» Ragne/Styrbjörn - Heavy Load
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Interview conducted June 9 2018
Interview published July 26 2018

"He jumped into the air and fell like a sack of potatoes right in front of the drum hit."

Swedish long-time absent heavy metallers Heavy Load recently reunited for 3 live shows in Europe and on the last one of them, at Sweden Rock in June, Metal Covenant was able to score some time with brothers Ragne and Styrbjörn Wahlquist on guitar/vocals and drums/vocals respectively.

Tobbe: Up until now really, has it become harder and harder, the more time that has passed, to dare to take the step to start up the band again?

Ragne: It's an interesting question. I've never thought about it in that way. Personally, for me, if not thinking strictly musically, but in terms of life, it's easier now because my children are a little bit older. They are 13 and 16, you know. If we would have done this when they were just babies, it would have been pretty selfish and I would have missed precious years with my children. It's still important, but now they've got other things to do, that I don't get to do with them, if you know what I mean?

But now I think about life in general and not musically. So musically, I think that this break has done good to us, even if it's maybe been an unnecessarily long one. A coffee break for 15 years is kind of long, or I mean 33 years. But, you know, it's 15 years for me, because I was doing music until 2000 and about two years ago I picked up the guitar again. During those 15 years I didn't play music at all. But Heavy Load was a long time ago, but we were doing Heavy Load until 2000 and wrote songs and stuff. So 33 years is relevant in terms of us being on stage the last time.

(Styrbjörn:) And it's important to think about that the band never split up really, like in the way that we quit. Ragne and I have never said that we quit. That Eddy [Malm, guitar/vocals] parted ways with the band in '85 and then Andreas [Fritz, bass] too didn't mean that we called it quits. We kept going and we played with Paul Gray from UFO on bass for a while and then we had Patrik Karlsson on rhythm guitar with us.

We had plans to continue and there was interest for it, even though focus was on another type of hard rock. You know, it had became a little bit more like Bon Jovi and so. (Ragne:) It was that that to some extent maybe made us go separate ways, because we didn't want to go there, while certain members in the band wanted to.

(Styrbjörn:) They wanted to commercialize the music, you know. (Ragne:) It has never been in question to us. I have nothing against doing something that will sell, but that's not the thing, but the thing is to do want you want to do by heart and to follow that and be true to yourself really. Maybe it turns out good or maybe it turns out bad, but at least you've stayed true to yourself, which I think is an essential prerequisite for doing this.

Tobbe: What's been hardest to do, in terms of being able to do these few gigs in the last couple of months?

Ragne: I think it's many things, but one thing is trying to catch up with the restrictions. You know, with lighting and stuff, and there's a lot of rules, like are we allowed to have smoke bombs? And we didn't have that before. It was just going for it the way you wanted to. We had them everywhere, and you can't do that today, you know. We have to acquire that knowledge, like "What is okay today? What kind of circumstances do we have to take into account?".

(Styrbjörn:) We wanna blow up things, you know. We were very disappointed because we weren't allowed to have bombs in Germany and I was like "Damn it!" and neither were we allowed to have bombs in Athens, you know. Don't they understand that we're a heavy metal band? We have to blow up stuff, you know. It should be just a crater there when we're done.

Tobbe: Before these gigs, which word out of these 4 words were you guys closest to? Excitement, tranquility, concern, nervousness.

Ragne: Excitement. Like the anticipation of meeting the audience and see if there will be 10 people or 300 showing up for our signing session. And it was crowded here at Sweden Rock and it was crowded at Keep It True and Up The Hammers too. It was amazing to see this. Nobody could have showed up; we had no idea, you know.

I have realized, now, that there are people who want us back on stage again and listen to our music. If someone had asked me 3 years ago, I wouldn't have realized that this was the case. I knew that there was some interest, but not that it was as big as it seemingly is. And it's been hugely stimulating; very inspiring.

Sweden Rock has asked us to play for quite a few years already and actually in both Greece and Germany as well. Festivals and record companies have reached out to us, but I haven't taken that so seriously to be honest, but now I realize that it exists for real, you know.

