K: The process is going well. If anything, we have an abundance of ideas. We hope to be done with the finished set of great new songs in the early fall.
Could you tell us more about you’re present line-up, and the process that lead to this much waited comeback?
Evan Sheeley: The current Q5 line-up is: Jonathan Scott K. (lead vocals), Rick Pierce (guitar, backing vocals), Dennis Turner (guitar, backing vocals), Evan Sheeley (aka: “Mr. E”) (bass guitar, backing vocals), Jeffrey McCormack (drums, backing vocals).
The process that lead to this line-up started with being asked to play at the 2014 Sweden Rock Festival and the 2014 Rock You To Hell II Festival in Greece. After playing those shows we realized that our fans wanted us to come back with a new album. We added Dennis Turner on guitar after we got back from Greece and he was the perfect fit to the band.
When talking about Q5, one can’t pass the significance of your former guitarist Floyd Rose. What is he up with today, and were there any talk about Floyd’s involvement on this latest incarnation of Q5?
Rick Pierce: Yes, Floyd, in his unique position as guitarist, tremolo inventor and producer, definitely left his mark on the band, so when we were approached to play at the Swedenrock Festival in 2014 we were hoping that he could join us. When asked, Floyd regretfully replied that he was too far removed from live playing to want to take it up again at our former level, but wished us well in going forward (the other guitar spot for that show was taken by my friend Rick van Zandt of Metal Church). He continues to invent and improve products for guitar, as I learned firsthand when I went to California (where he now lives) to visit him at the NAMM show. He showed me a new tremolo system that he developed especially for Gibson guitars (I played Les Pauls a lot in Q5), and before I left he gave me one of the prototypes to try on my guitar. Needless to say it works great! Floyd continues to write and produce, and is collaborating with the band on at least one song for the upcoming album.
Going back to the old days, how did it all begin? As far as I remember Q5 started as Floyd’s project taking in former members from another great Seattle based band TKO?
Jonathan Scott K: Floyd Rose was in a Seattle band called The Core, this was a rare band that performed in bars, nightclubs and only played original songs as opposed to covering songs written by other artists. I had just left a local Seattle band I had been in for several years. Floyd called and asked if I wanted to join The Core, as they need a full time singer/front man. Just a few weeks later, Floyd and I decided to separate from The Core and write some new songs which we did. We pooled our money (this was before the locking nut days) and found we had just enough scratch to record a three song demo if we were careful. We needed some musicians to help us out so we contacted some friends of ours who were playing in local recording band TKO. Evan, Rick, and Gary, helped us out on the recording of the demo tape and we took it to local music mogul Ken Kinnear, who at the time was manager of Heart. He loved the songs and decided to sign us up. The rest is history.
The songs, vocals, guitars and the drum sound…one of the best production pieces of the 80s, for sure. How did you manage to get such a brilliant and relevant sound on the album? Who was in charge of “Steel The Light” production and how was the album put together? Did you have songs ready or did you write at the studio sessions?
Evan Sheeley: The “Steel The Light” production was pretty much done by Floyd Rose who was in Q5 at the time. Floyd has an incredible ear when it comes to studio production. The songs were already written and we played them live in Seattle a bunch of times to make sure that everyone liked them before recording them. We recorded the songs in Seattle (The Music Source) and Los Angeles (Cherokee Studios).
Jonathan Scott K: Songs were written more or less by the whole band. Ideas might be started by one or more persons and that we would get together in our drummer’s basement, where we practiced, and finished writing the songs. We played every weekend for several months at a small local pub, we would play the first set of the night and debut our new creations to patrons. If they didn’t get the desired response they were re-tooled or booted.
’Steel The Light’ came out somewhere between 1984-85. How was the reception in the US at the time?
Rick Pierce: Our self-released version came out in ’84 and our US reception then seemed confined just to our Seattle area…one Seattle rock station in particular played “Lonely Lady” so often that friends were telling me that they were sick of the song! Oh, yeah…we were also voted the “worst album cover of 1984” in the local music paper!
The European release got totally different cover art compared to the US one. What’s the story behind that change?
Evan Sheeley: As a band, we weren’t happy with the U.S. “Steel The Light” album cover. After we signed with the Music For Nations record label they came up with the European cover. We were happy with what they came up with.
I bought my copy in 1985, when the album was licensed to the legendary UK label Music ForNations. Did you guys have any idea about the bubbling under success of that album in Europe? At the time, we waited in vain for a Q5 tour in Europe…
Rick Pierce: We were aware of something “percolating” over in the UK, because several music critics had “latched on” to our early demos and the initial release of ‘Steel the Light’ (which was available there as a scarce import). One of these writers, Xavier Russell of Kerrang, (as he put it) “walked the album over to Carnaby Street” to show to Martin Hooker at MFN, who immediately moved to sign the band for Europe. The MFN release was re-mastered, and ironically that was the version of the album that appeared in the greatest numbers on Seattle record store shelves…a British import! We were unaware at the time of how well were being received in Europe and the UK until someone pointed out that it had been over a year since release and we were still in the Kerrang top 10 indie album chart!
