For their 23rd studio album, legendary British rock outfit UFO have decided to take a break from the norm, instead piecing together a selection of their favourite tracks by other artists and UFO-itising them. The results are The Salentino Cuts, an album that delves further back in time than the band's 48 year history, while also reinterpreting some more recent songs in a surprisingly fresh style. With the album housing everything from 60s rock to 90s grunge, all delivered with a sound that could only belong to UFO, Sea of Tranquility's Steven Reid took the chance to ask the band's long serving guitarist, and solo artist in his own right, Vinnie Moore, all about his band's covers and cuts.
UFO have a new album out - The Salentino Cuts being the first covers album the band has recorded. For such a legendary outfit, putting together a covers disc may seem like a bit of a surprise. Where did the idea behind the album originate from?
We were approached with the idea by Cleopatra Records. To be honest, at first we pretty much ignored it because we were not interested. But this planted a seed so to speak, and we began discussing it on the tour bus without really being aware of it. 'If we did do a covers thing…..what songs would we do"? We started naming songs that would be cool to cover. But then the whole thing sort of fizzled away. Cleopatra approached us again some time later and at that point we felt it may be something fun and interesting to do.
And where did the album title come from?
Our European tours usually start in Hannover, Germany as this is where all of our gear is stored. We rehearse there before going on tour. We always stay at the same hotel and most of the time we end up having dinner at an Italian restaurant just across the street called Salentino's. We have spent many evenings there drinking and discussing things. We were in there one night during the recording sessions, and we were trying to come up with a title for the record. I came up with the idea to call it The Salentino Sessions. Everyone liked it and so we decided to roll with it. Just before the artwork was finished though, Phil decided that he liked The Salentino Cuts better and so it was altered.
With five different opinions in the band, how did you choose which songs to cover and were there any friendly disagreements about what should and shouldn't make the cut? They're must have been countless suggestions?
Yes there were countless suggestions. And it's a band, so as usual, you realize that you are not going to agree with everything. I for one did not want to do the Animals song, "It's My Life", but the others liked it. Ironically, I also didn't want to do "The Pusher" by Steppenwolf but that ended up being one of my favorites from the record…so there ya go. We just pushed forward with the process and everything somehow fell into place.
And I'd be intrigued to know which of the five of you first suggested each of the songs that made the final cut?
I can't answer that for all of the tunes honestly. I know that Paul did a demo recording of "Heart Full Of Soul" [The Yardbirds] so that one was his idea. "It's My Life" may have been his idea also. Rob suggested John Couger's "Rain On The Scarecrow", and Phil loved the song but didn't really think he could sell it lyrically because he's English. Those lyrics are pure from the heart of America. But anyway, this led to "Paper In Fire" [another Mellencamp number] instead. "Too Rollin Stoned" was probably my idea because I am a big Robin Trower and Jimmy Dewar fan. But so is Andy so he may have even suggested it before me. I am not 100% sure actually. Phil came up with "The Pusher". Andy's friend told him about "Honey Bee". I love Tom Petty but I had never even heard of that song. I recommended "Break On Through" [The Doors]. Phil loves the Mad Season tune and was constantly playing that on his phone on the tour bus. So that was his idea. I love that one too. Phil choose "Aint No Sunshine" [Bill Withers] and we all came up with the ZZ Top track, "Just Got Paid" at the last minute while in the studio.
Did the band work on any other songs ideas that you decided not to include on the album?
Yes. Believe it or not we recorded a [country music star] Vince Gill song that Phil loved.
Cleverly, while you have managed to have each song still sound connected to its original, you've also managed to bring the UFO sound to them all as well. The results don't just sound like a bunch of cover versions brought together to make an album, instead sounding like a collection of songs that were really cared about. Did you go into the studio with a real defined idea of how you wanted the songs to 'feel' and how you wanted the album to come out as a whole?