(Styrbjörn:) It's also such a huge machine to get Heavy Load going again. Whatever we do, it's so big and so complicated and therefore we have hesitated to do it, because it takes such a huge amount of time with the administration around it, but also it takes such an enormous emotional dedication and it kind of engulfs your whole life and your whole mind and everything else ends up kind of in the periphery, you know.

(Ragne:) We're deeply involved in many parts too. It's not only lyrics and music and being on stage, but we make the covers, even if we're not painting them, but we design the covers and tell people what they should look like and maybe make a sketch or a drawing and then an artist paints what we want it to look like. So we're in the process, even if we're not the ones holding the brush, because we can't paint with that kind of quality, you know.

Tobbe: I was actually gonna ask you guys, since there is some work on a new record, what a cover from Heavy Load might look like in 2019.

Ragne: We haven't begun to sketch anything yet, but I guess it must be in the same vein, but with some development, because you must show that you go forward, I think. (Styrbjörn:) You can be pretty sure that the front cover is gonna be an oil painting anyway. I think it's important, that you have an oil painting since it's real art, if you know what I mean? It's what we do and it should be painted by humans. Just like when we play; it's not machines playing, but it's humans who's playing for real. We record it with a live basis and it must have that humanity and the human expression and the catch of the moment.

(Ragne:) That's absolutely right. We don't use any click track and we have no backing tracks and what you hear from the stage is what we're playing. We have a guy on keyboard and it's the most digital we have, you know.

Tobbe: Some guy actually told me after the show, like "It's really nice to hear some real heavy metal drums again, because nowadays all they do is just blasting those drums.".

Ragne: I won't put any personal values to this whatsoever, but I agree, because there's kind of two styles of drummers today, I think. Styrbjörn is of the style that he doesn't play so much all the time, but every hit counts, and he hits hard and that sound is of great importance. Or you hit not as hard, and it becomes a different kind of sound, and you play a lot instead, you know. I'm not saying that one is better than the other, but it's two different ways to go and it's just different matters of expression. I personally prefer Styrbjörn's style.

(Styrbjörn:) People who are playing black metal and death metal can often play extremely fast, but, as I experience it as a guy from the old school, they don't play for real. So if you want to play with a strong sound, a powerful sound, well, then you have to play in a way to make it strong and powerful. If you look at those death metal guys, oftentimes, I haven't seen all bands because there's not time for it, but it looks like they are playing in some "dansband". [Follow link for explanation of this term: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/dansband.] I personally start my hits on the snare from up here: [Raises hand to his head.] and not like this: [Imitates someone who doesn't hit the drums so hard.].

To get the feeling, I think, you have to play for real. And you hear that the drums are triggered and it's like it's not a human being that's playing. It's pretty much like you're singing, but it's not your voice and you just lip sync and then it comes out digital with someone else's voice.

(Ragne:) Well, I don't really agree. I have the uttermost respect for people who play drums like that. You must realize that it's a different way. It's the same with the guitars. I don't play, I think, so much on the guitar. Well, sometimes I do, but… And I don't put any personal values to it, you know. (Styrbjörn:) Well, I'm not saying that I don't respect them, but I'm just saying that it doesn't become real, it doesn't become powerful, and heavy metal is… just listen to the words… it's powerful, you know. So, it's not real, I think.

Tobbe: So, about a new record: What do you have so far, at this point?

Ragne: Well, we played one song, Walhalla Warriors [Yes. Walhalla with a W for some reason unbeknownst to me. However pronounced like V.]. That's a new song. So that's an example of what will come out. I think that Heavy Load always have had, I wouldn't say different styles, maybe that's exaggerating, but songs with a little bit different character. Partially like Walhalla Warriors, maybe Stronger Than Evil, The Guitar Is My Sword, Roar Of The North and a number of songs, and then there's songs like Run With The Devil, Might For Right, Singing Swords, and we will naturally keep this, if I may say, width or variation, of course. If that's good or bad, I have no idea, but that's how we do it, you know.

