April 2024

You guys put out a new single in January, Rise Again. Tell me about this song.

Yeah, we were in a bit of a hurry. No, not really. (Laughs) But we have been planning a new album for a couple of years. We started two/ three years ago already with writing stuff or finishing the stuff. The drums were recorded almost two years ago, but we still didn’t finish the album. We’re still working on vocal melodies and lyrics. But we have 14 songs written, and Rise Again was just the first one that we finished. I mean, there was one before that, which I didn’t want to release as the first one. It’s more like a mid-tempo number, but I wanted more like a rocking song, you know. So we’ll continue like that, and we’ll make the next single after this tour, and Rick is recording in the next couple of weeks. That song will be, well, more powerful, faster, and more progressive, I would say. Everything at once. My typical songwriting. You know, when I write the songs, it’s always a bit too much. (Laughs) I think this song will be more representable for the album than the first one. But people like Rise Again. I was surprised. AFM can see on their website who made thumbs up/ thumbs down, and there was 98 % thumbs up.

It’s been 11 years since the last Masterplan record with original songs.

It’s basically my fault, if you’d call it a fault. You know, we all need to make money, and my studio was getting pretty busy in the last couple of years. Yeah, I was recording and mixing other bands so much, and then when the money comes, you know, you have to make decisions, and that’s why we delayed and delayed and delayed. But now we announced this tour, and the idea now came to finish the album this year. I think also I will not be so busy with studio business, so I’m having more time for Masterplan. So I think the album will come out in about a year from now, not because it wasn’t finished early enough, but AFM Records needs about six months or something, after I deliverer the material in September or October.

It’s not uncommon for bands nowadays releasing four singles before the album is out.

I think we have the same plan. I’m so old-school that I still don’t like it, but now I’m getting slowly used to it. I was always like, “Okay. Make one or two songs, and then people buy the album, and then Yeah!”. But now you buy the album, but you know half of the songs already. It’s kind of weird. I don’t know why it is like this, but it seems like people are forgetting very fast nowadays. You know, when you don’t always give something to feed them, they’re forgetting and thinking about other bands already.

I took a peek at a setlist from the other day, and there are really a lot of songs from your first album in there.

If you’re watching Spotify, and what people are listening the most to, I think seven songs from that album are in this kind of favorite playlist. I’m not a Spotify guy, but Rick is crazy. I’m not listening to it at all, I’m not supporting them. But he tells me, “We should play this song, and this song.”, and I agree, because they are also my favorite songs. It’s not fair that we don’t play so many from the other albums, but at least it’s always one single or something, you know. And if I go to my favorite band, I also want to listen to the favorite songs. And if it’s older stuff, like 20 years old, why not? But we did something very strong and powerful in the beginning, with that old lineup, and I think that’s not so easy to beat.

Actually, that album is fantastic. When it came out, I think a lot of people were kind of surprised about how good it actually was. Well, it’s a milestone, I would say. But still, since you had so much great going on there, and I think the second album is excellent as well, why couldn’t you guys just keep it together, even if it was just for playing music?

The combination of these guys, especially Uli (Kusch), Jørn (Lande) and I, was like the perfect chemistry. But sometimes there were misunderstandings about what is bonus tracks and what should be on the album. I was deciding it, and I always thought that strong metal songs should be on the album. When you’re checking out some bonus tracks we did, like in Japan or in Europe once, it was Jørn’s favorite songs, you know. And I said, “This is weak. Why should we have it on the album?”, and he said, “I like this much better.”, and this kind of typical talk. On the first album he did just six/ seven vocal melodies and lyrics, but on the next album, he was a 100 % included in the songwriting, and then he pushed us not so much into high singing, so he was singer deeper. Still we delivered a great album. But then on tour after this album, he was already, “We should change more. We should make this and that.”, and we said, “Sorry. It doesn’t work. C’mon, we started something so brilliant and now we get in a direction which is totally different.”. Then he left, without a fight or anything, and then Uli left, and then, of course, I was alone. (Laughs) I mean, Time To Be King, I was forcing him to come back for at least an album. I mean, the plan was longer, but like Jørn is, we finished the album, and then it was released, and then he disappeared. We had a tour plan, and he didn’t respond to the mails anymore. That’s how he is. He’s a chaotic person, but a brilliant singer, and a nice guy, to be honest. He’s really nice to hang out with, and drink beer with, and stuff. And a very talented man and everything. But he’s a businessman, which is unbeatable how negative that is, or amateurish. I think he’s standing most in his own way, you know. He could be one of the biggest stars with Masterplan, he could be so big, especially after 20 years. If we would have continued it, aah, we would make a lot of money. Not now. (Laughs) He doesn’t make money; we don’t make money.

Masterplan in a 2017 photo. Left to right: keyboarder Axel Mackenrott, guitarist Roland Grapow, vocalist Rick Altzi, bassist Jari Kainulainen, drummer Kevin Kott.

In what subject do you get most questions: About the first Masterplan record, or your time in Helloween?

Well, about 50/50. But it depends on the interviewer. If it’s mostly Brazilian or Spanish guys, then it’s a lot about Helloween. And questions about why I left, and I mean, after 23 years I still have to explain why I left, and I say, “I never left. I was fired.”. And there’s always the question, “Why?”, and I say, “I don’t know.”. There were just bad feelings. That’s what they wrote to me, “Bad feelings in the band between members.”. I mean, I hate to say it, but when Andi Deris made some lies up three or four years ago… Maybe he has different reasons, because Uli Kusch and I had a little dispute with them because they never paid us for the The Dark Ride album. And they also took advances for new albums and paid for the The Dark Ride backwards, you know, and that means we kept the minus and they made plus. This kind of stuff. And the guy who found out was the ex-manager, who said, “You should pay these two guys something also.”. So it took, like, seven years of fighting together with our lawyer, and then they said, “Okay, we’ll pay you out.”. It was not much, you know. All together it was maybe like a second-hand car, or something. Like € 20,000, or 30,000. But for me, it was a lot of money, you know. Now I get maybe € 1,000 every six months, but that’s a good bonus for me. And since we settled this problem, Andi Deris said, “Roland was stealing money from us.”, and I said, “What?”. He said it somewhere, I don’t know, in Spain maybe. And of course all the Helloween fans are asking, and now on YouTube you see, “I miss Grapow and Kusch so much.”, and, “Yeah, but Grapow stole money from the band. That’s why he was fired.”. You don’t stand a chance, you know. This guy is in the band, can talk, everything, and I can’t say the opposite. So the only thing I did was that I contacted management and said, “Can Andi Deris please shut his mouth? Or I will tell something that I know, and you don’t want that.”, and since then he’s quiet. I know many stories.

You were mentioning The Dark Ride. I think that’s a really good album actually. I know that some people don’t like it, but I think it’s a perfectly fine album.

In the beginning it was a bit 50/50, and now everybody loves the album, to be honest. Much more than it was 20 years ago.

That first single, If I Could Fly, it really didn’t reflect the album, because that was kind of a happy song, and then most of the album was in a darker mood. But that darker mood certainly suited the album, I think.