Not really. We didn't think a whole lot about it and just went for it with the thought that our personalities as musicians and collectively as a band would pretty much shape and mold the sound and feel.
As the guitarist in the band, how did you approach what is a mix of classic and cult classic tracks? How much did you stretch out to bring your own flavour to the songs, or were there times when you felt the best approach was to deliver more faithful reinterpretations of the guitar parts and solos?
I think I felt the songs I wanted to be most loyal to were "Mississippi Queen" and "Too Rolling Stoned". That's because I am a big fan and friend of Leslie West, and a big fan of Robin. I grew up playing those songs so it just wouldn't have felt right to go off in a completely different direction. With most of the songs I didn't really care though. I sort of approached them as if they were on the radio and I was jamming with them.
And are there any of the songs that stood out as especially fun and rewarding to add your own guitar spice to?
As it turned out, that would be "The Pusher"!
One of the things that's impressed me most about The Salentino Cuts is just how relaxed and natural the performances are. That's something that often lacking from these types of releases. Was this album as much fun to put together as it sounds like it was?
At times yes. The process of coming up with which songs we were going to do eventually became a pain in the ass. But the recording and playing was lots of fun, yes.
One of the covers that's attracted most attention is "River Of Deceit", originally by Mad Season. That's probably one of the lesser known or expected songs chosen for the album but it really possesses a strong character and emotion. How difficult was it to convey the different sides to what is a very personal song?
The song has a lot of emotion. Of course it makes you 'feel' when you hear it and take in the lyrics. Layne's voice is beautiful on that as is the song musically. Very powerful and poignant. So when recording, you just get lost in the feel of it like you do when you listen to it. This is innate and natural and you just play, man. I pretty much stuck close to the original parts but I added a lot of volume swells with the guitar that sort of sound ethereal and violin-ish at times. And I added a little bass line under the chorus section.
While a personal favourite of mine is the John Mellencamp cover, "Paper In Fire", because to me it's one of the best examples of the song still sounding true to the original, while having been thoroughly UFO'ed. How difficult a line was it to walk between conveying the soul of these songs while making them sound like your own?
Not too difficult because as I said, we choose to not wrestle with anything and instead just rolled with it. No master plan…just get into the studio, play, and see if there was any magic.
There's a great mix of classic material on the album, with everyone from The Doors to The Yardbirds, Steppenwolf to Mountain and The Animals to ZZ Top covered. Were you ever daunted by treading on such hallowed ground by reinterpreting these great songs?
Not really. You just can't think like that. You just do it. In the end, if something doesn't work you can always put it on a shelf. But we got lucky and most of it seemed to work.
You're currently on tour in the US with Saxon. UFO have enough great songs of your own to fill your setlist ten times over. Have you been managing to squeeze any of the covers from the new album into the set?
We haven't yet but that's coming soon. Again, we're obsessing about what tune we should do.
Since you joined the band in 2003 we've been treated to a new UFO album every two or three years. When can we expect the next full studio release from the band?
I don't actually know at the moment. We have never really planned ahead. At a certain point we just seem to come to the realization that it's time to do a new record.
I've also noticed that it has been yourself and bassist Rob De Luca that have been doing quite a lot of the promotional work around The Salentino Cuts. Even though the two of you are now well established members of the band, it's great to see all five of you contributing equally on all fronts. From the outside it feels like the chemistry within the band is as strong as it's ever been. Considering how unstable things could be before your arrival that must be a really good situation to find the band in these days?
Definitely. We get along really well for the most part and have a good working relationship. We also have a lot of fun when we are together and this is really important. Especially since we spend so much time together
And finally Vinnie, it's been two years since your excellent solo album, Aerial Visions. Do you have plans in the works to put together another album outside of UFO any time soon?
Thank you. Yes I have another one ready and will start recording as soon as I am off from touring. So that will come out in 2018 sometime.
(Click here to read our reviews of The Salentino Cuts)