Newton’s first law of motion is often stated as: “An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.”
So what does that have to do with music? Science is objective and creativity is subjective, so it would seem there is no connection whatsoever. However, dig a little deeper and there is an analogy. Most musicians tend to write songs and put together albums that bear a striking resemblance to their previous works—hence, similar inertia. In particular are artists that were active in the hard rock and metal scene in the late ‘80’s. The genre is still wildly popular today, so these bands continue to crank out songs that follow a direct lineage to the songs they were writing in 1988.
Enter the unbalanced force: Terry Ilous. Now, Ilous is not unbalanced as in deranged…far from it. In conversation he’s polite, articulate and passionate about his craft. But work with us for a moment. Ilous was in the 80’s metal band XYZ, and today he’s fronting Great White, so it would be understandable if he put out a solo album that sounded pretty much like…well…late 80’s metal. But here’s where the unbalanced (in a good way) comes in. Ilous has released a record entitled Gypsy Dreams, which is an album of cover tunes. The track listing is as follows:
1.Whole Lotta Love – (Led Zeppelin)
2. Boys Of Summer – (Don Henley)
3. In Your Eyes – (Peter Gabriel)
4. Long Train Running – (The Doobie Brothers)
5. Wicked Game – (Chris Isaak)
6. Heaven And Hell – (Black Sabbath)
7. Ride Like The Wind – (Christopher Cross)
8. Love Bites – (Def Leppard)
9. Kill The King – (Rainbow)
So he’s doing covers of different genres of music. While interesting, it’s still not groundbreaking. OK, here’s the kicker: All of the above songs are done Spanish-style, acoustically, with Flamenco guitar and Latin percussion. Some are obvious candidates, such as Boys of Summer and Wicked Game. However, a crushing metal song like Heaven and Hell translated as a Flamenco song?
The thing is—it works! The more mellow songs translate well, but the harder tunes also sound fresh and unique. How did Ilous go about choosing the songs that would comprise the album?
“Well, you know, it’s hit and miss. You gotta try,” he says. “The truth is when I get together with my musicians, my remarkable, wonderful musicians–which by the way, I adore, they are fantastic. And when I got together with the guys and I said, ‘Okay, I have an idea for this project,’ they all looked at me like, ‘Wow! Really?’ They were puzzled, but they had an open mind, all of them. All of those guys have an open mind, so they said ‘Well, let’s try it and see what’s gonna happen.’ So we got together and Louis [Villegas] my guitar player was telling me ‘How about that one?’ I’m like, ‘I don’t know, I don’t feel that…I don’t sing it that well,’ or I was saying, ‘How about this one? It’s pretty good,’ and he would say ‘Nah, it doesn’t sound right.’
“So we basically tried a few things, a few songs. Some of them were, like ‘Oh my God, this one sounds great’ and some of them were like ‘We are killing that song.’ So it’s just basically hit and miss. You try a few things, it doesn’t work and then, you know, you move on to the next song.”
One of the songs that was near and dear to Ilous is Heaven and Hell, and he explains why. “I wanted to do Heaven and Hell. I knew it would fit. I knew from the get-go. First of all, I’m a huge Ronnie James Dio fan, I’ve always been. I loved Ronnie, I think he’s one of my favorite singers in the world. And I knew because of the chord progression that it would work, I knew it. So when I sat down with Louis and [guitarist] Ben Woods, Louis said, ‘What do you have in mind?’ I picked up my guitar, I said, ‘What about that?’ And Louis…of course, he’s a great arranger, he and Ben Woods said, ‘Yeah, we can make it work.’”
Ilous’ roots to the type of music featured on Gypsy Dreams goes deep; in fact, all the way back to his childhood. “Why did I go Flamenco? Because I come from… my parents are half French and half Spanish. My Dad’s family was from Barcelona, Spain, so when I was a kid we used to go to Spain all the time, to Barcelona, to Madrid, and we used to see those Flamenco shows. And I fell in love with the music. I fell in love with that amazing passion that they have, those players, the dancers. It’s just really emotional music. So I couldn’t do that kind of music, because I’m not good at it and I never studied real Flamenco. But something inside of me…for some reason, I had that little flavor inside of me. I’m not a Flamenco singer, but I had a little bit of the…it’d be the flavor, I would say. So when I decided to do a new album, I said, ‘Well, let me do something that I haven’t done in the past,’ and that was to do cover songs done in an acoustic/Latin/Flamenco style. And basically, here we are today!”