And it suited the band situation. I always wrote the lyrics mostly about the band. I wrote Mr Ego about some old stories. The Chance was my story. Escalation 666 was about the dark ride, and The Dark Ride itself was also about the dark ride, as a bandmember, you know. So we had a lot of trouble, but I think we made something strong. You don’t need to always be the best of friends, and hanging out all the time, and licking asses, to make good music, you know. Look at Deep Purple. I mean, Ritchie Blackmore always hated them, and they made brilliant albums.

So enough of Helloween now. Let’s go to another project you were participating in about nine years ago, Level 10. Is that project completely dead and buried now?

I was not really involved. I just played guitar, you know. I was asked, “Can you play guitar? Whatever you want.”, and I did. I mean, there were demo guitars. Some guy played before me, and I just replaced it and made my own little versions. I was a little bit disappointed about the mix, because that was not my guitar sound, because normally I have a much heavier guitar. But of course I said yes, because it was well-paid and I’m a big fan of Russell Allen. I don’t know if everybody knows that, but he was meant to be the main singer in Masterplan first. You know, before Jørn. It was Mat Sinner who was the main guy around the whole project. I don’t know if he has planned something again. I would be happy to play again, yeah. But it was a Frontiers work, right? Who knows what their relationship is like now. You know, it’s always difficult with this label. They always ask me, “Can you join us, as a producer and songwriter?”. But they’re always offering me weird singers, which I didn’t like, so no. Give me Russell Allen, or Jørn Lande, then I’ll make it.

You played on a Kreyson single back in 2017. Was that just a one-off thing?

The guy (Ladislav Křížek) is a legend in Czechia, you know. I think Mike Terrana was in it already, as a drummer, and then of course I was meant to be one of the guitar players. I thought it would be fun, but it was very easy sounding, but I could never remember the songs. You know, the old ones, because I had never heard the music. When you have idols, and you’re copying, or play the songs live, it’s easier to learn. So we made five or ten shows, or something. I don’t remember. But that was really bad-paid. I had to drive my car to Czechia, and it was many hours to drive one way, and then back, and then I got € 200 or so. I mean, c’mon, it doesn’t cover anything. Then I left, and shortly after that Mike Terrana also left. But I worked with the singer, and the other band he had, Citron. I was mixing two/ three albums. Yeah, it’s a great band.

And another band, Serious Black, in, like, 2014. What happened there, when you left after just one album?

I was a bit disappointed about the way of working, you know. I mean, it was a totally equal band, everybody had his part, a lot of discussions, but I was more the defense guy, and I just played guitar, in my typical style. They loved it, and I think that people loved it as well. But the problem was they wanted to tour, and I was single at that time, and I had a White Shepherd. You know, a big dog, and I couldn’t leave it at home. I’m living in Slovakia and I had no family there. I said, “Only when I can take my dog with me.”. I thought that would be cool, because my dog was, yeah pretty massive, but calm. Okay, he was not always happy. He was sometimes growling. I thought it would be a challenge, but it was just for four to six weeks, with HammerFall. They promised me that it would be fine, and then one week before we were leaving, the bus company decided no dogs allowed. Then I also got an ear infection. So both together was the reason I said that I can’t tour. And then after the tour, I just realized that there was some money problem with the songwriting stuff. I mean, everything was equal and nice shared, but nothing came, and also it was too much work for me, you know, to build a new band up from nothing.

Have you thought about making another solo record?

I’m thinking about doing something again. Not the neo-classical stuff I did in the ‘90s, but more like rock, cool, bluesy, but still metal, you know. Not too far away, yeah. But with a Stratocaster sound. Whatever, maybe. I have a couple of songs already, which I like, but we will see what happens.

So this solo album will probably be written over many, many years?

No, last year I made a decision. I had three, four or five songs which didn’t fit Masterplan so much. I already know the concept idea. What I like and what I don’t like, you know. It’s maybe not so far from Helloween, but not so much those childish melodies, you know. More cooler stuff, yeah. We will see.

You still make a lot of guest appearances. Take me through the process of that happening. Do people just send an e-mail?

Yeah, e-mail or via Facebook, if I’m interested in playing a solo on their album. Then of course I have my price. I can’t make it for free, you know. Only for good friends I did it a couple of times. It’s a job, and I ask for € 350, so it’s not much, because they can use my name and stuff like that. I’m spending, like, a half day recording, and maybe a few hours editing or something. I make 20 versions usually, and then I’m searching for the best part, and then I’m putting it together. But I’m not doing so many things. Maybe three or four in a year.

By Tobbe – Published April 29th, 2024

Tell me about your new album, Exit Emotions.

Niko: Exit Emotions, well, obviously, is the best album we’ve ever done. It’s our fifth studio album. Between Exit Emotions and the previous album, we played 140-something shows, so I think the live experience really affected the songwriting process. It’s heavier since we did a lot of metal festivals with the bands that used to inspire us when we started writing music. So the soundscape is heavier. This is also our most international sounding album to date, because for the first time we left Finland to create an album. We went to Berlin, then we went to London, then we went to Los Angeles to work with local songwriters and producers. Any music industry people, really, to get the most international sound to this record as possible. And I think we pulled it off. We’re super happy about the new album.

In what way would you say that it still links to your last album, Lifestyles Of The Sick & Dangerous?

Joel: I think this is a little heavier, and it’s more like a concept album, if you compare it with the last one. And we wanted to, like, the heavy moment on this album, because we realized that we don’t wanna be, like, a mainstream boy band in Finland anymore. We wanna be the real deal metal band, and play Wacken Open Air, and play Graspop, all the big metal festivals, and we just realized that we have to go in that direction, and it’s been working out super well. And especially ticket sales in, like, Mainland Europe and the UK are massive right now. So yeah, it’s going in the right direction.

Niko: And of course it sounds like Blind Channel, ‘cause we did it. There’s this, like, sound that we have done, like we’ve been a band for over eleven years now, so there is this particular type of sound that we can’t get rid of, and we don’t wanna get rid of it, because we think it’s awesome. It sounds like Blind Channel; it’s just heavier and a more live perspective kind of album.

Would you say that this is the biggest step you have ever taken, mentally, between two albums?

Niko: There were a lot of things happening on the outside between the third album and the fourth album, Violent Pop and Lifestyles Of The Sick & Dangerous. We got a new management, we got a new member, we went to Eurovision, we got Dark Side that was our first, like, huge hit in Europe. Like, lots of things were happening on the outside. But I think the big step, mentally, happened now. With Lifestyles, we don’t remember a lot of those times, ‘cause everything was just so new, and a lot of things were happening, and everything was just a blur. While with this one we really made these mental steps. We were lost in the mainstream world with Dark Side. People wanted to turn us into this mainstream act, and we had to sit down and think, like, “Is this something we wanna be?”, and then we realized that it’s not. When we started, we were listening to Korn, Linkin Park, Limp Bizkit, Slipknot, and we need to go in that direction. Not that a mainstream path could have led to different places, but that’s not staying real to who we’ve always been.

Did all of you guys listen to that music? It’s kind of rare that everyone in a band listened to the same stuff.

Joel: Actually, there are, like, two camps in the band, because I and Joonas grew up with this, like, modern metalcore, like All That Remains, As I Lay Dying, Bring Me The Horizon, Killswitch Engage, and even In Flames was a big influence for us. In Flames was the biggest band for me when I was a teenager. They mean a lot for me. But Niko was more into the hip hop and pop world.

