Turn the radio to FM

Melodic hard-rock favorites return with 'Heroes and Villains'
By Peter Lindblad

FM is Steve Overland, Pete Jupp,
Merv Goldsworthy, Jem Davis
and Jim Kirkpatrick
A band like FM was never going to survive the grunge revolution. They could see the writing on the wall in the mid-1990s and decided they weren't going to swim against a rising tide of record label indifference.

"We, or should I say our whole genre of music, became very unfashionable with the Grunge explosion," said Steve Overland, leader singer for the U.K. melodic hard-rock outfit. "Recording (1995's) Dead Mans Shoes was a bit of a struggle as we had limited budgets. It just seemed to be the right time. There was no animosity in the band. We all still got on. We just all felt we’d taken FM are far as we could at that time."

Formed in 1984, as ex-Samson members Merv Goldsworthy and Peter Jupp joined forces with Wildlife's Overland brothers, Steve and Chris, as well as keyboardist Philip Manchester, aka Didge Digital, FM enjoyed more than a modicum of success, especially in their native country.

They built a devoted following while touring in support of such musical giants as Meatloaf, Tina Turner, Status Quo, Gary Moore and Magnum, and there was that time they rocked the Hammersmith Odeon with REO Speedwagon. FM's big break, however, came late in 1985, when Bon Jovi brought them aboard for the U.K. leg of the "Slippery When Wet" tour.

Through changes in record labels and personnel, FM persevered, penning well-crafted, radio-friendly fare that, for whatever reason, rarely ever made the airwaves. Not even a writing summit with hit-making guru Desmond Child in the States would do the trick. And when labels went scouring the land for the next Nirvana, Soundgarden or Alice in Chains, FM knew its days were numbered.

Then, in 2007, FM returned to headline Firefest IV at Nottingham Rock City, and the crowd embraced these prodigal sons of pop-metal. The experience convinced them to carry on, leading to the recording of 2010's Metropolis LP and playing out with bands like Europe, Thin Lizzy and Foreigner and performing at high-profile events such as Graspop, Sweden Rock Festival, Loreley and Download Festival.

Five years later, FM is following up with a new Frontiers Music release dubbed Heroes and Villains, with Goldsworthy (bass), Jupp (drums), and the golden-voiced Steve Overland (lead vocals/guitar) teaming with keyboardist Jem Davis – Digital's replacement, who appeared on Dead Man's Shoes – and lead guitarist Jim Kirkpatrick.

Steve Overland talked about with All Access recently by e-mail to discuss the new record and share some memories of FM's heyday.

What’s the significance of the album title Heroes and Villains?
Steve Overland: There’s no real significance. Merv came up with the idea for the title, we thought it was great and that’s it. Nothing sinister or deep. Just all the band liked it, very simple really.

In what ways does Heroes and Villains remind you of earlier FM albums, and in what ways is it different?
SO: We’ve always been known for big choruses, huge hooks, [and] melody, but by using modern studio techniques, we’ve tried to make our sound more contemporary and modern. Whenever we record we always try and take what we consider the essence of the FM sound and bring it up to what’s happening now.

With the last record, 2010’s Metropolis, you had two songs play listed on national radio in the U.K. for the first time. How did that affect you personally and the band as a whole? Did you see it as validation that had been a long time coming?
SO: We’ve had four songs play listed on Radio 2 I think. We’re getting more play on National radio now than we ever did, which is great. It’s weird when people, or your auntie, come up to you and say they’ve heard you on Radio 2. We’re not complaining at all. It shows they think we’re still relevant. 

“You’re the Best Thing about Me” and “Life is a Highway” are just such perfectly crafted songs. Talk about the making of both and your feelings about them after hearing them on the record.
SO: Those were two of the last songs we recorded for Heroes and Villains. "Life Is A Highway" is definitely old school FM. Steve had had the idea kicking around for a while. Merv really liked the vibe, and so we went into rehearsals and arranged and finished it quite quickly. "You’re The Best Thing About Me" was another idea Steve had. We demoed it and presented it to the guys. From what I can remember the arrangement is identical to that of the demo, but everyone has put their stamp on it.

FM - Heroes and Villains 2015
Heroes and Villains does not sound like records that are out there today. Like you don’t hear a song such as “Walking With Angels” out there today. What do you think is the biggest difference between the songwriting of FM and songs mostly heard on the radio today? Are there any similarities?
SO: I think we sit perfectly on radio stations like Planet Rock, and they are very supportive, but then they’re not going to play EDM or One Direction. We’re never going to fit in with the Radio 1 demographic. It’s a million miles away from what we do. We’ve been play listed on Radio 2, so we obviously fit in there. We write rock songs, but to us, melody is king. "Walking With Angels" is maybe a departure from the norm to us, but it’s such a great song. We just wanted it to be very simple and organic, personal. It has had such a great reaction. We’re glad we believed in our convictions.

FM went out on the road with some of music’s biggest names in the ‘80s, including Bon Jovi on the U.K. leg of the “Slippery When Wet” tour. What tour did you enjoy the most and what was the worst?
SO: The Bon Jovi tour was just so good for us. It was right around the time they went global with Slippery When Wet. It was infectious to be around them with all the excitement. I think we were in Newcastle when they heard they had hit the No. 1 spot in the States. They were a great bunch of guys, great to work with. They really looked after us, and that tour took us to a whole new level in the UK.

