If you like your rock n’ roll with a hint of AC/DC or a splash of Rhino Bucket, maybe a lick of Airbourne or a dash of Funny Money, then Million $ Reload from Belfast, Northern Ireland might be something to tempt your ears to the greasy underbelly of rock satisfaction. Their second studio album A Sinner’s Saint, is brand new and the ink on the artwork is still wet.
Million $ Reload who have already released their debut album not once, not twice, but three times over the preceding four years are now ready to move their story forward to another exciting chapter. The question then for Phil Conalane, lead vocalist for these rock n’ roll reprobates; why we should care? Afterall, there are a lot of good rock n’ roll bands already absorbing our interests and our money.
Their story began in Belfast where four of the band members were all friends and as Conalane says, “We kind of grew up together.” Guitarist Andy Mackle moved from what Conalane describes as a metal band to join both bass player Kie McMurray and himself. The last major piece of the puzzle was a guitarist who could provide good backing vocals and that’s when Brian Mallon was approached about joining the band. That nucleus brought them the kind of rock sounds they were instinctively drawn to and striving for. As Conalane explains, “You know how it is. In a small country a lot of bands know about each other and you kind of end up in the same venues night in and night out.” Smiling as he spoke, Conalane also explained that they were playing rock n’ roll music just for fun.
With drummer Sean McKernan onboard, Million $ Reload were ready to release their debut album Anthems of the Degeneration. This debut album delighted in featuring songs of the caliber of Tattoos And Dirty Girls, Livin’ In The City and the ballad Keep Holding On. All worthy of the band’s name and helped them create a presence in a bustling rock music scene.
This debut was initially released independently by themselves as they played local live shows and the odd show in London. Fate looked kindly on the band as someone witnessed their live experience and was suitably impressed. He offered them a deal they couldn’t refuse regarding wider distribution for Anthems of the Degeneration. It became apparent after some time to the band that this was a one man operation and wasn’t reaping the rewards they had hoped for. Million $ Reload were then approached by Powerage Records who at the time were an enterprising venture. The record label were supported by a successful UK rock music magazine, and their mission statement was to distribute classic style rock music to the masses due to bigger record labels focusing their attention on more mainstream acts. Million $ Reload seized the opportunity in 2010 and as Conalane states, “They put the record out again for a third time, haha, but realistically it was only really put out properly this time with Powerage.”
Despite this collaboration helping the band reach a wider audience and raise their profile, the label ceased operating as it juggled the dedication to the magazine and its ambitious attempts to run a record label simultaneously. According to Conalane, the magazine came first when strains began to appear so Million $ Reload were looking for a new distributor and label to assist them with their follow-up release.
Neal Calderwood, who produced the debut was approached by the band to produce their second album A Sinner’s Saint, but as Conlon points out with a wry smile “Listen Neal, we wanna come back and record a new album with you, but we’re not gonna pay you a cent.” After a brief outburst of giggles from both of us, Conalane continued by sharing the reaction from the surprised potential producer and expanded on the initial advance. “I think we’ve got the quality of songs we can shop it to different labels, and at least cover the cost of the record.”
Luck of the Irish was playing air guitar with the band as the reaction to their recording sessions was very positive. “We recorded the album, pitched it to several labels and they all wanted it.” Frontiers were the label for Million $ Reload.
Conalane and I sat there reflecting over the fact the band were able to pay their producer and also receive much-needed support and facilities from a label. “A lot of people say D.I.Y is the way to go, well, I can tell you for sure, ‘no it’s not the way to go.’ Unless you’ve got $100,000 in the bank, it’s not the way to go.” Seemingly irritated with this romanticized notion of the do it yourself principle, Conalane continued, “And a band from Northern Ireland with limited resources, like us, we need the help of a label to make the wider population a lot more aware of us.” It made sense. “We can tour the UK five times a year if we wanted to, but what good is that really gonna do you? We need to be in Europe, we need to be in America again, we need to be everywhere. So we always knew we were gonna need the help of a label.”
Their current album A Sinner’s Saint has plenty of the same ingredients that created the magic on their debut. Delivering such rocking tracks as the snarling opening song Fight The System, or the instant hooks found on Bullets In The Sky and Blow Me Away. Providing a moment of relief from the hard rocking onslaught that the rest of the album offers, a ballad in the shape of Broken echoes the same approach as Keep Holding On did for their Anthems of the Degeneration album. Conalane shared with me how the final track on A Sinner’s Saint called It Ain’t Over was written on an acoustic guitar originally, in about half an hour. His attitude was that the band liked things done the old school way. Just because technology had developed to the point where individuals could record a professional sounding release in their bedroom, incorporating studio trickery, didn’t make it a good recording. He also explained how Bullets In The Sky was perhaps the oldest song on the album, and overall the band were happy with A Sinner’s Saint due to the freshness and rawness that was captured during the recording.
“For us, the songs are the easy part. Writing the songs is the easy part. It’s making sure it sounds properly, the way it sounds live on record. That’s the challenge.” The lead vocalist was referring to the recording process of this new album compared to their first. Million $ Reload used different amps and other equipment, but everything else was the same. “It was never really, oh we have to bury the first album, we have to make this album so much better. It was never really about that. It was just look, these are the songs we like, we hope you like ’em too.”
With these words still sinking in, Conalane then stated, “We’re not writing for anyone in particular, with all respect we’re not writing for journalists to love us ‘cos we know a lot of journalists don’t. Haha. Y’know a lot of journalists are just saying they’re just another eighties rock band that are living in the 2000s. They’re missing the point. Y’know a lotta journalists miss the point about what we do, and other rock bands do.” There wasn’t resentment in his voice, he was merely explaining how he felt about the way the band had been represented on previous occasions.
Listen, we’re not reinventing the wheel but it does no harm to change the tires now and again.
Million $ Reload is doing this because they love it, they enjoy it, and have managed to invest their respective influences to create their own sound within a rock n’ roll style they were naturally attracted to. So then again, the question still remains: why we should care about another rock band playing this sort of music, and that was the answer. Million $ Reload are not pretending, they are doing it for themselves. Pure and simple. The songs are straight forward hard rocking nuggets of gold and that’s what is important here. To reiterate an old cliché, it’s all about the song. Their devotion and pride in what they have achieved and what they do on each day is highly evident, and with that belief and effortless hard work Million $ Reload have already achieved more than they expected. There’s no hidden agenda, what you hear is what you get.
So with this in mind, what does the lead singer of this Northern Irish hard rock band think of their sound? Conalane expresses his thoughts on this very subject. “It’s straight up rock music, but because there are so many different influences we all bring to the table collectively, it ends up the way Million $ Reload sounds.” He then enthusiastically elaborates. “Listen, we’re not reinventing the wheel but it does no harm to change the tires now and again.”
I couldn’t have said it better myself.