Niko: Yeah, I came from a different place. I was doing pop music, and I was producing hip hop beats, and stuff like that. But Linkin Park was my favorite band, but I didn’t know how to play guitar or drums. I couldn’t do anything in that world, so I was just lost in the mainstream making pop music and listening to hip hop. But all of us in the band love Linkin Park. That’s what brought us together. Even if some of us liked heavier bands, some of us liked different bands, Linkin Park was the point where we all kind of met and became friends. We wouldn’t even be friends without Linkin Park.

Out March 1st, 2024.

About the lyrics on the album. Are there any specific subjects that are a little bit extra important to you on this record?

Joel: Human struggle.

Niko: We’re not a very political band. We’re not a happy or lucky band. We don’t do a lot of happy songs, ‘cause this music has a sense of therapy for us, like it’s a way to deal with whatever is going on in your head, and we always try to write from our own perspective. If I’m having a very bad day, I usually write it out. I try to write it out, and eventually, at some point, it turns to songs and song lyrics, and something like that. In the songs we say things that we normally wouldn’t say out loud. It’s an easier platform to do those kinds of things, and we do it, not only because we want to, but we have to do it. And to scream those demons out on the stage is very important to, like, get it out of your system. And we’ve gotten a lot of feedback, that people have found our lyrics very helpful, and people who are, like, struggling with mental health issues, or something like that, find our songs very comforting. Not because we offer any answers, but because they realize that they are not alone in that situation. A lot of people are going through the same things. That’s where the album title comes from. We wanted to offer a safe space for people, where they can come and exit emotions.

You guys put out a few videos for this record. Tell me a little bit about this.

Joel: I think the first one was Flatline. We made that in Tallinn, Estonia, with our good friends from Vita Pictura. It had this dance thing. It became pretty iconic on TikTok, and it started to live its own life. Then we did Happy Doomsday on the same trip. But the most interesting one is probably Deadzone.

Niko: Deadzone. We chose it as a lead single for the album, because we wrote it in the US with this amazing guy called Johnny Andrews, who has been writing a lot of, like, number 1 rock radio hits in the US. We sat down with Johnny, and we needed to find a way to do a US rock radio song without losing what makes us Blind Channel. And we really pulled it off. It ended up being Deadzone, and Deadzone was just like the songs that we used to listen to when we first met. We realized that we had to do a music video where we kind of recreate the high school house party where we first met. If people are interested to see how Blind Channel started, how we actually met for the first time, they should check out the Deadzone music video, ‘cause that’s the origin story of Blind Channel.

Joel: Yeah. And we filmed that in Essen, Germany, with the guitarist of Electric Callboy. They do all their videos themselves, so Pascal and his brother, the Schillo brothers, were filming that. We had, like, sixty German fans in the house, and everyone was speaking German, and we were shouting, like, vittu, perkele, and we were like, “We don’t understand each other, but we have a good party.”.

What input do you guys actually have on the videos? Or do you leave all that to the professionals?

Joel: We have a lot of input. Like, the whole script is by us. We have the idea. Like with everything in Blind Channel. If you look at the live setup, even now in Nokia Arena on Saturday in Tampere, Finland, it’s gonna be, like, a massive stage setup.

Niko: You’re gonna see the visuals on big screens. Those are made by our bass player. We’re very self-sufficient as a band. That comes from, not only because we’re very strict in a creative way, we want our things to look, sound and be like how we want it, but also because Linkin Park used to be self-sufficient. Everything starts from the band, like from music video scripts to the screen materials, setlists, show design. We do everything ourselves. There are a lot of people working with us, which is awesome, but they’re just there to help. Everything just starts with us, always. And even on sets, even though there is a photographer, and a director, and all those, we’re still, like, bouncing off ideas all the time.

Most of the songs on the album are about three minutes long. Sometimes shorter and sometimes longer.

Joel: We don’t know why it happens.

Niko: Maybe it’s a Eurovision trauma.

Joel: When we wrote Dark Side it wasn’t meant to be in Eurovision. We thought it was too dark and too harsh. But we realized that that’s what Finland is. Like, all the Finnish music exports are super harsh and dark. So we were like, “Yeah, this is natural. We are like that.”. And it’s a short song, and we were like, “It’s what we are. It’s in our DNA. We can’t escape that. So let’s write more songs like that.”. And it’s been working out super well.

Niko: And we didn’t, like, design it, or decide, or any of that. When we write a song, we let the song kind of happen, and then in the studio, when we feel that the first demo is ready, then we ask Alex, who is usually on the computer, like, “What is the length? How long is the song?”, and he always goes, “Less than three minutes.”, and we are like, “What the fuck. It feels so long.”. It happens accidentally. We don’t have, like, one explanation. We have many options. It might also be because of our love for pop music, ‘cause we believe that pop hits are pop hits for a reason. People wanna listen to them over and over again. And everything is there, in those three minutes. And we love that kind of music, so maybe it’s some subconscious thing that we just don’t realize. Like, all the ideas need to fit in those three minutes, or otherwise we’re doing something wrong. Maybe it’s something like that.

A band photo from the previous album cycle. Left to right: Olli Matela, Aleksi Kaunisvesi, Niko Moilanen, Joel Hokka, Joonas Porko, Tommi Lalli.

I checked out a couple of setlists. Guys, you play all the songs off the new album. Tell me about this decision.

Niko: I think it was obvious, because, like you said, they are not that long, so it’s not a catastrophe when we wanna play all of them. They fit easily to the setlist. We get to play older hits as well. And also because this is Exit Emotions tour. It’s a live-concept album, and all those songs were written with the live show in mind. ‘Cause we know that after this tour, or the second one, only the hit songs are probably gonna stay there, and new songs are coming. So, this is Exit Emotions tour, so I think the fans are expecting that. Our fans love all the songs, so we figured that they would wanna hear all those songs live at least once.

As you said, you’ve been a band for eleven years now, and you’ve had no member changes, Yeah, you were adding a member, but that’s a different thing. So, how come all of you guys are still in the band? That’s kind of rare.

Joel: It’s very rare, yeah. Like, there have been many moments when some of us were thinking like, “We have to quit this shit.”, because it’s been hard. But I guess that it’s just because we started so young. Most of the guys are under thirty. I’m the only one that is thirty right now. So we’re still pretty young. We started as teenagers. So it’s different when you start a band when you’re sixteen than when you’re thirty-six. It’s different, so we were lucky because we started so young, and we knew that we had time, and we had a chance to break through, and we did that, so.

Niko: This kind of regression happens, like, ‘cause we’re adults when we’re home and living normal lives, but when we go to the tour bus, we’re sixteen again. It always happens. Joel and Joonas had bands before Blind Channel, and those bands broke up, so when we sat down, I think we all agreed that if we’re doing this, we’re gonna do it for real. And I’m glad that we kept that promise, that we all had the mindset that this is gonna be hard, “This is gonna take at least ten years to make it to somewhere.”. And we’ve stuck to that promise, and I think actually one of our biggest strengths is that we know each other so well since we were kids. We know each other so well, so we don’t fight about the little things. Little things like, “Who’s Red Bull is this?”, that’s the stuff we fight about. But we agree on the bigger things, and we agree on the important things, like, “Our music is the best music in the world, we’re the best live band in the world, and we’re gonna be the biggest band in the world.”. Those are the things we agree upon, and I think that’s enough.

