Rob De Luca has held a unique position with England heavy metal forerunners UFO for the better part of the past decade.
Attentive fans would notice De Luca onstage with the members of UFO for every tour since 2008 in support of such previous albums as 2012’s ‘Seven Deadly’ and 2009’s ‘The Visitor,’ nailing the bass lines to the singles in addition to the classic anthems.
The only problem? De Luca never appeared on a single UFO studio album, until most recently when the veteran hard rock band released their latest effort, ‘A Conspiracy of Stars.’
A life as a subliminal bassist is the role that De Luca has been accustomed throughout his career; his resume is backed by tenures with Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, Sebastian Bach and George Lynch, however this new UFO album shows the bass player inching closer to full member status through concrete playing and songwriting.
Music Enthusiast recently sat down with Rob De Luca to discuss what awaits dedicated UFO fans on ‘A Conspiracy of Stars,’ the band’s touring plans and his memories of touring in support of Guns N’ Roses.
Music Enthusiast: You have been appearing alongside the members of UFO for nearly a decade, and yet the new album ‘A Conspiracy of Stars’ is the first time you’ve contributed to a UFO studio record. What was going through your mind during the making of the album?
I was just enjoying myself and trying to play as well as possible and trying to add any kind of solidity to the situation. It was a lot of fun. I definitely wasn’t feeling any pressure or anything like that. It was a great experience and we really enjoyed ourselves.
When UFO has toured in support of such recent efforts as ‘Seven Deadly’ and ‘The Visitor,’ you would be found onstage performing new songs from these albums that you had no involvement in. That’s a rather unique position to have, wouldn’t you agree?
Yeah, that’s absolutely true, but I’d rather be in that situation than not be playing with them at all, so I accepted it gladly. And those records are really good, you know? The records they made when I just started out as their touring bassist, I really like those records so it was fun playing those songs.
You also toured as a member of Sebastian Bach’s touring band when he was the supporting act for Guns N’ Roses back in 2006. Why do you feel you keep getting inserted into these types of situations?
It’s partially my doing. I’m just putting myself out there as a touring bassist because it’s a lot of fun for me. It showcases some strength that I feel I have. I try to perform well, I try and play solid. I try to look cool and look the part, whatever that means.
I try to sing well because there’s a lot of backup vocals in these bands, and I try to get along with people. Being on a bus with ten people for a month at a time can be challenging, so I think touring shows a lot of my strength. Now, that may sound like, “Oh, whatever. You’re in one of the greatest bands in the world. Anyone would want to do that.” But some people wouldn’t want to do it, and some people wouldn’t be good at it because it’s all these things combined and it can be stressful.
I was carpenter for a lot of years and I assure you (laughing) playing bass for thousands of people is much better than being a carpenter. So to get back and answer your question, I think it’s because I’m putting myself out there in that scenario.
I’m sure one would have little to complain about as you’re performing with such renowned names within the rock community, but what are your thoughts now that you’ve placed your own stamp on the history of UFO with this new album?
I think that’s partially true, but it’s such a small piece of their history. Just putting it into perspective, they’ve been around for forty-six years or so and they’ve released something like twenty-one or twenty-two records. In perspective, it’s such a small piece. I certainly hope to be involved with them as long as they go and to be contributing to their records in the future, so hopefully that legacy or whatever you want to call it can grow.
That leads me to another question. You’ve been the touring bassist for UFO throughout the past seven or eight years. What changed this time around that led the rest of the band to say, “Let’s have Rob play on an album”?
I think I didn’t suck anymore. (laughs) I’m not sure, you know? They’re very nice, mellow, humble guys but I think they’re careful about who they include into their circle. I mean, I really don’t know because I can’t speak for anyone, so all I can do is speculate. I guess it was just time where they felt like I was a part of it. I don’t think they ever looked negatively at me, but I think it’s a process. I think it’s a process that they had to go through in their minds, also there are other factors that come with that. They were recording those records in Germany and they were using local studio guys who were German that were local and they didn’t have to fly out over there. I would guess that their rates were reasonable, so when you fly them out from New York City and put them up in a hotel, that adds up. But again, I’m speculating. We never really talked about it before. I just didn’t want to go there, you know? I knew that they would decide things on their own.
So how did that conversation go? Did the band just come up to you and say, “Hey, would you like to play on an album”?
I think so, maybe. I think the manager wrote me and said, “We’re thinking about going out and making a new album. Would you be interested?” So it really was a simple as that, yes. And I wrote back, “Hell yes.” (laughs) “You’re God damn right I would be!”
What was the plan heading into the studio to begin work on the album? Was there a mutual consensus as far as which direction UFO were heading into with this new record?
No, not at all. Basically we sent a bunch of ideas to Phil Mogg for him to comb through and decide which ones he felt were strongest and which ones he felt he could write lyrics and melodies over. After he chose a bunch of songs, then we went into a rehearsal room in Germany and hashed through those songs and changed parts, etc. One of the reasons that happened is because we were supposed to do some shows last spring in Russia and Crimea and Ukraine.
We didn’t have a show in Crimea, but they had all of that going on in that part of the world so we canceled our shows for that week and went into a rehearsal room in Germany and worked up these songs that we had been sending back and forth. We got into a room and we worked them up and made them much stronger, and then we went home while Vinnie was writing some more songs. After that we went to England and went into pre-production and then we started recording them.
Was it somewhat difficult suddenly having to come up with new material with musicians you’ve only played with onstage for the past seven years, or rather was there already a chemistry present?
Definitely there’s a chemistry that you develop from playing live. That always helps these processes, absolutely. After the hundreds and hundreds of shows, it definitely was strong.
