There is an old saying, “Adapt or Die.” The Moody Blues did neither and are celebrating their 50th Anniversary.
The group has stuck to its core principles when writing and recording music they felt driven to create and the industry seemed to adapt around them. They are radio format spoilers; The “Moody’s” can be heard at any time, on any frequency and not seem out of place. Best known for their orchestral, atmospheric rock, iconic songs like “Nights In white Satin” are equally at home on a classic rock station or being heard in a dentist’s office tuned to an AC format.
There is another saying, “Numbers don’t lie.” The group has sold over 70 million albums, (18 platinum) and received the Golden Ticket Award for the sale of 100,000 tickets at Madison Square Garden.
I caught up with their legendary bassist, John Lodge from his hotel room in Nashville. The group will launch their 50th anniversary 23-city “Fly Me High” tour on March 3.
You’ve said your music has never been part of any fad or fashion, yet you have charted everywhere from classic rock to Adult Contemporary. Do you at least feel part of a genre?
When we started with (1967’s) ”Days Of Future Passed,” people tried to put the Moody Blues in a nice little drawer so they could safely pull it open and say that’s where the group lived. They didn’t know whether we were progressive, psychedelic, underground or classic rock. Our take is we’re all of those and none of those. We’re not just the Moody Blues, If we want to write a slow song or explore psychedelia or classic rock, we do all of that. That’s the secret of The Moody Blues. It stops people from saying they’re part of a specific movement.
For having little to no classical training, the band is synonymous with orchestral rock. How do you explain that?
I grew up in Birmingham and my school used to have a quiet period where they put a classical record on in the afternoon and we would listen to it. Birmingham has one of the best classical orchestras in the world. I was eight or nine at the time and I never really thought about what I was listening to. Subconsciously, though, the harmonies of orchestral music were going into my head because when I started writing music that’s what came to the forefront. I always understood what the different parts were and what different instruments and the orchestra were doing. I could hear it in my head.
When we restarted in 60s, it was just the five of us and road manager. By 1974, we had a string of record shops across the south of England, a touring company, a record company, and a publishing company. We had so many people working for us that we stopped communicating. We thought it would be a great idea to take a break. By the title of the album, we should have realized what we were going to do, because the album was called “Seventh Sojourn”, and sojourn means to take a rest.
We didn’t know it at the time, but that was going to be our last album for four years. We decided to go back into the world in our own private roles and become independent again and try to get more influences back the way we came together in the first place. It worked well because we came back together in the time of punk and recorded an album “Octave”, which went platinum for us.
How do you remain relevant over five decades and continue to appeal to new generations of fans?
If you write things you are sincere about and you believe in people can always to relate to it and it comes across to every age group. People have same hopes and frustrations, if you can relate what you’re feeling to what’s happening you can reach people. The Moody Blues are not stuck in in 60s, 70s or 80s. We’re living in the 21st century like everyone else.
What is your take on the industry in the digital age?
I think there’s actually a lack of music right now. We’re in need of songs that everyone can sing and join in on, If you write great songs and the world will vibrate with you. People need to relate to the material and to each other. We’re a media driven culture and what’s been going on in the world now has always been going on, maybe just on a bigger scale.
Your music has been dubbed as “kind” preferring to uplift rather than frighten. Do you agree?
Yes. You always have to reflect positive side of life, it’s different energy in a concert hall when people are uplifted than feeling negative. I think the positive energy of music in the Sixties was responsible for bringing the Berlin wall down.
In the Eighties, you experimented with drum machines, synthesizers and synth bass That seemed to be moving away from your core use of traditional instrumentation. Was that by design or a product of the times?
We’ve always traveled a different line. We never wanted a2 ½ minute single to represent the Moody Blues; we wanted the album’s 40 minutes to do it. We started with the melotron when no one knew what it was. We’ve always tried to use technology to make our records the best they could be. Any instrument that could enhance the Moody Blues sound, we were searching for and always experimented with. But for me, a t the end of the day a song if you can perform a song with just a guitar or a piano, then it’s a song.
“Fly Me High” was used as a jingle and you said it was the start of your new sound. What did you mean by that?
It was the first song we recorded and in we did three different versions. It second record to be played on radio 1 in England. That was a big deal and commercial companies picked up on it.
50 years is a lot of road experience. What are your goals on this tour?
The same as it’s always been. Just to Keep playing just get onstage and play our music have a good relationship with the audience so they go home emotionally invested.
It’s been a long time since your last solo album. What inspired you to write “10,000 Light Years Ago” and why so long in between records?
I just thought it was time. The industry is different, There are not very many music people. In the days of older albums, it was all about music people. Now it’s just pen pushers sitting down seeing how many records can we sell if we put a song on a TV ad. The Moody Blues moved away from that and you feel frustration as a songwriter when you want to write new songs and record them, so I did this the way I wanted to.
Former band members Mike Pinder and Ray Thomas guest contributed on the album Was it possible to view your material objectively as a solo project or was it difficult not to feel like a Moody’s effort with those two guys in the studio?
Ray and I have been friends since we were 14 and we formed a band so when I wrote “Simply Magic,” I thought it would be great for him to play to play flute. He suggested Mike on melotron. It was really nice reunion we didn’t have to get into politics of the Moody Blues, like contracts and all that. It was nice to do something together.
The cover art of “10,000 Light Years Ago”is very spacy, literally. It seems to match the album’s tone as well as that of the band Was it deliberately designed to reflect the material?
It’s just just something I really liked and it reflects a sound style which I enjoy. Music should take off from that position. Music is now manufactured, everyone’s a karaoke king or queen. You can’t feel the need to explore.
Is the album a thematic evolution of Days Of Future Passed?
I think all of our albums are evolutions of that album It was our stepping stone.
For more about he Moody Blues, visit www.moodybluestoday.com
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