I come to think of the band Sabaton. I think they’ve been working very hard to get to where they are at now. I think they’ve always been fighting to become the greatest heavy metal band in the world.

Joel: That’s a good example. That’s really inspiring. I know that they started over twenty years ago, and now they’re on the peak. Well, Ghost as well, is a good example, because Tobias Forge is around 43 or 44. So that’s a good example, because, like I said, I’m the oldest. I’m thirty, Niko is twenty-nine, the other guys are 27, 28. So we’re still quite young, and we’ve been around for eleven years, so I can imagine what is gonna be in ten years. Maybe next Nightwish here. Probably, yeah. Who knows? That’s our goal. We wanna be the biggest Finnish music export ever. I know Nightwish is the biggest right now, and that bar is fucking high. Like, if you wanna jump over Nightwish, good luck.

Niko: But just three years ago, there were, like, twenty bands ahead of us. Now there’s only Nightwish and a couple more. Challenge accepted. (Laughs)

One of my favorite bands from Finland is actually from your hometown Oulu as well, or at least from that area. They’re called Sentenced. They’re a generation older than you, obviously, but still, do people in general in that town mention Sentenced anymore? Or are they forgotten?

Joel: They’re mentioned. We fucking love them. And my dad was kind of like a friend of the guitarist, Sami Lopakka, and I remember, when I was a child, I met him a couple of times. I remember they were like the big band from Oulu, and they were touring America and Europe. They were rock stars. So, I remember thinking that it’s possible from this small town in Northern Finland to go and take over the world. If you think about Finland in general, it’s only metal bands, like HIM, Bodom, Nightwish. It’s a lot of metal bands, so we knew that we’re just part of the heritage. We’re just following that one big mass, but we’re the new generation. We’re the biggest of that generation, and we’re proud to be that. The black sheep right now, yeah.

Niko: Yeah, Sentenced, we love them, and Oulu remembers, and if they would happen to forget, we’ll be there to remind them. Sentenced is fucking awesome.

In my opinion they made four records in a row that are fucking amazing. I can’t name one other band who has made four so good records in a row. I can’t. So they’re one of my old-time favorites.

Niko: We listen to them all the time backstage, like when we start warming up for the show.

Joel: The Cold White Light is the best album, yeah.

I think, actually, that Down or Crimson is my number one, but I love Frozen as well, and The Cold White Light. Those are my four.

By Tobbe – Published April 27th, 2024

What do you see when you think about your self-titled record today?

What I see when I think about that record especially is honestly the honest, raw approach to everything I love about playing. When I made that record, I had the intent to make a record that served as, like, the menu for the live show. I wanted something that felt really raw, honest, but also, like, real. If you’ve heard it, you would know that it was made in a way to show the humility behind it. That was really important for me to capture that, because we didn’t even use a computer on that record, and we recorded straight to tape. We just wanted it to feel like a stick of dynamite going off; just electric.

You put out the Man In The Box single in November. Tell me about that one.

What’s funny about that is during the live shows, obviously we play all of my original material, but we’ll throw in a cover once in a while. We were having fun messing around in the studio, and we were jamming out Man In The Box, and I said, “Hey man. Let’s just record this. Let’s see how it feels.”, and we did. And it was fun. We did it in maybe an hour, and everything came out the way we liked it. Some friends of mine said, “Man, this is really good.”, and I went, “Hm.”. You know, it’s not one of those things I was taking too seriously. And all of a sudden, we basically were like, “You know what? We should release this. We should just see what happens.”. And everyone got really excited about it, and sometimes when I see people getting excited about something, I go, “Okay. It must be pretty decent.”. It’s in the vein of the new record. It’s a raw cut. When you hear it, it’s almost like you can hear my speakers crackle. You know, it’s really, really loud and honest.

And just thinking about Alice In Chains. There must have been so many great songs you could pick actually.

Absolutely. Alice In Chains, when I was a kid, it was one of the bands. I was so young, and I remember hearing Alice In Chains. I was born in 1989, so I would hear these things on rock radio, and to me I would hear Led Zeppelin, I’d hear Pink Floyd, Alice In Chains, Soundgarden. So it all just kind of started to become a big melting pot for rock ‘n’ roll. And I think it’s great, because it means something to me to play a song like that.

Do you work on your guitar tone for an absurd amount of time when you try to put stuff down.

To be honest with you, no. So, I don’t use a pick when I play the guitar. I pull out my fingers, and it’s always given me this kind of specific range of sound. And through the years, and through playing hundreds and hundreds of gigs, I just started to be able to kind of zone in on what that is, and what that feeling was. It got to the point, where now, when I pick up the guitar, it’s almost like my speaking voice. I feel it, I hit a few chords, and I go, “Okay.”, and then I almost look at it like a recipe. It’s like, “What am I missing? Oh, I need a little bit of that, and I need a little bit of that.”, and I’m there. It’s almost like me talking to you. It’s like the same voice. That’s how it feels like when I play the guitar.

Most string players throw out their picks in the audience. What do you throw out?

Oh, man. I don’t have anything to throw out. Well, I’ll tell you this though: I always laugh, because someone will come up after the show and they’ll be like, “Oh, man. Can I have one of your guitar picks?”, and I go, “They’re my fingers.”, and they look at me like, “What?”. But my friend did make some picks for me that we started to throw out, and they look like fingers, and it says, “I don’t use these.”. But it’s kind of fun.

And how much time does it take for you to lay the vocals down on songs, in comparison to the guitar parts?

You know, yet again, it doesn’t take as long as I feel like it would, but I would have to say though, that’s come from, like, years of figuring out how to sing. It’s as simple as, like, with the guitar. It’s like, “What is my tone? How do I get there quicker and how do I express myself?”. So, like with that Man In The Box, I think we did maybe two or three passes, so I could warm up, and I could, you know, really get the power, and then we just went for it. I wish I could tell you a more intricate story, but I feel like with music, it’s so personal to who I am that I just kind of let it do its thing. I just let it come out.

Could you record an album in, like, a ‘70s style, like really quick, if you wanted to?

Oh yeah. I mean, even the self-titled record that we put out, that was recorded in two days, straight to tape. So we all were playing together in the same room, ‘70s style, and then I just sang over it. I think there’s something special about that. And I love the excitement, man. It’s so exciting to make music like that, because it really feels like you’re creating something. You know, it’s going through your brain, to your heart, to your hands, to the speaker, to the microphones, to the tape, and it’s like it’s really honest. I think that’s something that’s a really beautiful quality about being a musician.

As writing and recording stuff, are you a morning, afternoon, evening, or night worker? If anyone of those, tell me why you function like that.

Well, what’s funny, when I’m off the road, I feel like I’m kind of like a mid-morning/ afternoon person. I will say though, the best part of my day is the mornings, because I feel like it’s the quietest. No one’s calling me, no one’s, you know, “Hey man. We’re gonna do this, we’re gonna do this.”. That’s like a two/ three-hour window where I don’t have to worry about anything. It’s almost like the silence helps. But I have to say, man, inspiration strikes whenever it strikes. So sometimes I’ll even be like: I’ll pick up a random guitar, and something will come out, and I’ll go, “What was that?”, and I’ll get my voice memo on, and I’ll record it, and then I’ll go back to my hotel, and I’ll go, “I got to get that idea out.”. So I’m kind of all over the place, but I do love the mornings.