You share songwriting credits on two new songs, “The Killing Kind” and “One and Only.” What do you recall about the formation of these numbers?
Well, there’s actually three songs because there’s a bonus track called “King of the Hill” that I contributed to. Basically what I did was I came up with music and Phil wrote the lyrics and vocals about the music. I remember on “The Killing Kind,” I just wanted something that was a cool chord sequence. I thought that was my main focus while I was writing that one, and on “One and Only” I was thinking more rhythmically, something that had a real stomp feel. The third song I mentioned, “King of the Hill,” started out with a riff that Paul Raymond brought in. We were having some problems as far as where to take it, what would be the best place to take that riff. I think that was the song that was the most difficult for us. We were just kind of stumped on what to do with this great riff, so while we were in the rehearsal room I came up with another part and then it just kind of wrote itself at that point.
‘A Conspiracy of Stars’ stands as the 21st installment in UFO’s discography. As someone who joined the band long after their formation, is it surprising that there’s still a passion within the group to create new music?
Well no, because this is what we do. If you do something your whole life, you should logically get better at it and I think that’s what’s happening. I think it’s a great record and the reviews are really complimenting it. If you’ve been doing something your whole life, you obviously love doing it, you know? Making records is part of that process. A lot of bands could just go out without releasing new music and just tour of the hits and still do well, but I don’t think it would be the most fun. I don’t think that’s the plan for UFO.
There are some rather large names in rock and metal that seldom release new material. Have the members of UFO expressed why they want to keep making records, and not just release more music but to have another title out every few years?
No, they haven’t expressed it to me, so I could only speculate on that, also. It does give fresh life to a touring cycle, a new record. It allows for interviews like these and it gives a fresh face to a touring cycle, so it definitely helps sustain a band and keep their career moving forward.
For the casual listener who only recognizes UFO for anthems such as “Rock Bottom” and “Doctor Doctor,” what songs off of the new album do you feel will resonate with them the most?
Well my favorite songs on the record… hold on, let me look at the list and see which ones I like the most. Live we’re going to be doing “The Killing Kind” and “Run Boy Run,” and I think we’re doing “Sigh of Love” on our next tour in the UK. We’ve also played “The Real Deal” and we’re thinking about doing “King of the Hill.” I would say my favorites on the record are “The Real Deal,” one of Paul’s songs.
I really like “Run Boy Run,” one of Vinnie’s songs, and “King of the Hill,” the song I told you was difficult for us. It was really confusing, but when it did come together it came together really quickly. And I also like “Killing Kind,” if that answers your question.
I would say so. Outside of your commitments to UFO, you’ve worked alongside such names as George Lynch, Vinnie Moore and Joan Jett and the Blackhearts. Is there something about doing session work that appeals to you on an artistic standpoint?
I think it’s all artistic. If you’re a musician, anytime you interact with other musicians, whether it’s recording or live, you’re flexing that muscle and it’s very rewarding. So absolutely. I just love it. It’s a great way to go through life, I’ve very lucky.
Some of the musicians I’ve spoken with that engage in session work have expressed something along the lines of being able to work with a variety of artists is fulfilling from an artistic standpoint because you’re able to collaborate with so many different people and genres. Have you found something similar throughout your career?
Yeah. I’ve played namely the aggressive side of rock and roll. I’ve namely played on hard rock, metal, punk, but I also play with a band called Of Earth that is very much more like a Pink Floyd kind of approach. To answer your question, there are some people who play everything and play every style of music. Some people are a session musician every day and they play something one day, and then the next day they’re working on something 180 degrees different. That’s not really my situation because I’m not interested in doing every kind of music. I’m interested in the general umbrella of rock and roll, because that’s my preference. That’s what I like, but I do feel like every situation is different. Some are more different than others but I have stretched my wings and it is rewarding artistically.
I would say that’s something you also explored in your work as a touring musician, like for example your work with Sebastian Bach. Was there anything you took away from going out with the original singer from Skid Row and opening up for Guns N’ Roses?
Yes, absolutely. I learned a lot. We did many tours supporting GN’R, luckily. We did a lot of tours with them and probably a hundred shows total. I probably learned more in those one hundred shows than I did anywhere else. I don’t know if there’s anything in particular I can describe, but just the whole level of professionalism, how it’s done on that level, being that close to it every night, playing for that number of people every night, giving your all every night. So yeah, it was quite a liberating experience and I’m very fortunate, because there are some people who are very happy in their musical careers that never get to play on that level with those big arena shows or big festival shows or soccer stadiums or whatever. Some people may be very successful and never see that and still be successful in their careers. Not everybody gets to see that, and I’m very lucky that Axl and Sebastian are friends and Axl invited us to do those shows. It was amazing.
Having done right around a hundred shows in support of Guns N’ Roses, were you able to have any close interaction with Axl Rose and the rest of the GN’R lineup?
Yeah, we hung out with them quite a bit, very often. There would be an after-show party almost every night and they’re really great people. Another thing I felt fortunate about is that most of the world doesn’t get invited to that small circle that they have, and it was really cool. We all became really good friends after hanging out for so many times.
You sometimes hear wild stories coming from those types of major co-headlining tours. Did anything similar happen during that run?
Oh yeah, it was always wild. It’s a circus, absolutely. Nothing comes to mind in particular because the whole situation is just crazy, you know? You have bands traveling in buses, playing for people who bought tickets and were waiting for months to see it. The whole situation is pretty surreal, if you think about it, without mentioning the fire. (laughs) The eighteen-wheelers full of gear and everything, it’s just crazy! But I love it.