David Lowy, Dead Daisies rhythm guitarist and de facto leader, takes a deep breath and prepares to address the elephant in the room.
“Look,” he says, “we didn’t start out like a bunch of teenagers, each of us pitching in a hundred dollars of our savings. One of the first gigs we did was opening for ZZ Top.”
We have not come to cast aspersions on The Dead Daisies. The Australian-American-British supergroup are rapidly becoming one of the most exciting bands in modern rock. Their newly released fifth album Holy Ground is a roaring return that finds incoming frontman and chief songwriter Glenn Hughes somewhere near the top of his game.
“This new album is all about what’s going on between birth and death,” the well-travelled bassist/vocalist explains. “Fear, faith, denial, celebration and happiness. All those ‘feeling’ words, y’know?”
We’ll get to that. But here’s the thing. Even now, eight years after the band’s formation, a vocal minority of snarkier rock fans still insist that the Dead Daisies have a plastic heart.
The conspiracy theory goes something like this. As the eldest son of Westfield Corporation co-founder and Australia’s real-estate king Frank Lowy – not to mention being a formidable businessman in his own right – 66-year-old David Lowy has ridden the executive shuttle to headliner status.
While other new bands tramp the boards of every rat hole in town, he has been able to open a bottomless attaché case and pay top dollar to a conveyor belt of name sidemen, from Guns N’ Roses keyboard player Dizzy Reed to sometime Mötley Crüe singer John Corabi. The most waspish accusation of all is that for Lowy the Dead Daisies are just a rich man’s hobby; if it wasn’t this, it’d probably be space tourism or racehorses.
Lowy gives a good-natured sigh. He’s heard all this before. And the truth is, the moment you hear the immensely likeable guitarist’s defence, the scepticism starts to wither. It’s not just that his mobile buzzes periodically with the Back In Black riff. It’s also the growing sense that he’s a rock’n’roll lifer, in this world up to his neck.
“For me it always comes back to growing up in Australia,” he begins. “Even before AC/DC it was The Easybeats.
“It’s been a very long journey. I’ve lived my life in reverse. I loved piano as a kid, played bass guitar in a garage band as a teenager. But then I went to university and into the family business. After doing that for twenty-plus years I thought: ‘Jeez, I always loved music.’ I really wanted to start playing again.”
Critics take note: The Dead Daisies are not Lowy’s first project, nor did he leap straight into the superleague.
“I’ve played in cover bands, carried my own gear,” he reminds us. “We once did a gig for a big industry group. It was early in my music career, and I saw for the first time how badly musicians get treated. As far as they were concerned, they didn’t know who I was, because when I’m dressed as a musician I’m a musician. They didn’t connect me to my business career. We couldn’t eat in the main room, we had to eat in the kitchen, they gave us terrible food, they were just downright rude to us. And I thought: ‘Jeez, this is interesting.’ It was an education.”
When it’s suggested to him that another great rock’n’roll businessman, Gene Simmons, wouldn’t have stood for that, Lowy smiles: “Well,” he says, “Gene would have me for breakfast as a businessman.”
There was an uptick in 2005, when Lowy joined with Aussie rock icon Doc Neeson in the underrated Red Phoenix. But when Neeson (who sadly died in 2014 from a brain tumour) stepped back from the rock scene, and the financial crash of 2008 threatened Lowy’s business interests, it seemed that the boardroom had claimed him back. “But I always wanted to get back to the music. Then our manager introduced me to Jon Stevens, who took the place of Michael Hutchence in INXS. We hit it off, put ourselves in a room for a week, and out came twenty-five songs. We didn’t even have a band.”
Lowy and Stevens recorded the Daisies’ 2013 self-titled debut album with a cast of respected-if-obscure session musicians. But a cameo by Slash on Lock ‘N’ Load suggested the band had loftier ambitions. And so it proved.
Today, Lowy paints the band’s high-profile acquisitions as a domino rally of happy coincidences. He was introduced to GN’R guitarist Richard Fortus when the band toured Australia. “And through Richard I met everybody else. He said: ‘Well, do you want keyboards? Let’s bring in Dizzy…’”
All those players are long-gone now, although Lowy stresses that each one’s exit was entirely amicable, the players simply returning to their mothership bands.