The EP, Shadow Dancer from 2021, was fully included in the self-titled record. Was that the original idea, or your intention from the start of the recordings of that EP?

When we made that EP, that was kind of like the litmus test for the record. It was almost like: we had an idea to go in the studio, play everything together, I’ll sing on it, and then, “We’ll see if we like that. If that really excites us, we’ll make the record in that way.”. What we ended up doing is we recorded about four more tracks, and I remember at the end of this whole process, we were sitting there going, “Which ones of these do we wanna put on there?”. What ended up happening was: I loved those Shadow Dancer tracks so much, I said, “Man. I feel like those should just go on the record. It feels like they flow on the record.”. And then, in turn, “We still have six other songs that we can release afterwards.”. So it made sense more for me to put them on the record, to give everyone the whole kind of scope.

It was five years between your last two full-length albums. Will we have to wait until 2028 to get the next one?

No way. It was kind of a crazy time, truly, because when I made the record before the self-titled, Black Magic, I was on the road so much, especially in America. I was doing these support act slots. I was going out with Black Label Society, Blue Öyster Cult, UFO, Saxon, and I was playing shows with Lynard. All these classic rock tours, which I loved. And when we made that record, it was basically in between them. Sort of like, “Okay, let’s go do this. Let’s do this.”. And then, I was really looking forward to put out another record in 2021. But it’s so insane to me how fast time goes. But we’re not gonna wait that long, because I already have another record ready to go, which I’m really excited about.

Cool. But I guess we’ll have to talk about that one the next time. So let’s go back a little bit. What growth and development do you personally see between each of your first three full-length studio albums?

I’ll tell you this: the first record, when I went into the studio, it was the first time I’d ever been in a studio. It was almost like I was, like I don’t know if scared is the right word, but I was definitely nervous. I didn’t understand how to basically play, and do what I’m feeling, and make it come out through the speakers. So it was a lot of, like, “Oh, that’s what I sound like? Okay, cool.”. Then, with the second record, it was, “All right. I remember how I felt. On this record I’m really gonna try and express myself more.”. So I almost tried to open up in a way of, like, “Let me be more emotional. Let me try and play my guitar a little looser.”, and not be so, you know, “Oh, oh. We’re recording.”. You know, get all scared. And when that record came out, I was like, “Okay. We’re getting closer.”. And I remember playing a show, and someone came up to me, and he said, “Jared. I love you. I wish you sounded on your records like you sound live.”. So that was kind of the growth between record two and three. It was like, “You know what? All filters off. Let’s go in there. I’m just gonna play, I’m just gonna sing, I’m gonna be myself, and I’m just gonna let the music do what it needs to do.”. So that personal growth, I would think, is honestly starting from never being in a studio to really express myself and find who I am. Not only in the studio, but as an artist.

Jared James Nichols

Besides having that next album, like you said, ready to go, do you have any clear vision where you want to go with your music in, like, five years as well?

Oh yeah. I have a very simple vision, and I’m really on it now. It’s almost trying tap into getting myself to where I’m completely out of the way, and I’m creating music that just comes through me in a way that it’s not pretentious. I’m not trying to be a throwback. I’m not trying to sound like this person or this person. I’m just trying to be who I am on my own songs. So my vision is to just keep pushing for that. You know, a lot of my biggest influences and heroes, from the first moment you heard what it was, you knew who it was, you know. So that’s really where I wanna go. I wanna put my stamp on the music I love.

Does your guitar playing always go hand in hand with the songs you want to come out with? Or do those two clash sometimes?

They do clash. So I got to work with the producer Eddie Kramer, who obviously worked with Zeppelin, and Hendrix, and Kiss. And I remember, when he heard me play the guitar, he goes, “Jared. For you, it’s all about the riff.”, and I said, “What does that mean?”, and he named all these songs, and he said, “Play me this song. Black Dog by Led Zeppelin.”. So I did, and he said, “That’s a great riff.”, and, “Play me All Along The Watchtower. Play me this, play me that.”, and he said, “You need to have music that has hooks. Not only in the vocal lines, and the choruses, but with your guitar.”. So for a long time I simply just thought that way. I was like, “It’s all about the guitar. What is the guitar saying?”, and then, as I continued to grow, and, you know, write songs, I realized, “Okay. Sometimes I feel like maybe the guitar hook gets in the way of singing a lyric that’s really strong, you know, or coming up with a different part that’s not just about the guitar. So I would say now they come hand in hand, and I’m very conscious though when they’re gonna crash. I try and keep my ego out of songwriting, because I feel like it’s kind of a trap if I go, “This song that I wrote I really like, so let me try and sound like that.”. I almost try and look at everything with an open palette, where it’s like, “Let’s just play, sing, see what comes out.”. And if it comes out of the guitar, great. If it comes out of a vocal line, great. Sometimes I’m driving down the road, and I’ll get a vocal line in my head, and I’ll go on my phone and I’ll sing it, and then I’ll take it home, and I’ll try and put guitar to that. So, sometimes I have to almost reverse the order.

You mentioned vocals and guitars, but as a skilled guitar player, tell me in what way you look at the drums and the bass when you put together a song.

Oh yeah. So important. The drums are the heartbeat, right? So whenever I am writing, I’m subconsciously thinking about, “What’s the groove? What’s the beat?”, because that’s what people really lodge on to. We could name tons of songs where it’s like, “Oh, I love how the drums sound. That groove.”. So that’s a serious part of what I like to do. Sometimes I’ll say, “All right. Here’s my guitar riff.”, and then I’ll kind of like get a drum thing going. And then with the bass: I used to always think of the bass almost as, like, supplementing the guitar, but the bass, it’s very important. When I listen to some of my favorite bands, like Free or Bad Company… Some of these bands, the bass part is almost as intricate, and it’s bouncing off what the guitar does. That’s why I love playing in a trio, because there is so much open space. Everything stands on its own, but when you put it together, it’s like you kind of build the mountain. So always in my brain I’m thinking, “If I’m playing this, what’s the drums doing, what’s the bass doing?”. It’s like I think of the whole picture, yeah.

Most sing-along parts are actually from the guitar. Maybe from the drums, but it’s kind of hard to sing along to a bass line. Unless it’s For Whom The Bell Tolls by Metallica.

There you go. I feel like the bass is the most underappreciated, but when you take the bass out, all of a sudden you go, “Wait. What happened?”, right? So for me, I often have to almost give the bass its own special area.

That’s cool. I like that. Because there’s way too less bass in today’s, like, hard rock and metal. I like when you’re able to hear the bass tone in the mix.

You’re right, man. And I love that. Because I think a bass too can be super heavy with a guitar, and it can really supplement it and make it just sound much stronger.

Most of your songs are less than four minutes long, and quite a few of them are even less than three minutes long. So, tell me what’s the reason to why you don’t write longer songs, like maybe six or seven minutes occasionally.

You know, I think that that’s a great question. One thing I’ve tried to do, especially on the last record, was I tried to make it more encompassing. I feel like a lot of times, with certain songs, maybe from a guitar point of view, it just gets to be too much. There’s a lot of soloing, and there’s a lot of stuff that is awesome, but maybe you save it for the live situation. So what I try to do is I try to be more concise, and think about them as songs in a way that’s like, “Okay. What am I trying to say here? How do I say it the most efficiently?”. But I think, to go against that, I really want to get experimental and I wanna try some stuff that is more in the vein of, I mean, from Metallica to The Allman Brothers, you know. Just really try and push the envelope on stuff.

