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Hell Spawn » Interviews » STEVIE MCLAUGHLIN

The name might not ring a bell immediately, but Stevie is guitarplayer and main composer for Irish progressive metal band Sandstone and also know for being part of Ripper Owens European touring band! The man recently released his first solo album. So we decided to let him give us some imput on this and off course some other stuff aswell!

Written by Nico


Hey Stevie, that's been a while, how are you?

Hey Nico, really great to hear from you my friend. I am well and enjoying life at the moment. I'm blessed to be spending time making music and that makes me happy.


I was mighty surprised by the release of your solo album! How, who, when did you start this?

I have my own little recording studio at home and I'm always writing and recording songs, some songs are intended for Sandstone and some I just record for my own pleasure. I love spending my time being creative and try to be a prolific as I can. As this collection of songs started to grow, I decided that maybe they should be released, why not? So I selected 10 of my favourite tracks from this growing catalogue of songs and set to work re-recording them as well as I could, completely on my own. It's the first time I've done anything like this without collaborating with Sean and the guys from Sandstone and I found it to have some advantages and some disadvantages over my usual group approach to making albums.


If I am not mistaken, you also started another band 2 or 3 years back next to Sandstone, IronHeart!? Right? What's up with that band?

IronHeart are a great band from Belfast with some fantastic musicians. I heard an early release of their music and loved it and I thought it would be possible to get involved with them. We released the album and I did the artwork (I always seem to end up doing the artwork for everything I'm involved in). The album was well received and we got to work rehearsing and preparing to promote the album live. But it soon became apparent that I had taken on too much. Between my touring commitments with Ripper and the local cover bands that I play in, and Sandstone, we agreed that the band needed a full time guitarist. So with a heavy heart I left the band to let them find the full time fully committed guitarist that they deserved. I love the guys from IronHeart and wish them all the best.


Your solo album Toy Empires, is heavier than the music you deliver with Sandstone, I also hear some more old school influences, agreed?

Yes! In Sandstone Sean's musical tastes ranged from hair metal to metal core, but I've always had old school tastes, I love the hard rock and heavy metal of the 80s. Something that really formed my musical opinions growing up are the Iron Maiden albums of the mid/late 80's where they began to get a bit more progressive. I was also very into early thrash bands such as Testament and Megadeth. With Sandstone the resulting music was a blend of our tastes, and this did give us a slightly unique sound. But with Toy Empires it's 100% me and my tastes.


The lead vocals are also done by yourselves, how was this experience? For I must say you did a mighty great job! Did it take some work of were you quite sure of yourselves? Did you get any help?

I have always been self-conscious of my singing, I suppose this is why I have a large collection of tracks that have never been released. It was always easier for me to work with a great singer like Sean from Sandstone. I always look for ways to improve myself, I try to get better at recording and mixing, I try to get better at the guitar etc. And since I've always sang on my demos I've always made efforts to improve at that also. I have unfortunately not be gifted with the beautiful vocal chords of Ronnie James Dio, but within my limited range there is scope to work within that, and produce vocals that don't distract from the quality of the songs. At least that's what I hope to achieve. I've never wanted to be a singer or even imagined that I'd sing on and album, but here I am and I'm very happy to be doing it.


Who inspired you for your vocals?

There are singers that I love listening to: Russell Allen and Nils from Pagan's Mind for example, these guys have wonderful voices and I really wish I was even half as good as those guys. But my voice is what it is, however I decided that I'm not going to let that stop me, I love making music and will always do it, weather there is an audience for it or not.


The album gets released through LMP the same label that released the previous Sandstone records! Were they your first choice or...???

Absolutely! I respect Limb and he has always had faith in Sandstone, and for that I am very grateful. As I have said, I was very unsure about putting myself forward as a solo artist, but my family and friends have always encouraged me to send stuff out and see how it is received. Finally they convinced me, so my first thought was to let Limb hear my album. I was blown away and humbled by his enthusiasm for the album and he immediately offered me a deal which I took without hesitation. I didn't even shop it to any other labels.


By the way talking of Sandstone, what's up with the band? It's been very very silent and mostly that's not a good sign!?

Sandstone is currently inactive, we spent a few years promoting the band out of our own pocket, and now we are all getting to a stage where we are taking jobs and buying houses and real-life stuff like that. I would never announce that Sandstone are split up, because we are best friends and when the time is right for all of us, we'll get together and do it all again. In fact Sean and I have been recording together recently and it is amazing to hear how much his voice has improved with maturity. Let's wait and see.


Are there plans of promoting Toy Empires live? 

I've spent most of my life playing in local bands in Ireland, always dreaming of going on tour, without any real probability that that would ever happen. That all changed when I met people like yourself, Guy and Franky. It was though meeting you guys that I finally got to live my dream and had some of the best and most fun experiences of my life. For that I will always be thankful. To be honest I currently have no plans to tour Toy Empires, but if the opportunity arose to tour I would grab it with both hands.


Guitars and vocals were done by you, what about the rest? And what if you might promote it live???

On the album I did everything. Vocals, guitars, bass, keyboards, I played the drums with and electric drum kit, I recorded, mixed and mastered the album. I even designed the artwork. So I guess you could say this is truly a 'SOLO' album in every sense of the word. I haven't put any thought into performing the album live yet, but some of the Sandstone guys have already offered their services should the need arise.


Is there any message behind the album title? And what about the artwork? 

Oh that's a hard one, but let me try... Well the original idea I had for the album sleeve was a guitarist standing with his back to us facing an open road alone. This is how I felt when I finally found the courage to record and release my solo album. The rest of the cover is filled with little Easter eggs that refer to the individual songs on the album. For example the scare crows are for the song Straw Men and there are burning oil fields and apocalyptic scenes for the song Memories of Eden and so on. I feel that artwork is very important for setting the tone of an album, because I am of the age where I grew up listing to vinyl a gazing in amazement and the wonderful artwork that came with LPs. As far as the album title goes, I think there is an underlying theme in the album about my relationship with my music and how it can sometimes conflict with my real life and sometimes augment life by following you passion. When we make music or start a band are we building Toy Empires?


So when you write songs for your solo album, was there a different approach?

Not really, I always pretty much write songs the same way. I sit down and get started, not knowing if the result will be good or bad. I just enjoy the creative process. Over time I end up with a big bunch of totally rubbish songs and a few good ones, I guess I have to get the rubbish ones out of my system to leave me open-minded enough to find a few good ones. I suppose there was one difference in that I arranged the songs to stay within my vocal capabilities, and I was a bit more self-indulgent with the guitar solos and instrumental passages. 


I hear from lots of musicians that it's not easy singing and playing guitar, I know you did backing vocals in the past, but up for the challenge?

I've done quite a lot of singing while playing the guitar in the live cover bands that I work with locally. This has been the way I earn a living for many years. But I think you're right, because this album is right at the pinnacle of my guitar abilities and also my vocal abilities. So it would be a real challenge, but I think probably a very rewarding challenge.


Anything left to say?

Thanks Nico for taking the time to check out my album. It means a lot to me that you liked it, and thanks for putting together this interview. To find out more about Toy Empires go to www.steviemclaughlin.com Lastly I like to say hi to all the wonderful friends I have in Belgium, I really hope to see you all again soon


















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