Since getting back together, the tour we did with Foreigner last year was just as memorable. You forget how many great songs they have. It’s just hit after hit. The band are amazing, and Kelly (Hansen) is a brilliant singer and front man. And what can you say about Mick Jones? The man is a legend. What a songwriter and such a lovely guy. We’ve never been badly treated on tour, but Magnum wanted us to play in front of the fire curtain at Hammersmith Odeon, which left about 6 feet max, if that, in depth, which was impossible and very unreasonable as Hammersmith has one of the deepest stages on the theatre circuit. We had to pull out of the show literally at the last minute and left a lot of disgruntled FM fans who had bought tickets, but it was totally out of our hands. Magnum wouldn't budge. We had no room to play. It was a bad situation, but what could we do? Why they did it I have no idea. We had been doing really well on the tour, so maybe they felt threatened by us. Who knows?

You played your first show on Valentine’s Day in 1985. What do you remember most about that performance?
SO: Our first ever shows were supporting Meatloaf in Germany, but the Marquee would have been our first headline gig in our own right. To be honest, I don’t remember too much about it. I remember we got ready for the show in a hotel on Russell Square. We didn’t use the Marquee PA. We hired a state-of-the-art American system; it sounded amazing, like a huge hi-fi. Did we sell it out? I can’t remember, but I do remember it being packed. I’d headlined it a few times before with Samson, but I always enjoyed playing there.

What do you think made your debut LP Indiscreet such a good record? Was “Frozen Heart” always going to be the big single off that album?
SO: It was an album full of great songs, and although we were never really happy with the final mixes, our fans took it to their hearts and it became the soundtrack to a lot of people's lives. "Frozen Heart" was the big ballad and was actually released as a single twice, but it didn’t get on the Radio 1 playlist either time. I remember it went top 75 in the first week, but CBS had given away some “Frozen Heart” FM radios as a promo item, which was construed as hyping, and we were penalized and the following week, despite great sales, the single was moved down instead of up as a punishment and momentum was lost.

Were you surprised that Iron Maiden covered “That Girl”? What did you think of their version?
SO: Maiden did the original written version of “That Girl.” When FM got together we thought the chorus could be stronger so we rewrote it. The two bands, as are the versions, are both very different, but I like what Maiden did with the song.

You recorded Tough it Out with Neil Kernon as producer, but you had to switch labels. You also wrote with Desmond Child. How did the making of that record differ from the first album, and how did the label changes affect the band?
SO: We produced Indiscreet ourselves with our then manager Dave King. Originally we went in with producer Peter Collins and recorded two tracks, but it didn't work out. We did some initial recordings, about four tracks, for Tough It Out with a producer called Jeremy Smith, but we felt they were not representative of the band and they were scrapped. Neil came in and he’s a very good producer. He got great performances out of everybody and knew what he wanted. Nigel Green mixed the album. Steve and Chris went over to the States and wrote “Bad Luck” and “Burning My Heart Down” with Desmond. They said he was quite eccentric but great at coming up with fantastic hooks. Changing labels was meant to be advantageous to us by opening up the American market to us, but there were a lot of internal politics with the MD in the States and UK. A lot of bands unfortunately suffered because of two massive egos.

FM reformed in 2007 for Firefest IV
What was it that got the band back together, and what’s been the most enjoyable part of reviving FM?
SO: An Irish guy called Kieran Dargen ran a festival called Firefest, and he’d been pestering us for years after we split to get back together and headline the festival. We kept declining, but at the end of 2006 he asked again. We had a chat and thought it was probably now or never, so we signed up for Firefest 2007. We really had no plans past that one show. We honestly thought if 400 people turned up it will be a result, we’ll have a laugh, a few beers and go our separate ways again. We sold out Nottingham Rock City, the first Firefest sell out; it was a roller coaster ride.

Remember, we hadn't done a gig for 12 years and our contract with Firefest stated we couldn't do a warm-up, so our first gig back together was in front of 1,500 FM fanatics, and of course, you doubt yourself. When we got out there onstage I can honestly say it was one of the most emotional nights of my life. You could just feel the audience willing us to do good; it sounds corny, but you could feel the love. I’ll admit to sitting there at the back behind the kit tears welling up in my eyes on more than one occasion. I felt so proud of us and the dedication of the fans. When we came off we were dumbstruck. We never expected a retain like that. It was pretty much immediate there and then in the dressing room at Rock City that we decided to give it another go and record an album. We felt we owed it to the fans. It’s now 2015 we’re releasing our 9th studio album and everything is cool.

Since getting back together, you’ve played with Toto, Foreigner, Thin Lizzy and other contemporaries of FM. How has touring changed for FM? Do you still enjoy it? How is your material received today as opposed to back in the ‘80s?
SO: I enjoy the writing and recording process, but playing live is off the scale. You can’t beat the buzz, feeding off the energy of a live audience. I don’t think it’s changed that much from the '80s, but I think the venues are much better now, especially the clubs. The facilities are way ahead now. One huge change is now you do a show, and it’s up there on Youtube for the world to see before you’ve had time to change out of your stage gear.

Can a melodic hard-rock band like FM break through again, or is the deck stacked against bands like yours?
SO: We’re under no illusions that we’re going to suddenly become “the next big thing,” but we’re holding our own. We’re making credible, critically acclaimed albums, selling concert tickets. The very fact that Radio 2, the biggest radio station in Europe. is play listing our music must say we’re doing something right and count for something.

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