When you’re performing on stage, do you sometimes feel just a little bit restricted by playing guitar and singing at the same time?

You know, it’s one of those things. When I am on stage, it’s almost as if, like, you have to focus on one or the other. So if I’m singing, I really wanna get the vocal across. So it’s almost like you have to do this kind of like, “All right, I’m singing.”. The guitar takes a little bit of a backseat, and then it’s back on. And with that, I hear a lot of artists that almost, like, maybe they’ll brush over the vocal, but they really want to play the guitar. That’s cool, but I think each part deserves its own showcase. So I almost had to learn, “Okay, if I’m singing, what does the guitar need to do? How do I still stand out, but play something that supports the vocal in the song?”. And at the end of the day, I always tell myself, “Hey. You’re the guitar player in the band. Sometimes you have to play the rhythm with the band.”. A lot of people I think wanna solo, and they wanna push it, but for me, I try and take the role of, “I’m gonna be a bandleader, I’m gonna play what the song needs.”. And then, of course, you’ll have your moments of crazy, but it’s more important for me to play the song.

Would you rather have been born, like, in the 1950s, considering the term guitar hero was probably more used back in the 70s and the 80s?

I would have to say, to be honest, no. I am glad that I was born when I was, because, and this might sound cheesy, but I feel like it’s more important now that someone like me is playing the way I am, and giving that music that I love kind of support now. Because I look around, and I don’t see a lot of other people doing that, and I think that gives me more drive and fire to say, “You know what? I love this music so much.”. I really, really wanna put everything I have behind it to show people that it’s not just old guys, or it’s not just old music. Like, I’m a younger guy, and I’m playing my ass off on that kind of music, and still making it original. I think that that’s really important now. You’re right, if I went back, and I was born in the ‘50s, maybe, you know, I would have been able to get somewhere easier. But I think it’s more important now.

At what age is a guitar player at his absolute best?

You know, I started to play the guitar pretty late. I was fifteen when I started, and I jumped in so fast, and I loved it, and I practiced all day every day. But the reality is you have to find a guitar player when they’re confident enough in their abilities and the knowledge of the guitar to be able to play precisely correct, right? But you wanna get them when it’s still fresh and exciting. So I would say by, like, the ten year/ the fifteen-year mark. That’s when you start to get players that aren’t afraid to, you know, put a little bit more guts behind it. You know, I think when guitar players get a little older they go, “Eh, I can play. You know I can play. I’ll slow down a little. I’ll just not play that part; I’ll just kind of do this.”. And think about, like, Eddie Van Halen when Eruption came out, think about all the classics, Jimmy Page, obviously Hendrix, all these players, there’s something really special about that point where they were almost discovering things themselves. They were creating these tones, and I think they were getting more excited with that. It was like they were exploring, and we were there to listen. I think that’s really cool.

Tell me what led up to the decision to start your own solo band, in your own name, just over a decade ago?

You know, what originally was was I moved to Los Angeles when I was twenty-one, and I was thinking, “Do I join a band? What am I gonna do?”. What I really wanted to do in my heart was I wanted to start a guitar-based blues rock band. That’s what I really wanted. And I started to try and find members to play. The first members I had in my band were Swedish. They were from Gothenburg. And I remember thinking, “Okay. Who am I gonna get to sing?”, and then my friend goes, “Well, you don’t wanna have a singer like an Axl Rose or something, because what if you wanna do one thing and they wanna do another thing?”, or, you know, “You don’t wanna get a singer that leaves, because then you don’t have the singer, and that’s kind of the voice of the music.”. So I started to say to myself, “You know what? I’m gonna try and work on singing.”. And I’m so happy I did. What I ended up discovering was: at that time in those formative years I said, “If I just work really hard on this, and I could try and maybe find my own kind of lane and my own sound, maybe then I could just do this as a trio, and I could do it under my name.”. I was so excited to move away from home, be in Los Angeles, and try and make music. It’s like a kid, like your imagination: I was like, “I’m just gonna do it myself. I’m gonna sing, I’m gonna play, I’m gonna write the songs.”. You know, I remember the first gigs, I was so scared to sing and play. You know, my voice wasn’t matured yet, and I was just, “Oh, my Gosh. I can’t believe I’m really trying to do this.”. But I kept with it, I kept pushing it, and I’m so thankful I did, because now it’s almost like I’m the lucky one that gets to play when I feel, and, you know, I get to express myself through music.

I guess you know how to play the bass, but how are your drumming skills?

Drumming skills are not the best. Here’s a thing too: I’m left-handed. So, I play a right-handed guitar, but for some reason with the drums, you know, everyone plays with their hi-hat over here (Shows left), I’d always wanna bring it over here (Shows right), which is so strange. My drum skills are bad. (Laughs) I need a drummer.

I just have one more question. It’s a kind of weird question, but it’s a little bit funny. Did you have any partners, or lovers, back in the day, or recently, who broke up with you because you were so fond of your guitars?

Oh, my Gosh. You know what? I am lucky. My wife, who was my girlfriend, we met when we were eighteen. So get this: she put up with me all those years. But, I will say that a lot of friendships… Like, I remember people would go, “Hey. You wanna go do this? You wanna go do that? You wanna go party?”, and I’d go, “I’m at home. I’m working on my guitar.”, and then they’d be like, “Ah. Jared only wants to play guitar. We don’t wanna hang out with him anymore.”. And then I had bandmates even, I’d say, “Hey. We got to rehearse. We got to work.”, and they’d be like, “Oh, we don’t need to. We’re good.”, and I’d be like, ”If we’re not gonna rehearse, we’re not gonna get better.”. So a lot of friends and bandmates would be, like, sick of me because of the guitar, which is pretty funny.

By Tobbe – Published April 24th, 2024

Hardcore Superstar svängde förbi Stockholm för ett gig för en dryg vecka sedan och Metal Covenant tog då tillfället i akt att prata lite med gitarristen Vic Zino.

Den onda, och nödvändiga, frågan är såklart, hur går nu Hardcore Superstar vidare här en stund efter att Adde har slutat?

Men det är en bra fråga, och det är en fråga som vi har såklart diskuterat väldigt mycket. Det är en stor del av Hardcore som har lämnat oss och det är väldigt många luckor som måste fyllas igen såklart, eftersom han gjorde så pass mycket. Men vi ser det positivt såklart och vi går vidare med stora förhoppningar på att vi ska göra stora saker framöver. Det finns inget annat sätt att göra det på. Skulle det vara något tvivel på oss så skulle vi nog inte fortsätta överhuvudtaget. Men lågan brinner väldigt starkt fortfarande.

Visst visste ni långt innan det blev officiellt att Adde ändå skulle sluta?

