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An Interview with Nazareth Singer Dan McCafferty
by Jeb Wright

Nazareth is celebrating their 40th anniversary with the release of a new album titled The Newz. The Newz marks the first new Nazareth album in a decade, showing how the band has changed over time yet, somehow, retained the classic Nazareth feel the fans come to expect. Vocalist Dan McCafferty finds himself in fine voice, whether it be on rockin’ songs like "Goin’ Loco" or acoustic numbers such as "See Me."

In the following interview, McCafferty discusses the excitement the band felt to get back into the studio, admitting the music is still what matters most. Dan takes time to discuss songwriting, and how the band gets pigeonholed in the USA as the band who made Hair of the Dog. We also discuss how important it is for Nazareth to remain on the road and not wait for MTV or the music industry to change. If Nazareth is going to continue, and if The Newz is going to sell, then it will be because Nazareth has covered every corner of the earth, playing their music to anyone who will listen.

Jeb: The new album The Newz is the big news.

Dan: The album just came out in States; we are waiting to see what happens. It is getting very good media reviews in Europe.

Jeb: The classic Nazareth sound is still there but there is a blues element as well.

Dan: It is really a combination of the four of us trying to keep the Nazareth feel. The first album was made in ten years but this one was made quickly. We wanted to make something that showed the soul of the band. We are very happy with the album, and, I must say, it was a very happy album to make.

Jeb: Seeing as it has been a decade since Nazareth put out a CD, were these songs sitting around for a long time?

Dan: A couple of them were. We started off messing around with a few things. Between the bunch of us, we achieved what we set out to do.

Jeb: Is it strange, after all these years, to still get so excited when making a new album?

Dan: Yes, because we got so used to playing live and not recording. I shouldn’t say this, but I am going to... It was just like being in short pants again.

Jeb: Anybody that does any career for forty years has a challenge to remain enthusiastic, after all that time.

Dan: The first week, we rehearsed all of the songs, and we got the arrangements where we wanted them. By the end of the first day, we were all so excited. We were happy boys again.

Jeb: You have released albums like Razamanaz and Hair of the Dog, but there have been other albums that were not so good. How do you know when you have a hit?

Dan: I don’t think you know, man. I think there are a few famous producers in the world who do know. They seem to be able to tell when they have got something. Our criteria has always been, "Would you buy that?" If we say ‘yes’ then it gets on the record. Sometimes we are right and sometimes we are way wrong.

We are moved by how we feel about a song. Some of the songs that people didn’t likes so much, I tend to still like. I forget about it over time. Sometimes, five years later, I will hear something and admit it sounds a bit odd but at the time, I was enthusiastic about it.

Jeb: Would you say The Newz is a mixture of the different sounds Nazareth has produced over the years?

Dan: Yes, I would say that. It covers a lot of musical boundaries too. It gives the listener many different things to listen too. We have covered most of the bases here.

Jeb: Was that a decision or was it just how it happened?

Dan: It was just where the band was going. It was an ideal that we had but we just went ahead with the songs and saw where they ended up. Some of the soft ones ended up being heavy and some of the heavy ones ended up being soft.

Jeb: It gives it spontaneity.

Dan: We have always tended to be like that—that is why we have been through a lot of management companies. They all say, "Why didn’t you make Hair of the Dog II?" We say, "Because we really didn’t want to." We made that album and that was that. It is part of Nazareth history. It was time to make something else afterwards. I think that is why people like us, because we don’t give them the same songs all the time. Radio stations still only want to play songs off of Hair of the Dog and that is their corporate thinking. I am just going to have to live with that.

Jeb: Your voice is tailor made for hard rock. I think you surprise people on slower music. I think they can’t believe that voice can sing softly.

Dan: In America, most people just know the album Hair of the Dog. They think of "Beggars Day" or "Hair of the Dog" or something like that. They hear me sing different things and they say, "DUDE!" I hope they like hearing different kinds of music come out of Nazareth. We like playing it.

Jeb: The tour included US dates.

Dan: We did doing three songs from the new album and then a bunch of classics like "Whiskey Drinking Woman," "Hair of the Dog" and "Razamanaz." I still get off in front of a crowd singing the old songs. I am surprised it has lasted so long. We are all stage punks but we know it can’t go on forever.

Jeb: This version of the band has been around for...