’Steel The Light’ was released in the US by your own label, am I right? Were there any talk with major labels to sign your band?
Jonathan Scott K: The first printing of Steel the Light was released on a record label owned by our manager Ken Kinnear. It was always our plan to shop the record to established labels or distributers. One of the first labels to express interest was Music For Nations in Europe. We decided to go with them first. We were subsequently signed by Polygram in the U.S.
Your second, and so far the latest album ’When The Mirror Cracks’, came in 1986. It was obviously an attempt to move towards a more commercial approach. Was that a decision you all were happy to accept?
Evan Sheeley: Not really. At the time part of the band was OK with the idea and part of the band wasn’t. The idea was to get more radio airplay in the United States and to get on MTV (which actually played music videos at that time!). Q5 has and will always be a guitar driven band, but on “When The Mirror Cracks” the addition of keyboards softened the sound a bit too much for some of our fans of the “Steel The Light” album. So, even though we got critical acclaim for the “When The Mirror Cracks” album we really only wanted to play a few songs off that album live.
It’s not a bad album at all, and surely got it’s moments like ’Let Go’, for instance…
Evan Sheeley: We totally agree that “When The Mirror Cracks” isn’t a bad album. It definitely has it’s moments. We are just a more guitar oriented band and really don’t like using keyboards in our songs. “Let Go” is a song that we still play live now. It is one of the more guitar driven songs from the “When The Mirror Cracks” album and was even covered by a well known Finnish band called Burning Point.
What happened after 1986? In those non-internet days I wasn’t able to gain almost any further info about Q5. In 1991 I remember picking up Nightshade’s ’Dead Of Night’ album in a local record store. It said ’formerly Q5’ on the cover, but that’s the last time I heard you until last summer’s Sweden Rock Festival…
Rick Pierce: Well, ‘Mirror…’ having accomplished what it was supposed to…getting us a US major label record deal, we set about writing and recording the third Q5 album (with a decidedly harder edge than the second) for Squawk/Polygram records. We were close to being ready to mix the album when we submitted what we had so far to the heads of the label, Cliff Bernstein and Peter Mensch, and they rejected the whole thing completely and told us to go back and start over! Coming after over a year of work, the disappointment pretty much disintegrated the band. Months and months later, when the dust settled, though, Martin Hooker still wanted an album for Music for Nations. All there was at that point was Jonathan and I…Evan reluctantly declined our invitation to join at that time because of new commitments and responsibilities. Jeffrey entered the picture as our new drummer and that was the start of Nightshade. ‘Dead of Night’ included three or four songs that were originally intended for the next Q5 album. Nightshade recorded two more albums with another drummer, Frankie Rongo (who also played with Q5 in Sweden Rock), and Tony Magnelli was succeeded by Joel Wiseheart on bass before Evan returned to the fold for ‘Stand and Be True’. It was when Evan rejoined us in 2003 that discussion started to surface about the possibility of reforming Q5, since we had three original members together again. We performed as Q5 in Germany for the first time since the ’80’s in 2009.
Besides the new record, have you any plans to re-release your old albums? Nowadays they are pretty hard to find…
Rick Pierce: I know it’s small comfort to those of us music fans that need the feel and the look and the superior sound quality of an actual CD or vinyl, but the Q5 albums (and Nightshade as well) have been released digitally since 2008, and continue to do well as downloads on iTunes, Amazon and the rest. Physical CD’s haven’t been released since 2000, so I’d say were about due for another re-release!
As a record collector, I have to ask if there were any other singles released by Q5 than the European 12 inch ’Steel The Light’ including the jam ’That’s Alright With You’ on the b-side?
Evan Sheeley: Besides the “Steel The Light”/”That’s Alright With You” single we also had a promo single released in 1986 by Squawk Records for the song “Livin’ On The Borderline”.
So, what can we expect from the new album, and are there any touring plans made yet?
Jonathan Scott K: You can expect some great songs that have the Q5 sound. Life, Death, Love, and Rawk! It will be made loud to be played loud! The whole band is ready to tour and re-visit some of our favorite towns and travel to new places. We hope to see everyone soon.
How have your new gigs been received by the fans?
Jonathan Scott K: We had a great year. All of our shows were over the top receptions by the fans. For instance it was fantastic to see so many people at Sweden Rock who knew our songs. The fans in Greece and Cyprus were absolutely stellar. We did a couple of shows in Seattle and the warm welcome we received there was energizing. One of my favorite places is Northern Ireland where we have wonderful fans. And in just a few days we will be heading to Chicago for another show that I can tell already will be fabulous.
We love our fans new and old. We look forward to seeing as many as possible over the next few years. Watch out, Q5 is coming to a town near you!
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