Nej, faktiskt inte. Han var ju borta ett år ungefär, på grund av sina ögon. Det kan vara så att beslutet hos honom hade börjat gro liksom under den tiden, men ingenting vi visste, för att han kom tillbaka med jordens energi och vilja, och vi hade jobbat på låtar under tiden. Han skickade, och vi skickade till varandra och så. Så det kom som en chock, måste jag säga, med tanke på vilken energi han kom tillbaka med. För det var verkligen 190 liksom, ”Usain Bolt, Nu kör vi!”, och sedan så helt plötsligt så tvärbromsar det bara och ”Nej, jag vill inte.”. Det tog mig lite tid att fatta. Han ringde ju mig. Han ringde allihop individuellt såklart. Det är ju ingenting man bara slänger ur sig hur som helst. Jag sa, ”Okej. Men jag tänker inte sitta här och övertyga dig nu. Ta din tid. Jag ringer dig om några dagar så kan vi prata vidare och så.”, för att man kanske tar hastiga beslut ibland och så också. Nu fick han liksom ta sin tid.

Men det är klart att det är tufft att man tappar en arbetskamrat, skulle man kunna säga. Du har ändå varit med i sexton år i bandet och kanske känt honom kortast tid, men bara det är ju en jäkla lång tid.

Det är lång tid. Man hinner ju bygga en relation på sexton år. Det är jättetråkigt. Han var så stor del av det här bandet. Inte bara bandet, men liksom hela resesällskapet och crewet. Vi håller ihop ganska tätt ändå, med tanke på att bandet har funnits så pass länge och så. Det var en chock. Men jag tror att han hade gått och tänkt på det, men det är ingenting jag vet, och det är ingenting jag frågat så där rakt ut, men det skulle förvåna mig om det bara kom så där ”Pang!” liksom.

Från vänster: Gitarristen Vic Zino, basisten Martin Sandvik, sångaren Jocke Berg och tidigare trumslagaren Magnus ”Adde” Andreasson.

Då blickar vi framåt lite nu, eftersom Adde ändå var den huvudsaklige låtskrivaren. Hur tänker ni er nu med låtskrivandet framöver här på en eventuellt kommande platta?

Vi har ju diskuterat jättemycket och tänkt ”Hur ska vi göra för att hitta nya rutiner?”, som funkar för oss, i våra liv med 700,000 barn och familjer och liksom så där. Så det är det. Vi har fått sätta oss ner och diskutera det, ”Hur gör vi? Hur kan vi bäst nyttja vår tid när vi är på turné? Kan vi jobba på turné? Kan vi göra det?”, och det har visat sig funka väldigt bra mellan oss. Varenda gång vi har varit ute har det kommit en halv låt, en hel låt, och sedan så går man hem och jobbar resten av veckan på låten och så ringer vi varandra, ”Fan, kan du göra detta och detta?”. Så vi bara hittar varandra på ett helt annat sätt.

Men det här ger ju er ett större spektrum att jobba i på något sätt. Har ni funderat på det sättet också, nu när ni är tre andra i bandet som kanske måste steppa upp just i själva låtskriveriet?

Det är klart att man växer som låtskrivare, eftersom man blir tvungen att skriva låtar. Det kunde man skriva innan också, men nu blir det på ett helt annat sätt. Vi tvivlar inte på oss. Hade vi tvivlat så hade vi inte gjort det, och det resultatet som vi redan har, de låtidéerna, de embryon som redan har börjat forma sig, är extremt lovande, och jag är jätteglad och sugen på att jobba framåt helt enkelt.

Jocke sa till mig när jag snackade med honom i augusti ’22 att ni hade sju låtar redan då. Kommer ni jobba vidare på de låtarna, som då är lite äldre nu?

De idéerna kom från Adde, för det mesta. Han gör ju grundidén och sedan så börjar vi bolla med varandra. Så att de låtarna kommer inte komma med, vad jag vet. Men vi utgår från att de inte kommer med, så vi jobbar vidare.

Kan jag då utgå från att ni inte har kommit så långt i arbetet på en ny platta dock?

Alltså, det är inte bara att skriva låtar. Det är allt annat runt omkring också. Det är liksom artwork, det är detta och detta, och ”Vad ska vi göra? Hur ska vi göra? Vilken väg ska vi gå? Hur ska det låta?”. Det är så mycket. Det är inte bara att skriva låtar. Men vi har kommit en bra bit på vägen.

Men ni turnerar fortfarande på Abrakadabra, om man säger så? (Sagt med glimten i ögat.)

(Skratt) Ja, precis. Så får vi säga.

Trummisen då, och även producent på Abrakadabra, Johan Reivén. Är hans medverkan verkligen bara tillfällig?

Just nu är det tillfälligt. Han hoppar in och fullföljer alla de datumen som vi har. Ärligt talat, jag ska vara ärlig, vi har inte ens funderat eller diskuterat trummisfrågan, för vi har så pass mycket annat som måste bli stadigt innan vi kan göra det. För det är ändå en stor grej att ta in en helt ny person, för det är ändå en gemenskap som vi har byggt upp under så många år. Ska det komma någon ny, med annorlunda energi, inget fel på det, men det kan ju krocka med oss och så. Så det måste få ta sin tid. Vi skyndar ingenting. Det viktigaste är att vi får rutiner, skriver låtar och håller lågan.

I samma intervju med Jocke så pratade han väldigt gott om Johan Reivén, för han var en typ som kunde hålla reda på er fyra starka viljor. Hur gör han nu då? Håller han reda på er, trots att han nu är som en grabb i bandet istället?

Nej, men det är en helt annan arbetssituation. Det är inte kreativt på samma sätt som att sitta i studio, skriva låtar, diskutera sound, utan nu är det ”Vi ska leverera Hardcore på scenen, till 100 %. Vi är detta. Vi gör detta.”.

Det där med starka viljor. Är ni verkligen, verkligen ett sådant där band som verkligen har starka viljor? Eller är det någonting man kanske gärna bara vill framhäva.

Det är klart vi har starka viljor, men man är inte dum i huvudet, utan man får respektera vad folk tycker och tänker. Om man tycker att ”Jag tycker verkligen inte att den här låten ska vara med, på grund av det och det och det.”… Man får gärna komma med en anledning till varför man tycker liksom så, och inte bara slänga ur sig ”Jag tycker det är skit.”, för ”Nämen, okej, det ger mig inte så mycket alternativ. Säg varför det är skit. Vad ska vi göra nu då?”. Visst, viljan är där, men vi är alla vuxna människor som kan resonera och diskutera.

Vic Zino, runt släppet för Abrakadabra, då prydd med skägg.

Hur ser du själv på din egen roll i bandet nu då?

Nämen, jag ser det ljust. Det är kreativt, roligt och givande, och utvecklande framför allt. Extremt utvecklande.

Om du tänker tillbaka. Som jag sa, du har ju varit med i sexton år. Hur lång tid tog det innan du inte var den nya killen i bandet längre, om vi nu bara pratar inom själva bandet?

Jag har aldrig sett mig själv som en ny kille. Jag har aldrig känt att jag ska fylla någons plats. Eftersom Thomas (Silver) var en sådan stark karaktär ju bryr jag mig inte det minsta hur han var. Jag var antingen naiv eller vad det var. Men jag var 26 år gammal, full av energi och liv. Så jag har aldrig tänkt. Jag har bara kört, och det har blivit helt okej liksom. (Skratt)

Och då tänker jag egentligen ställa samma fråga, men från fansens sida. Kände du någon gång att du var den nya killen där då?