When artists in established bands do solo or side projects, that project often ends up being just a studio work due to time commitments. The primary band’s recording and touring schedule takes precedence over the solo project. However, Ilous, while acknowledging that reality, intends to perform these songs in front of live audiences if possible.
“Well, thanks for asking that. Actually, yes, I do intend to play in front of a live audience as long as my schedule allows it. I have a very busy schedule with Great White, and of course Great White is my priority. But in between Great White shows, I am actually looking to do other things. I wanna perform in front of a different type of crowd. So whatever…you know, I love to perform. Seriously, I love to perform, and sometimes I will be performing in front of a big audience and sometimes I will be performing in front of 20 people. It doesn’t matter. If I feel the vibe, if I feel the reaction and I’m comfortable, I’m like, yeah, that’s great.”
“The thing, the way we play it live, it’s like a gypsy gathering if you think about it. If you can imagine a gypsy gathering where you get the five or six guys together, looking at each other all the time, like The Gypsy Kings a little bit, following each other in a way. It’s actually the way we recorded the album. I remember vividly Louis and Jose–my other guitar player, Jose Garcia, said ‘How are we going to record that?’ I’m like, ‘Live!’ He said ‘Oh that’s perfect!’ So we went to a studio, we went to Simon Phillips’ studio. God bless him, he’s a great guy. And Simon has a great studio in Sherman Oaks and we set up just like the way a bunch of gypsies would set up around the camp fire, you know what I mean? We just looked at each other. We basically knew the arrangements, but we knew we could improvise a little bit, so we said, ‘Let’s see what’s gonna happen.’ We actually extended a couple of things because we didn’t know it sounded so good. When you come and see us live you’re going to say, ‘Wow, it’s different.’”
“See, I want to share that with my audience. I want to share something different with my fans and friends. I want to share with them what I know about that side of the Spanish/Flamenco thing that is not very well-known in the U.S. You know, in the U.S. we’re not accustomed to that. So I think it’s a great opportunity to share that with my fans so they can experience something else, and hopefully they’re gonna like it.”
The conversation eventually winds its way back to the beginning; to the philosophy of expanding one’s musical boundaries. Recording artist and journalist exchange stories of how when we were younger, we thought heavy metal was the beginning and the end of the music world. In time, we both realized the folly of that close-minded view, as classical, jazz, blues and country entered the picture.
“You know, Richard, I believe that we have to push the boundaries. I believe that we have to live beyond what we have done in the past. Otherwise, I believe we become irrelevant, you know what I mean? It’s like repeating what we’ve done in the past. Of course it’s an easy route. But I do believe it’s very important to…it was very important for me to challenge myself, to say, one: ‘Well, how can I not do it?’ And two, I wanted to please myself. I don’t wanna sound selfish, but I do music for myself first. I mean, music is all…I am all about music. When I do music, it’s all about me first and if I’m lucky enough, then people like yourself and fans would say, ‘Hey, I like that stuff. It’s pretty good.’ If I’m not lucky, then the album just bombs and that’s it, you know? So I do things for myself, and I was pleased to do that.”
“To me, life is music, music is life. It goes together. You have to embrace music. You have to embrace life and be happy. I wanna challenge myself. Every day to me is a new day, and every day I’m like, ‘What can I do to be better?’ And that’s the truth. That’s the way I live. I live by those words. What can I do to be a better person? What can I do to be a better man? A better father? A better family man? What can I do to be a better singer? It’s really my challenge every day. I’m like ‘Man, I could be better. I could be better.’ So, I think it’s really important to challenge ourselves as artists, as humans beings in general.”