And then Eddy won't take part in it, the way it looks right now, but he has his own journey. I mean, his Saturday Night and so is really awesome; I love that song, for example. But possibly we will make our own version of that kind of song. It's not something we rule out, and maybe some song that Styrbjörn or I has written before has kind of been in that vein. You will probably hear that it's Heavy Load, but there will also be something a little bit new and it would be kind of strange if it didn't feel new at all.

Tobbe: It's been a long time and most things are different in music, even if we just go back 15 years. We have social media and stuff and how are you able to handle that part?

Ragne: We have a Facebook page where stuff is updated from time to time. We have a guy who's doing that, you know. (Styrbjörn:) We do? (Ragne:) Well, it depends on which way you see it. (Styrbjörn:) The PR manager or who? (Ragne:) Yes, Bart. (Styrbjörn:) Bart Gabriel, our PR manager. I'm not doing this at all, you know. (Ragne:) And we got a website too, where we publish stuff, but not exactly on a daily basis, you know.

Tobbe: Well, daily is the norm of today. Just look at Facebook.

Ragne: You know, if just looking to myself. I'm working with music and lyrics. I'm working with this art form that contains all those different parts: the music, lyrics, being on stage, cover art and to me everything is just a way to communicate. I'm working with that because that is what I wanna do. Create these songs, write these lyrics. Not because I wanna sit in front of a computer and be social, you know. No, I prefer spending that time on making music instead. It's what gives me satisfaction.

(Styrbjörn:) If you're going to spend time on artistic activities, then you must have the space, both timewise and roomwise, to go inside yourself and listen to yourself and listen to the inspiration and listen to the music and lyrics that come from inside and that doesn't work if you get interrupted by something someone has done on the web, you know. It just doesn't work. Life must be like a blank page, that you fill in yourself, with texts or paintings, and if the page is already written on it's hard to find any room.

Tobbe: How will Heavy Load gain new fans nowadays and not only have to rely on their old fans?

Styrbjörn: We really have a lot of new fans. I would say that almost 90 percent are new fans actually. It's people that weren't even born in 1985. When we were in Germany and Greece, I would say that most of them are between 20 and 30. The last tour we did was 33 years ago, so if you're 30 now you weren't around, you know. [Laughs]

(Ragne:) The thing with getting new fans is probably: play by the heart and with an open soul and be true to yourself and do what you feel is right and hope that other people will feel that too. And then maybe it can spread on its own. I don't think you can shove a product, which you in that case would make the music to, into people's face and force it onto them, like "Discover this, damn it!". No, it must live by itself, in a sense.

Which I think heavy metal also does, when thinking about the climate in the '70s when all record companies and magazines and stuff in Sweden were so negative regarding heavy metal. Like: it was dead, although it wasn't; it was just what they thought about it. When the bands came to town, like Rainbow or whatever, tickets sold out immediately, you know. So it had its own life and the power in the people who listened and kind of almost lived in that world grew and spread by itself.

Tobbe: Does it feel a little bit strange that it's almost 40 years since your first record was out?

Styrbjörn: You know, it's completely unreal. It's incomprehensible. When this started, our comeback, in the beginning, Eddy and I went down to the Up The Hammers festival [In 2016] and we were going to receive a medal of honor on stage and as soon as I came to the venue and went backstage I felt at home. And then I met the fans; big men with beards were crying around me.

The Greeks are very emotional. That was of course bewildering to me and I didn't know how to handle it. But as I met the musicians backstage, we weren't playing ourselves, everything, the whole environment, I found the way back to myself, you know. Like "Here I am." and it felt so natural and it felt so obvious. And when I walked out on stage it felt like I had never done anything else than, you know, being on stage in the spotlight and meet the fans. It feels so incredibly obvious.

I feel so terribly at home. I feel more like myself on stage than in any other place. It's, you know, there I exist. Many people go to Africa and Asia to find themselves and to me that's very strange because many of them have never been there, so how could they have lost themselves there?

Tobbe: There's good and there's bad memories and after such a long time do bad memories kind of turn into good or funny memories?

Styrbjörn: Well, it was funny when Eddy tore off his cruciate ligament. [Laughs] (Ragne:) Well, we can't turn that into a funny thing. It was very painful to him. (Styrbjörn:) But it was at least an interesting incident. He was really valiant. He was gone for two songs. He jumped into the air and fell like a sack of potatoes right in front of the drum kit.

