Johnny Van Zant's interview
by Jer˘me Allemand - April 2003


First of all, can we get news from Gary ? How about his health ?

He's doing great. I got him on the phone yesterday from Francfort, Germany. He's recovering well, he started playing guitar. In fact, he feels 15 years younger (laughs).

Some people think your new album "Vicious Cycle" is somewhere between "Twenty" and "Brother To Brother". Do you agree ?
"Brother To Brother" ! (laughs). I don't know but why not, I also love this album. In fact, to me, it's a typical Lynyrd Skynyrd album and you can find similarities with the other albums we've done.

A mix between a modern Lynyrd SKynyrd, pretty hard as your last one, and some root songs ?
Yes, that's it. That was our main goal. We tried to mix the differents aspects, the "old school" with a modern sound.

How did you write the songs ? Was it a band effort ?
Yes we all worked together. Someone found a riff, the other one had lyrics or a melody. It was a step by step process. We went to the studio to record tws or three songs, then we went back on the road, and back in the studio again for news songs. Finally, we recorded 22 songs. We put 16 of them on this new album, which is a lot of stuff, 70 minutes of music.

Just as the Allman Brothers's one !
Oh really ? cool ! I didn't listen to it yet.

Let's go back to the songs. Some ones are perfect for partying, and some other ones are more political.
Lynyrd SKynyrd always had this social or political aspect, since "Sweet home Alabama". As a unique person, you can't change the politics but you can speak about it. But we also like to party. Once again, we have different topics in our songs, such as politics or mamas.

Aren't you afraid of being too much political ?
No, no ! As americans, we've got our freedom and it's also our freedom being musicians.

Is there a patrticular song on this new album you love more than the others ?
Not really, it's impossible to choose. You know I got four girls and it's the same impossibility as if you asked me which one I prefer. We only played live "the way" and "all funked up", so I really can't choose.

You're back on the road for a world tour. Aren't you tired ?
Right now, I'm a bot tired. It's my fifth day in Europe where I'm giving interviews all day long so I'm a bit tired. But you know Skynyrd is the road. Making albums is great but performing live in front of a public is better. That's our lives, we won't stop.

For many fans, Leon Wilkeson was such a great character. How is it now without him ?
First of all, we have a fantastic bass player, Ean Evans. He and Leon were close friends. When Leon passed away, it was an other tragedy for the band and we wrote a song as a tribute to him, "Mad hatter". Its' kind of hard but you know, Ean being his friend is kind of more simple for us.

Let's talk about the new version of "Gimme back my bullets". I like it even if I prefer the original version. It seems many fans don't really appreciate it. What do you think ?
That's right, it can be surprising but you know Kid Rock is a big fan of Lynyrd SKynyrd and he's a great guy. We really love him. We saw him quite a few times when we were in Detroit. Last year, he came on stage with us, and he jammed with us. Pamela Anderson was also there. So we invited him for this new album. "Gimme back my bullets" is one of my favorite song. The goal was to d something real different from what we usually do. We first thought not to include it on the album, we finally put it on the album and we'll see what will happen.

You're gonna be in Europe next june opening for Deep Purple. We would have preferred you to headline the show with, for example, 38 Special opening for you. Can you tell us a few words about this tour ?
Two years ago, in the States, Deep Purple opened for us. We knew this year they were coming to Europe, as we do, so we started talking about this tour with the two bands. It doesn't matter which band is opening the show. We'll play 90 minutes and we'll play our best.

Each time you release a new album, we always think it could be the last one. Are you conscious of this and the fact you mean so much to the fans ?
You know I pray God it won't be the last one. As I already topld you, we recorded 22 songs and we have 6 or 7 songs which could be used on our next album. We also wrote other songs we didn't record yet. We'll keep on releasing new album¨s as long as we can do it. You know Gary is so happy with the doctors finding his problem. If not, it could have killed him. But now, he's fine and we're back for many years.

For many people, southern rock is not that a musical identity. Do you always agree with this "label" ?
We have a song on the album which is about politics, "Red, white and blue". It's our first single and we wrote it after Spet 11th's events. Back then, we did two shows. Being Alabama ambassadors, we usually see the rebel flags at our shows, but for these two shows, all we saw was just american flags. So we wrote ths song to tell what Skynyrd is all about and what the fans are all about. It's not really a political song, it's just what we are, riding bikes, smoking cigarettes, drinking beer, having fun, being hard workers. This song shows we're not only southern guys, we're american and that's the way the fans see us. We've got fans in New York, San Francisco. We're proud of our orign, our heritage, our women are sweeter (laughs), we speak differently from the people up in north.... But in the end, we're all united with the music, whether you're from Paris, France or Jacksonville, Florida.

What kind of music do you listen to ? Do you have time to listen to new southern rock bands such as Drive by Truckers or Rebel Storm ?
You know, one more time, I've got four daughters, so I listen to a lot of things. I like bands such as "Puddle of mud" or "3 doors down". Regarding Drive by Truckers, I listened to some of their songs, and as I know they write a lot about us, so I like them (laughs). And we'be got the same management company.

I have to ask you a special question. I heard you didn't want to come here in France because our government's position before the war in Irak. Is that true ?
No, no, no. You know, we're musicians, we've got fans over here and there's no problem for us to come here and play. Governments take care of the politics and we take care of the music.

Are you gonna release a new dvd next month ?
It's gonna be recorded in Nashville, Tennessee, on July 11th. We'll have a complete orchestra behind us. You know, on the original version of Freebird, there are strings. And there are horns on "What's your name". It's gonna be great. We don't know exactly which songs we're gonna play. but it's gonna be great. You should come and see us. We 'll decide during rehearsals which songs are gonna be played.

You could add the songs you recorded which are nor included on the last album.
Why not ? (laughs). We're gonna try to include a lot things in this dvd. May be we're gonna film during this european tour and add some footage.

If you had to spend the rest of your life on a desert island, which five albums would you take with you ?
I'ld rather choose five girls (laughs). I'ld say the first album by Free, something by the Jimi Hendrix Experience, the white album from the Beatles, our last album and "Straight shooter" from Bad Company with Paul Rodgers.

What else would you add ?
I hust wanna say we worked real hard for this new album, we love music. Thanks for all.

 

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