Interview: Al Ross & The Planets

Sep 27 2021

Al Ross & The Planets have just released their second album, Blue Crystal. Louder Than The Music chatted with Al to talk about the new album, and the thrill of recording it in the legendary Abbey Road Studios where The Beatles once recorded.

For those who haven't heard of you before, can you tell us a bit about yourselves and how you got involved in making music?

We are a London based band and we have been playing rhythm and blues, Atlantic soul and Rock since the Nineties mainly in the UK and many parts of the world. The original members all met at college and we were all huge fans of the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, Pink Floyd and the great bands of the 1960s and 70s. For years we had great fun mainly performing other peoples music, but then we decided to start writing some of our own original material. In 2017 we decided to record our debut album THE PLANETS ONE at Abbey Road Studios. The album received some great reviews upon its release, so we decided to return to Abbey Road to record the follow up album BLUE CRYSTAL which has just been released!

Tell us about your new album 'Blue Crystal' and what the inspiration behind it was?

With BLUE CRYSTAL, we wanted to create a listening experience similar to the great albums of the late sixties and early seventies. Alex Mungo and I wrote all eight tracks for the album and we wanted to pay tribute to all the great bands and genres that had influenced us over the years. We decided that we would only use real instruments (so no syntheser sounds) and it was a pleasure to use some of the instruments at Abbey Road that The Beatles and Pink Floyd had used to record many of their masterpieces (such as The Hammond organ in Studio 2, the Steinway Grand Piano, The Channing and Mrs Mills pianos). We started recording the album in January 2020 and things were going fine until COVID struck. Things became very difficult with the lockdowns and restrictions, and members of the band coming down with Covid. We persevered however and had help from some great session musicians including Norman Beaker (British Blues legend from the late sixties who has played with everyone from Chuck berry, BB King, Jack Bruce to Van Morrison) and our old friend Lyndon Connah who had worked with George Michael, Take That, Level 42, Joe Cocker and Squeeze and many other famous names. We wanted to create some really epic sounding tracks on this album, so under the restrictions it was very difficult to make, but somehow we managed to finish recordings by December 2020. So BLUE CRYSTAL really is a case of Triumph over adversity - we managed to create a very special album under very difficult circumstances in a horrendous year. The album was released on 10 September and is receiving great reviews so we are absolutely over the moon

Talking of Abbey Road, what was it like recording the album at those legendary studios in London, that must have been pretty special?

It was amazing. I remember the first time we recorded there, we were completely awe struck. Studio 2 is pretty much as it was since the Beatles days, and there are these incredible vibes. I could not help thinking about all the brilliant, brilliant music that had been created there previously and it kind of makes you step up to the mark. All the pianos, Hammond organ and other instruments that the Beatles used are still there, so recording on those instruments was brilliant. Also they have an incredible collection of microphones, some of which date back to the 1930s. Our Engineers know that I am a massive Beatles fan so they used mics that the Beatles had used for our sessions. The Engineers at Abbey Road are some of the most highly skilled in the world, and recording there is an wonderful experience. The other great thing is the fantastic acoustic that you get in Studio 2. I really wanted to capture that cavernous Studio 2 sound in our recordings, and through the help of the Engineers we managed to do it. It was very, very special. I also asked Chris Bolster - who is one of the World’s great Engineers and has worked with everyone from McCartney to Oasis to Radiohead - to mix the album. He put his special stamp on it and made the whole album sound like the listening experience that we had envisaged from the beginning.

Which is your favourite track on the album and why?

I love all the tracks but I think that my favourite is the title track BLUE CRYSTAL. We were able to experiment with many different instruments on that track and I love the way it builds. It starts off just with me singing and a piano, and then gradually builds so that by the end we have strings, trumpet, Hammond organ, Norman Beaker’s great guitar fills and loads of other things going on to create this huge ending. I always loved the music of John Barry, so the first half of the track is very much influenced by his type of James Bond music. One of my favourite songs of all time is The Beatles I AM THE WALRUS - I particularly loved the strings - and I wanted to create an I am the Walrus type effect for the second half of the song. I also went through a period of listening to the great Jazz albums of the late fifties / early sixties, so wanted to incorporate some cool trumpet sounds. It was very difficult;t to get right, but we had a lot of fun making it and it turned out great.

How would you describe your style of music and what are your influences?

I would say Blues Rock. However there are elements of Soul, Gospel and Jazz in there also. Our biggest influences are The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Doors, The Band, Pink Floyd , Traffic and Led Zeppelin. We also love the Atlantic Should and Stax recordings from the sixties

If you could work with any songwriter, who would it be and why?

Even though he is sadly no longer with us, I would work with John Lennon - because in my opinion he was the greatest.

How would you define success in your career as an artist?

Our main objective behind this new album was to create and leave something very special for this and future generations to enjoy. We also wanted to turn younger people onto the joys of listening to full albums again, not just random singles. We do not really define success in terms of number of records sold. For us it is more about creating something special for the world, and having people and appreciate it. To that end, we are really pleased that the album has received such fantastic reviews. Now its just a case of people discovering it and hopefully enjoying it.

What is your favorite album of all time?

Revolver by the Beatles. There is so much brilliance on that album. Paul McCartney had hit a peak with his song writing, John Lennon pretty much changed music forever with his mind bending psychedelic masterpieces (Tomorrow Never knows), George introduced Eastern music to the world and really came into his own as a song writer. Its just a brilliant album that changed everything

You're stuck on an island, it's hot, you only have enough battery life left to listen to one song on your phone. What track is it?

It would have to be I AM THE WALRUS by the Beatles, and if the battery life had a bit more life in it I would try and also listen to A WHITER SHADE OF PALE by Procul Harum.

What does the next year hold for you?

We are looking to get out there and perform the album live. So gigs in London, and tours of the UK, Europe and possibly the US. So it should be a busy time!

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