‘Shake The World’: Robin McAuley Discusses Monster New Project, Black Swan
Tracked at bassist/producer Jeff Pilson’s home studio in Los Angeles, “Shake The World” is the debut album by Black Swan. A sonic slice of melodic hard rock/metal that showcases some of the most iconic names in the business.
In addition to Pilson (Foreigner, The End Machine, ex-Dokken), the band also features vocalist Robin McAuley (McAuley Schenker Group), guitarist Reb Beach (Winger, Whitesnake) and drummer Matt Starr (Ace Frehley, Mr. Big).
From the anthemic growl of the epic title track and “Immortal Souls” to more more meaningful and personal songs like “Johnny Came Marching,” Shake The World is an impressive debut of world class musicians, and a band that yearns to be heard live.
I recently spoke with vocalist Robin McAuley about the new Black Swan album and more in this exclusive new interview.
How did this project come about?
Robin McAuley: Jeff was the one who originally had the idea. He called me up and asked if I’d be interested and then introduced me to Reb. Originally, Jeff didn’t want to play bass and only wanted to produce, but Reb and I talked him into it. We all knew that we wanted to steer away from doing another “classic rock” type of record. I had known Matt from having done some events with him and called him up. He came in and just tore it up. The whole album sounds organic and fresh.
What was the songwriting process like for Shake The World?
RM: Sometimes it would start with just a riff. Reb would come up with the riff and then Pilson would start playing low. They’d put a format together and then sent it to me. They often suggested styles they were looking for but everything I came up with was something they never expected.
A good example is when they sent me this great riff that I instantly fell in love with. When I listened to it, I could feel this guitar overtone that almost sounded like a wolf howling. I wound up writing the song, “Immortal Souls,” about vampires and how they are ultra-fast. When I came back to Pilson with the song and told him how I loved the way he had the howling wolf over the intro he looked at me and said, “What howling wolf?” [laughs]. But that’s really what the process was like. They’d send me stuff and I’d come back with a lyric and melody. Before you knew it we had amassed a bunch of songs that all tied in together.
What can you tell me about the title-track, “Shake The World.”
RM: That was the last track we did. We were talking about how it should shape up against the rest of the album and I wanted it to be something that was topical. So Reb started to hammer out this riff. I’m not political but at the same time I came up with the title and lyrics. It’s about doing what’s good for me, my kids and family.
Is there a message behind the song “Johnny Came Marching?”
RM: “Johnny Came Marching” hits very close to home. My son sings on this album with me and was minutes away from being at The Borderline Grill when the mass shooting by a Marine took place back in 2018. When I heard that riff I immediately came up with this lyric of a soldier coming home from active duty and finding things a little different than when he left. I wanted to bring the message home that we have kids who come home from active duty and really need our help. It was inspired by an unfortunate event.
Do you foresee any live shows as Black Swan?
RM: Right now Reb is crazy busy with Whitesnake and Winger; Jeff is busy wth Foreigner; Matt is busy with Mr. Big and Ace Frehley, and I’m busy with Raiding The Rock Vault in Las Vegas and with Schenker Fest. We do have promoters in Europe and stateside wanting to work with the band, so hopefully sooner rather than later. We’ll see what happens.
What do you think makes your Vegas show, “Raiding The Rock Vault” so special? What do you enjoy most about it?
RM: The people. We went live in Vegas in 2013 and over the course of seven years we’ve amassed more than 1600 shows. Since then almost every classic rock band and artist has taken up residency: Foreigner, Aerosmith, Def Leppard, Journey, Styx, Scorpions, Bryan Adams. It’s endless. Our show tells the story of classic rock. It’s a ninety-minute show where we kick out some thirty-five songs. There’s an amazing line-up that includes Rock and Roll Hall of Famers Howard Leese (Heart/Bad Company) and Hugh McDonald (Bon Jovi), as well as people like Rowan Robertson (Dio), Paul Shortino, Todd Kerns, Cian Coey and Megan Rüger. It’s so much fun and great music that we play note for note like the record. That’s what people love.
Of all the highlights of your Rock Vault career, what stands out to you as memorable?
RM: I remember one night when Howard came up to me. He smiled and said, “No pressure tonight.” l look out and who’s sitting near the front row? Paul Rodgers, who is one of my heroes and such a huge influence. We were also blessed to have had guys like Lou Gramm, Joe Lynn Turner and Bobby Kimball join us on stage. For me to have the chance to sing along with them was pretty awesome.
What are you most looking forward to about this next phase of your career?
RM: I’m sixty-seven years of age. I’m not supposed to be making records. I also recently went through an unexpected illness where an E. coli virus hit me and became a bladder infection that got into my blood stream and started poisoning me. So, my priorities have taken on an even greater meaning. I’ve learned to not sweat the small stuff because it can change in a second. I love every day and am just happy to be here.