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?
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
(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?".
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,
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,
(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.
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
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
just listen to the words
it's powerful, you know. So,
it's not real, I think.
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.
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.
(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.
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
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.
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
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
(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.]
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
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.