Dan: Seven years with our drummer, [Lee Agnew]. Timmy [Murrison], our guitar player, has been with us for fifteen years—he is the longest serving guitar player in Nazareth. The kid is brilliant. They tend to keep us on our toes. They make us do songs that we have forgotten about. Timmy will come and say that he wants to do an obscure song on an old album that we have never done live. Pete [Agnew] and I look at each other and say, "Shit, we are going to have to learn that."

Jeb: I have heard that you are not a lead singer who sips tea and refuses to be around cigarette smoke.

Dan: That is very true. I did stop smoking again, but I will probably start again. I would just have to say that I just don’t worry about it. If you tell yourself that you are going to get hoarse tomorrow, over and over, then you will. The voice has been good to me.

Jeb: It is your 40th Year Anniversary. Do you feel that classic rock is a genre of music that touches humanity more than other types of music?

Dan: It does. What I think is incredible is that this music gets less publicity than anything else. It gets less video, less TV and less everything. Then a band called Led Zeppelin decided to get together for one gig and twenty million people wanted to go. I think we get to the people by word of mouth, shows and magazines on the internet, like yourself, but we are not mainstream. We like the internet and our website. People can stumble upon our website and go, "Man, look at this. Nazareth is still together. Let’s check out what is going on with them." It is great for the hardcore fans as well. They can look at the tour dates and find out where we are at and plan to make a two-hour car ride to the next gig.

Jeb: Do you feel a responsibility to the fans to go out there and deliver?

Dan: Absolutely. The reason that we are here is because of the fans. We were never darlings of the media. The fans always kept us going.

Jeb: Were there any special surprises on the 40th Anniversary tour?

Dan: We were breathing on stage [laughter]. We didn’t really plan any big surprises. We just like going out on stage for about an hour and a half and play a really good set of rock n’ roll.

Jeb: You know that former Nazareth guitar player Manny Charlton has been booking his band as Nazareth.

Dan: Lawyers are involved now. There is always some smart guy who says, "Oh, I could make some money with you." We are hoping that it will go away soon. We never actually trademarked the band’s name. We never thought about it because we are dumb rock n’ rollers. We look at this as a thorn in the side of the band. The end of this should be coming soon, now that the lawyers are involved. Soon it will be gone away.

Jeb: You know it will be difficult to get The Newz on the radio...

Dan: All we can do is try. We can get guys like you to write about it, and we can put songs on our website, and we can go to radio stations and play a song. When we first started out, bands like Nazareth, Led Zeppelin, Uriah Heep and Genesis... college radio stations loved us, so we got plenty of media. Now, classic rock radio only plays your old stuff and ignores your new stuff. We just hope you will hear it, tell two or three of your friends, and one of them will buy it and tell someone else.

Jeb: It goes way back to the beginning of Nazareth, when you earned your reputation playing live and sold you albums on the road.

Dan: That is exactly what it is like. I was listening to a band today, a young band called Kings of Leon. The went round and round and traveled and then people all bought their album. It is not just the older bands; it happens to the younger bands that are playing classic rock style music. They can’t get on the radio because they don’t sound like everyone else that is out there. I think that is where YouTube, and other sites like that, come into play. We have stuff on YouTube and MySpace that our fans have put up that I have never seen before. They also put up stuff that we did last night. It is weird.

Jeb: What is the difference between Scottish culture and the US culture?

Dan: I think Americans believe a lot more media than we do. We are more cynical about what is on the news; we don’t believe a lot of it. Americans believe what they are told. Although Americans are outspoken and kind, you are also somewhat shy. We are kind of barbaric, in a way.

Jeb: Was it hard for you to give up a regular paycheck and a normal life?

Dan: Not really. I thought, "If I don’t give this a shot now then I will never know what would have happened." I didn’t want to end up being one of those guys that Bruce Springsteen sings about, sitting in a bar, going over his glory days. I knew that if I didn’t give it a try then I didn’t deserve a try. We decided to give it a shot. We didn’t have success right away. We slogged around for years and years. Eventually, we started to get a reputation as a great live band. We had a hit in Europe with "Razamanaz" and that opened some doors in the States. Because we had such a good rep in Europe, we got offered the tour with Deep Purple. The Deep Purple tour opened a lot of doors for us. They asked us to come and open for them in the States. When we got to the States, we were playing 20 minutes a night opening for The Buddy Miles Band and Deep Purple. It was great fun.

Jeb: Is it tough being in that 20-minute slot?

Dan: I would look out when we were playing and see people looking for their seats. It was good experience. It helped show us how to react to the people and get the people going.

Jeb: The Deep Purple tour must be how you met Roger Glover.

