March , 1982
By Greg Garrett
The Canadian Trio Makes it Big
The Toronto-based trio known as Triumph has been together since 1975. Things started slowly, but a dazzling stage show and a solid rock sound built around the guitar wizardry of Rikk Emmett, the steady bass of Mike Levine, and the brilliantly percussive drumming of Gil Moore has turned things around. Two chart singles ("Hold On" and "Lay It On The Line") and respectable AOR airplay have brought them to their current best-selling album, Allied Forces.
The question that immediately occurs is: Why? Why has success come to Triumph here in the U.S. after seven years? Answering these questions and more was bassist Mike Levine, who spoke to me from his home in Toronto.
“Allied Forces has done really, really well. I think there are several different factors involved: One of the most important, of course, is radio airplay. I think radio is finally convinced that Triumph is a legitimate group, something that they can program and feel confident about." Triumph has certainly paid enough dues to earn some airplay. "We're very consistent--that helps their format. Year after year we come out with an album, year after year we tour, cover the market. A lot of bands don't do that. They make a record that does okay and then they disappear from the face of the earth.”
"Besides the radio programming, there's the fans, who've said, 'Triumph is a legitimate entity'," thus paving the way for greater demand from those fans.
Of course, external factors are not the only things responsible for Triumph's new popularity. "There are some great songs on the record (which is not to say that there weren't great songs on the other records):" Consistency is the watchword here--it's much easier to make a record with a few good songs and feel satisfied. Allied Forces is a rarity among most of today's top-sellers, in that there isn't a throwaway track on the entire album.
Mike doesn't believe that a change in direction was responsible for the sales figures. "I don't think anybody really goes in a direction. You just make the best record you possibly can. An album is your directors. An album is a statement of where you're at, what you think and feel at a particular place and time. You don't plan anything or any particular direction. You write songs and record them, and that is your direction."
The addition of Mike's keyboard work to what had been essentially a heavy metal trio could probably be cited as the biggest musical change in the Triumph format, beginning on their "Just A Game" LP. The keyboards have added a depth and sophistication to the hard-edged sound the band had made their trademark.
Better songs, more radio airplay, increased recognition by fans.-these are all factors that have contributed to the great growth in the group's popularity. What is the underlying thread between these diverse elements?
Work. HARD Work.
Triumph has made their reputation as one of rock's hardest-working bands.
There are other bands who spend more time on the road--for example, contrast Van Helen's 300 dates a year to Triumph's schedule--but few bands can match the prolific, across-the-board achievements of the members of Triumph. The band produces their own records, drummer Gil Moore designs the Triumph stage show, each year creating new masterpieces of pyrotechnics and mechanization: guitarist Rikk Emmett. besides being one of rock's most accomplished guitarists (as evidenced by a victory in the prestigious "Guitar Player" magazine reader's poll), is also rock's first regularly published cartoonist with his strip "Rocktoons"; and the band has done work in the rapidly expanding field of rock video.
All that can get pretty tiring. Triumph finds relaxation in the rock and roll tradition: "Women, drugs, the same old stuff. You set a routine. Then when you get tired of it, you break it."
One routine that the group never breaks is their tradition for excellence onstage. An objection to every show that combines the visual aspect with music. (KISS, Meat Loaf, Alice Cooper, ELO, to name a few) Is that flash and sparkle are there to draw attention from the music, because it can't stand on its own. Mike defends the elaborate effects--"We do it just because it IS such a spectacular show. Our fans have never seen anything like it, at least since the last time they saw us. We play for our fans, we make our records for our fans, we plan our concerts around what we think our fans want to see and hear, not what we think some big-city critic wants. We are the entertainers, we are the ones putting our asses on the line every night. We do what we feel is best for the group, and we feel that having an exciting stage show is just as important as having great music. The two go together."
Gil Moore is constantly revamping the Triumph show. The Allied Forces tour featured extensive use of strobe lighting, intricate scaffold lighting effects, and more gouts of flame than you can shake a volcano at. "We already have plans for new effects for the next tour. Every year and every tour it's bigger and there's more going on. We're into gradual improvement rather than creating the ultimate stage show. How could we follow it up?"
Triumph has had to fight their way past a number of comparisons, to Rush. The surface similarities are numerous: both are trios from Toronto, they feature the same instrumentation-guitar, bass and keyboards, and percussion, they both play more complex music than most. Are these valid comparisons, or has Triumph outgrown them? "Well as Rush gets more successful and as Triumph gets more successful, I'm sure the question will continue to pop up, if only because it's a good interview question. I don't really mind the comparison. Rush is a great band--so are we. We're not archenemies or anything, y'know? We're friendly with each other. We're not stepping on each other's toes."
Triumph now has an unenviable task in front of them. That of following up the success of "Allied Forces." Work on the new album has already begun. "We've got a couple of songs written, and we've been in and out of the studio in the past few months to see what we've come up with." The release of the new album will be delayed as long as "Allied Forces" continues to hang strongly in the charts. "It's hard to say just when the new one will come out
Whenever the new album appears. fans can expect the usual Triumph emphasis on quality, as well as another stunning stage extravaganza for audiences across the continent. From their very conception, Triumph has been confident, even choosing a name expressing their optimism. And now that they can see the top of the pile, they have no plans to stop climbing.