It takes balls for a group of musicians to start a gig as one band and finish it as another. But that’s exactly what Northern Irish rockers Million Dollar Reload did in 2015, when they transformed into Blackwater Conspiracy quite literally mid-show.
“Million Dollar Reload had run its course,” says singer/rhythm guitarist Phil Conalane. “But instead of finishing with one last show then putting out a statement a few weeks later going, ‘This is the new band’, I thought, why not do it halfway through the gig? We had the old backdrop in front of the new one, and we just dropped it down and said, ‘This is the new band – here’s a few new songs!’.”
It’s paid off. The Country Tyrone five-piece – who also feature Brian ‘BAM’ Mallon (guitar/vocals), Kie McMurray (bass/vocals), Kevy Brennan (keyboards/vocals) and Fionn o’hAgain (drums) – have shaken off the rampant AC/DC-tinged anthems of their former incarnation for something more soulful, taking the loose-limbed rock ’n’ roll of The Black Crowes and Blackberry Smoke and adding a shot of Gaelic swagger.
“Bands from over here have their own way of doing things,” says Conalane. “Thin Lizzy, Stiff Little Fingers, Therapy?… being honest, it’s a little bit of the Irish charm. Rory Gallagher is the perfect example. He went out and played that battered Stratocaster every night, did his own thing and didn’t give a shit about what anybody else thought.”
This attitude is oozes from their self-titled EP and soon-come debut album ‘Shootin’ The Breeze’. Both the EP and half the debut album were recorded at the legendary Rockfield Studios in South Wales.
“Rockfield was great,” says Conalane. “We recorded in the studio where Black Sabbath, David Bowie and Oasis and all the rest had done a lot of work. But the thing that blew our mind was that there was a grand piano in the corner, and the owner proceeded to tell us that Freddie Mercury had recorded ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ on it. Of course, Kie was, like, ‘I’ve gotta play it!’.”
There‘s just one potential hiccup facing Blackwater Conspiracy. They share their name with an infamous conspiracy theory involving secret armies and private wars that is popular in the more tinfoil-hatted corners of the internet.
“That was an unfortunate coincidence,” he says with a rueful laugh. “We all live relatively close to a river called the Blackwater River, and the ‘Conspiracy’ part just sounded cool. It was only after a month or two after we had changed the name, one of the guys in the band called me up and said, ‘You know this is an American conspiracy theory thing?’. But it’s too late do anything about it. We can’t get away with changing our name onstage again!”
‘Shoot The Breeze’