Dan: Yes it was. He was just getting into production. He produced Ronnie Dio in Elf. We were playing a lot of songs from Razamanaz on the tour. Roger heard the new songs and said he would like to produce us. The record company was looking for a producer for us and we told them, "We have Roger Glover." When we were recording The Newz, Roger came over to say hello. He was in the studio for something else and he heard we were there recording.

Jeb: I admire the way that you travel the entire world and play concerts. You go everywhere.

Dan: We have to because if I wait for MTV to pick up The Newz then I am going to be dead. Instead, I had better get my ass in gear and start doing something. It is great traveling the world and playing for all these different people. Unfortunately, you never get to see the sights. You see a lot of trains, airports and hotel rooms but not the good stuff. A lot of people seem to think this life is glamorous, so lets not tell them that side of it [laughter].

Jeb: Was Roger Glover critical to your success?

Dan: He taught us some studio craft that we hadn’t learned yet. We could not afford much studio time, so he told us that we had to be disciplined, but at the same time, we had to be loose. He turned us on to a lot of harmonies as well. We are good friends.

Jeb: Deep Purple and Nazareth have been known to have a drink or two.. So when you say Roger taught you discipline...

Dan: I am talking studio discipline—and only studio discipline [laughter].

Jeb: Was it difficult to drop Roger as your producer when you went into the studio to record Hair of the Dog?

Dan: The most important thing when you go into make a record, is the record. The producer and band want to get the best version of each song that they can get. If you can’t get that then you shouldn’t be in there. You have to get the tape ready and your performance has to be spot on.

Jeb: How important is the packaging and the T-shirts to you?

Dan: It is important but that is someone else’s ball. We tend to agree on things we want for a cover and the record company takes care of it.

Jeb: Nazareth had two awesome covers. You could not go past the rack without Hair of the Dog and Malice in Wonderland catching your eye.

Dan: We knew that was part of the game. You had to package it properly. It is part of the plan that has to be done. We would come up with a sketch of what we were looking for and then turn it over.

Jeb: Is it true that the Hair of the Dog album the wrong size for a record cover?

Dan: It was. The guy that painted that was kind of an eccentric chap. If that cover is what his days are like, then I would hate to see his nightmares. He painted the cover and brought it to us, and we looked at it and saw that it was the wrong size. That is why on the cover there is a black stripe on the side of the album.

Jeb: When you crossed over from being musicians to rock stars, did that bring a new set of problems with it?

Dan: It does actually. You find yourselves in big situations with your friends every night. Everything gets big. You have big crews, big stadiums, big stages and big problems. It is all part of the game and you learn as you go. We learned that you need to get good people. We always got good stage managers and a good crew. You learn, after your first big plunge, that you don’t need to worry about all of it, as long as you have good people working for you. If you have good people working for you, then they will take care of it for you.

Jeb: You have to let go of control.

Dan: You have to pass off the control. What do I know about building a stage? Not a lot. So, I should just shut up and let those who know how to build a stage, build it.

Jeb: Did success change the internal workings of the band?

Dan: It really brought us together. You couldn’t go for a walk. We ended up eating all of our meals together in the hotel restaurants, and things like that. It was very productive as well, as we started to write together. We would do a six or eight-week tour of America and on days off there was nothing to do. We would get bored and we would write together.

Jeb: Later on, when Jeff "Skunk" Baxter was brought in to produce the band, it drove a wedge between the band and Manny.

Dan: Manny did two or three productions with the band. The first one was very successful but the others were not. We decided it was time for a change. Manny didn’t like that very well. He played and did what he needed on the album. Then it was time for a change again. In a band’s life you have got to compromise a little bit. If you don’t compromise then leave. If you are not happy then leave.

Jeb: If Manny had not left then it could have lead to bigger band issues and even the band breaking up.

Dan: If you are not liking things in the band, then go away. Manny was a big part of the band; I would never deny that. He was a founding member and he had a lot to do with our success. By this time, Manny was not a happy man. He didn’t want to be there. The only thing to do was to say, "bye bye."

Jeb: Last one: When you joined the band, did you envision a 40-year career?

Dan: Oh, hell no. It was a good laugh and a way to meet girls. It became much more serious than that, when it became a career. We had to make a big decision. Pete was an architect. We were all working through the day and then playing, and recording, at night. We had a lot of 24 hour days. Eventually, we got signed and we decided to give up the day job, for a few years, to see what would happen. We are still testing it out [laughter].

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