(Ragne:) Well, this is how it happened: I think it was in the song Free and we had decided to jump into the air simultaneously at a certain point in that song, maybe in the chorus, and I landed and kept on playing and then looked at Eddy and "What the hell is he doing there down on the floor?". He jumped and then just fell to the floor like a sack, you know. (Styrbjörn:) I saw it. He jumped and as he was facing me I saw his face and he fell, you know, headlong onto the floor, in a lying position. And then the roadies came out and carried him away. We continued for another 2 songs because people were watching us, you know. Then Eddy returned to the stage and stood there on one leg for the rest of the show.

(Ragne:) To make a picture out of it: They carried him onto stage and placed him in front of the microphone and then he was standing there on one leg with some support from the leg that was in pain and continued the gig. And he had got some painkillers and later that night the effect from those was gone and he was in so much pain. He called me, because we weren't sleeping in the same hotel room of course, and he said "We must do something." and we called the hospital to get an ambulance, but they told us to take a taxi. So we had to take a taxi to the hospital [Laughs]. And then they put a plaster cast all the way up to his hip, which was insane, because you should apparently not do that, so when we came to Stockholm they tore that shit off and put on a new plaster cast.

Tobbe: With all the answers on the table today, could you have done more to keep the band together in the mid '80s and done more to try to keep Eddy in the band back then?

Ragne: I don't think you can do that, because if you should play by heart it must come from the heart and if you don't feel that from within yourself, then it's just the way it is. And I have the uttermost respect for that.

Tobbe: Maybe I see it more from the marketing side, while you see it from an artistic aspect.

Ragne: I see. Like "If you get an additional 100,000, you can play with us for one more year.", but that's not gonna happen, you know. It doesn't work that way. Not for me anyway. (Styrbjörn:) It's about inspiration, you know, and inspiration is rather sensitive and if someone doesn't really feel at home in the band, but wants to do something else and is discontented, then it's hard to make something and be creative. You make stuff and then you make a song that you personally feel is good, only to find out you've made it to no avail and stuff, you know. (Ragne:) And that's what's good with Niclas. I have a funny story. (Styrbjörn:) I have a story too.

(Ragne:) We were looking for a new member and then we bumped into a guy, Styrbjörn knew him from before if I recall correctly, Niclas Sunnerberg, and the funny thing was: when he auditioned, it felt really good and we started talking and he said "One of my favorite songs is Run With the Devil. I heard that one in 19…". What year, did he say? 1992? (Styrbjörn:) No, it was 1998, I think. The HammerFall cover. [HammerFall's version of this Heavy Load song was recorded in 1999, released in 2000 and was engineered, co-produced and mixed by the Wahlquist brothers themselves.]

(Ragne:) So he said "I heard the HammerFall version and then I listened to the original. So fucking awesome! I've been to Sweden Rock many times, but this year I wasn't going, and then I heard you guys were coming, so I purchased a ticket immediately.]. At that point he hadn't joined the band yet, you know. So it's great to have someone in the band that really wants to be there. He's not playing with us just to be on stage and maybe climb a few steps in his career, but he's doing it because he's having such a good time.

And that's inspiring to me too obviously. He's doing it because he wants to do it by heart. It's exactly the way it's supposed to be and it's making me have a really good time as well. And when he auditioned we were gonna play 3 songs and one of them was Stronger Than Evil and "Okay. I know this one. I have played a cover version of it before.". You know, he had played our songs and that felt really good.

Tobbe: And Styrbjörn's story.

Ragne: I was at a rock club at Mariatorget [Maria square in Stockholm] and the DJ recognized me and started playing some Heavy Load songs and then 3 guys approached me and "Hi. We're a band called Steelwing and it's really great to meet you.". So when our songs were on they told me "We're a band that usually plays some Heavy Load covers, you know." and I was like "That's great. How old are you guys?" and "I'm 27 years old. I'm 27. I'm 27 as well." and I said "The song we're listening to right now, I recorded it 3 years before you were born.". That's quite bizarre, you know. It's incomprehensible. It is completely incomprehensible.

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