The arrival of Hughes feels different. A bona fide rock A-lister, he confers instant legitimacy and brings a raft of undeniable songs to a line-up completed by ex-Whitesnake guitarist Doug Aldrich and former Journey drummer Deen Castronovo.
Still, those same doubters may wonder what’s in it for Hughes – does he believe in this band, or is it yet another stop-over for a career journeyman?
“I want to work with people I like at this point in my life,” Hughes says, regarding his motives. “I needed another vehicle that I hadn’t tapped into. Something different. In the last few years it’s been serious hustle for me. I don’t want to slow down. Because I see a lot of my friends do that, and they’ve kind of lost their hunger to do it.
“I was doing the Glenn Hughes Performs Classic Deep Purple tour for almost three years,” he continues. “It was early 2019. I got a call from the management of The Dead Daisies, asking if I would take a meeting with David in Hollywood. We spoke about what he wanted to do. They were obviously eyeing me for my songwriting and vocals. I’d seen them on the radar, but I hadn’t heard a lot of material.
"So then I obviously had to get my thinking cap on and listen. To me they sounded more eighties than seventies, and they wanted me to take it back a bit. I had to ask myself: ‘Am I ready to do something other than solo?’ I thought about it. We got together in New York in May 2019, had some fun. Then we started pre-production at Sunset Sound. That was a week of ‘Can we do this?’ And we realised that we could.”
Cynics might expect that Lowy is paying you well. Is that a factor?
“No, I don’t do anything for money,” Hughes insists. “I’ve never done that. Money never comes into the question. Nah. Not at all. You know me well enough to know it’s about music. That’s the primary purpose for me. It’s sobriety and music.”
How about that accusation that The Dead Daisies are a rich man’s plaything?
“On paper it might look that way. That was the thing that queried me. Yes, David’s got a nice jet. We fly around the world on that jet. It’s great for me, I’m getting older now. But trust me when I tell you that David is so on-point when he’s in the room with us. He is all rock, rock, rock. And ‘Let’s rock some more.’
"He’s got his business gig, as you know. We won’t talk too much about that. You can Google it. But seriously, you gotta believe me here, I don’t sense a guy with money here, dabbling. I sense a guy that wants to rock. He’s a great guitar player. He has no fear. He always wants to learn. I admire people like that. I’ll always be a student of music, until they throw the dirt on me."
If there is any remaining sniff of scepticism, Holy Ground will stamp it out. The Daisies’ four studio albums to date have been more than decent, but this fifth is a quantum leap forward, the kind of music that would be impossible to make if you didn’t mean it with every fibre. There’s nothing wafty about juggernaut tracks like Come Alive and Bustle And Flow, with Hughes more than justifying his fee, whatever that might be.
“I wanted to write big choruses and big grooves,” he says. “But then Far Away was written when I got out my acoustic guitar. I thought: ‘We’re missing a slow song, and here comes a seven-minute Glenn epic.’ It’s a song that speaks to me, because it’s about me coming home, finding myself, the prodigal son kind of thing.”
What other themes came up for you?
“Back when I was out there in the darkness, I wrote fictional stuff. But when I got sober I started to write about the inner stuff. I’m not frightened to express myself. There’s a lot of stuff on this album about letting go. I can’t fix the guy I used to be. But it’s about karmic learning and being in the moment. These songs were written four months before the pandemic hit. But you’ll listen to some of the lyrics and go: ‘Did Hughes know anything about this?”
COVID has certainly disrupted the Daisies’ schedule; the album has been kicked down the road a few times. Now, though, with Hughes on board and vaccines being rolled out, the conditions might be right for the Dead Daisies to bloom. Has the man with rock’n’roll’s lengthiest résumé finally found a home?
“I hope so,” Hughes says. “I’ve given myself to the band. I want to make music.”
“How this band fits together is the key,” Lowy stresses. “A good football team will beat a bunch of superstar players any day of the week. It’s how the people relate with each other, read each other, complement each other. It makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up when you’re in the studio with Glenn and he’s on fire. It’s a privilege to make music with these guys – and I can’t wait to get out there and play.”
Not just a hobby, then?
“Right,” says Lowy. “This is anything but a hobby. Talk to any of the guys I play with; this is a passion. There’s plenty of guys around like me. I don’t hide from the fact I’m a businessman, I’ve got resources. But if it was that easy, more people would be doing it. If this was just a hobby, I don’t think we’d have been able to achieve what we have.”