The PCC Interview with The Moody Blues’ Justin Hayward
By Paul Freeman [2004 Interview]
AFTER 40 years, fans of the Moody Blues, one of rock's most distinctive bands, continue to clamor for new product. They'll be pleased with the release of The Best of the Moody Blues (Polydor/UM), a DVD collection of their eighties music videos.
Justin Hayward, lead vocalist/guitarist/songwriter, says, “They probably represent our best video time . . . our only video time, actually,” he chuckles. “We got to video kind of late. We'd never really found the right way to do. Or we didn't have the right songs. But I think this is a good snapshot of what we were doing in the eighties. This material and these videos, in a way, gave the band the longevity that it has now. More fans came to us in the late eighties than for many years before that.
Life for the Moodies began in 1964, focusing on R&B material. Hayward joined the group two years later. "The band, when it started, hadn't found its sound and direction. Denny Laine sang that wonderful song `Go Now.' It was a great record. Within a few months of that song becoming a hit, he'd gone. He took that song with him. I noticed when he was with Paul McCartney & Wings, he was still doing “Go Now.” We tried to do it after he left. A couple of us had a go at singing it, but it wasn't the same. It just didn't work.
“Then literally one night, we just said, ‘Listen, let's do something completely different. Let's do all our own material and dress the way we want to.' We'd been wearing these blue suits and Beatle boots. We just said, “Let's do our own thing. If it doesn't work, in like a month or so, we'll just forget it.”So we just did our own songs.”
It was the sixties and fresh sound and fashions were welcomed. “Anything went,” Hayward says. “And we didn't play by any rules. We didn't conform to any trend. We just did exactly what we wanted to do. We were lucky enough to have a record company, which was run by real old music men from the forties. They said, ‘We don't know what you're doing. But people like it. So just do what you want.' It was brilliant.”
The innovative Moodies wanted to meld classical music with rock. “We used an instrument called the Mellotron, which was kind of a presynthesizer type thing. We got it working really loud through a few big amplifiers on stage. It gave us this rather squeaky orchestral sound. Then our vocal style suited that folk-rock-psychedelic sort of thing. And we mashed it all together.”
In 1967, they released the landmark Days Of Future Passed. “The album came about, because Decca wanted to demonstrate their stereo system. We were just lucky to be the group that they chose. Originally, they wanted a rock version of Dvorak. Then they would also present an orchestra, playing the real Dvorak. When they asked us to do it, we said yes.
"The orchestrator came to see us perform and said, `I'd like to do it the other way ‘round, where we do your songs and I'll make them sound as if they're orchestral.' It was a lucky sort of accident."
The Moodies took America by storm. Then Britain started taking more notice. “The size of our eventual success in the UK was because of the bounce-back from America. No doubt about it. It was kind of the same with Zeppelin. I'm not sure Zeppelin would have been the biggest band in the world, if their success hadn't been a bounce-back from mega status in the United States. The English are terribly blase and rude when it comes to not recognizing real talent.”
The band enjoyed a resurgence of popularity in the eighties, then made another comeback in the nineties, thanks to a PBS special taped with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra in Red Rocks. Though the Moodies continue to serve up their classic material, such as "Tuesday Afternoon" and "The Story In Your Eyes," they also record new songs.
“Really, all I want to do is write music and play it with the band that plays it the best,” says Hayward. “I'll be doing it anyway and then sometimes it's just a question of finding a deal for it. I just have to do it, because, ever since I was a teenager, it's been a part of my life. It's like sort of private room that you can go into. Nobody else can go in there. I sometimes feel sorry for the wife and family, really, because they're kind of excluded from that.”
Last winter, the Moodies released their first holiday album, “December“ (Universal), deftly combining glorious original material with traditional tunes.
“I was very happy with the album. People had proposed that sort of thing along the way, but it never quite seemed right until now. Even on this album, when the idea of ‘White Christmas' was presented, I can't say that my heart was totally in it. But I know that a lot of other people were convinced that it was the right thing, and so I went along with that. All we could do was try to make it our own,” Hayward says.
“'You have to do what you think is right. You're the bloke who's going to carry the can. Because, if it doesn't work, it's not, `Oh, that A&R guy made a terrible record.' It's the band who will always get that. So you have to keep some kind of integrity.
The Moodies' integrity has contributed to their longevity. The band continues to tour extensively, drawing full houses wherever they go. “We could work every night of the year-that's for sure. We seem to be offered more gigs now that we ever were years ago.”
"I have to say the reason why it's lasted is the music. There's always different opinions on that. I was doing a radio interview one day with our drummer Graeme [Edge] and he was asked how is it you've survived so long together. Graeme said, “I couldn't stand to see the other bastards go on without me.” There's probably a lot of truth in that,” Hayward chuckles.