Jo, men det har jag gjort. Jag har inga problem med att folk kommer fram och säger ”Jag föredrar Thomas tid i bandet.”. Jag har inga problem med det. Om de kommer och vill diskutera saker, så länge det är, liksom, kreativt och så där, ”Jag tycker Thomas på grund av det och det och det.”, och ”Jaja, jag förstår det.”. Han är mer rock ’n’ roll, jag är lite mer åt hårdare hållet. Då fattar jag ju det. Vi är ju olika individer.

Vad föredrar du idag för musik då? Är det rock ’n’ roll, eller är det lite mer hårdrock?

Äh, det är jätteblandat. Det beror på känsla. Det är så mycket. Allt från Kreators Satan Is Real till Robyn. Du vet, det spelar ingen roll, så längre känslan är där.

Hur önskar du nu att Hardcore Superstar utvecklas? Kan du ha en tanke inom hjärtat, lite hårdare eller lite softare?

Både och. Vi ska vara Hardcore.

En sak tänker jag alltid på när Hardcore Superstar slänger ut en ny skiva. Man har inte en susning om vilken typ av Hardcore-skiva man kommer få.

Jag förstår vad du menar. Det har varit den kreativa friheten, som både gynnat oss och kanske stjälpt ibland.

Hur ser du själv på ditt liv innan Hardcore Superstar och efter att du började i Hardcore Superstar? Trots att du var med i Crazy Lixx innan så var det ju en helt annan nivå.

Det är jättestor skillnad, just att jag fick göra det jag ville, på heltid, och faktiskt kunna leva på det liksom. Det är den stora skillnaden. Jag gick från en replokal till Japan liksom. Det var verkligen natt och dag. Första giget var i Australien. Det var verkligen en jävla omställning. Hade jag varit äldre så hade jag varit lite rädd, men jag var alldeles full av energi. Vi repade två dagar, sedan var det ut på turné liksom. Fan, det är inte klokt. Hur fan vågade jag göra det? Jag önskar att jag hade kvar den naiva sidan, som var bra. Idag tänker man lite för mycket kanske.

Vic Zino, gitarrist i Hardcore Superstar sedan 2008.

Vad gör du i övrigt då? Man kan ju inte spela musik sexton timmar och sova åtta, om man säger så. Något annat måste man ju göra.

Jag pluggar musik också. (Skratt) Nej, men det är familj, och plugg då. Jag älskar att lära ut gitarr, så jag ska bli musiklärare och hela det köret, för att det är kul.

Så även fast ni inte är superstjärnor så känner du ändå att du lever ett priviligierat liv?

Ja, det tycker jag verkligen. Absolut. Att få komma till spelställen, och man blir serverad mat, och man får spela, och folk tycker om det man gör, det är bra.

Då tänker jag bara fråga ett par avslutande frågor. Står det Vic Zino i ditt pass eller körkort?

Ja. Det står det. Det kan jag lova dig. (Skratt)

När jag läste om ert gig här på Debaser, då kallar de er ”Adrenalinladdad street metal”. Skulle du någonsin kunna hålla med om att ni är det?

Adrenalinladdat, absolut. Vi har Jocke som står där framme, och han är en kanin liksom. Men street metal kom väl innan min tid. Det där uttrycket. Och jag fattar. Det är liksom influenser från sleaze och influenser från thrash metal. Liksom, allting kommer från gatan, kan man säga. Jag tror att det är där uttrycket kommer ifrån.

Av Tobbe – Publicerad 20:e april 2024

Metal Covenant spoke to legendary guitarist Wolf Hoffmann about the new album Humanoid.

Street date: April 26th, 2024

If I would say that it’s really easy as a fan to recognize this as an Accept album, what would you say?

I think that’s good, because that’s what we’re going for. I mean, I always think it’s great if fans are gonna recognize it within the first few bars, and, “Oh, that must be Accept.”. That’s great. It’s the guitar riffs, and the vocals, and all that, I guess, that make that happen. And it’s supposed to be like that, because when we write songs we always wanted to sound familiar, and old-school, and we wanted to sound like it could have been written years and years ago, only as a brand-new song, with a brand-new sound, and a brand-new theme. It’s brand-new, but at the same time sounds very familiar.

When you start working on an album, is your idea always crystal clear when you get down to business?

No. I mean, the idea for the album, certainly not. When we start working on songs, nobody has any idea of what kind of songs will turn up in the end. We just basically all start collecting ideas individually, and then we bring all that to the table, and play it to Andy Sneap, and he will sort of suggest which songs are the most worthy for us spending our time on. And then we’ll start working away. He calls it chipping away, which is kind of what we do. You know, we’ll make it a little better, we do a proper guitar recording, then we put on proper drums, and then we change stuff, and then we need another part here, so it’s a lot of tedious step-by-step work that makes these songs complete. It’s kind of rare that a song that is written during the songwriting phase is all the way ready from start to finish. It happens, but it doesn’t happen often.

To what extent do you work on your guitar playing when you put those little hooks and licks into the melodies. I mean, how much do you work on them to get them in a perfect spot?

It’s kind of obvious a lot of times where the song needs it. Once you know where the vocals are going, it kind of dictates it from there. And quite often I have melodic ideas, I have to say, that are just little melodies, and at that point when I put them down on tape, I don’t really know if they will be vocals or if they will be guitars. We have a lot of choruses, and little hooky melodies in the background that are part of the songwriting, and basically we have to try that out, “Does it sound better on guitar, or should that be a part that somebody sings?”, and then we try it, and we go like, “No, maybe not.”, or maybe, “Yes.”. So it all depends. But often these melodies are just there from the beginning.

Wolf Hoffmann with one of his Flying Vs.

I’m not gonna talk about former members, but I know that Peter (Baltes) used to be your, like, go-to guy when you were writing songs. Which guy do you have in the band that has taken that position nowadays?

Luckily, some of the guys contributed some stuff. Uwe wrote some songs on this album. One of which survived in the form of the song Frankenstein. And then Martin Motnik wrote a bunch of lyrical ideas, which is equally helpful, because actually you need that as much as you need input to the vocals. Anything is welcome, and I wish that the guys in the band would contribute a lot more. But not everybody is a songwriter. It’s just like that. Some guys are just more performers, and they are happy to be that. It is what it is, you know. You work with the guys that you have. Peter was very talented, and I miss him like a brother, but he’s gone, and I do the best I can without him, and I think it’s working out okay.

There are thousands and thousands of great guitarists, but what is hard is to write great songs. That’s the hard part, as I see it.

Yeah, I agree, and that’s why I see myself not as the best, or most virtuous player in the world, because I know I’m not. There’s other guys who can do amazing stuff on guitar that I can’t do, but I’ve realized over the years that that’s okay. I don’t need to do everything. There’s room and a place for everybody, and I see myself as much as a writer and a creator of music as I see myself as an amazing guitar player or performer. I don’t even think I’m particularly good on guitar, to be honest. I know I can do certain things quite well, but I don’t think I’m anything amazing, special, whatever, you know. But I don’t care. I mean, I don’t wanna sound arrogant, but I don’t think I have to prove myself anything anymore, because we’ve done a lot of albums, and we like what we do, and people seem to enjoy it, and that’s enough for me.

You just said that Uwe wrote some stuff, but you usually play all the guitars on the album, so.

I did on this one too, yeah. It’s just because it makes the most sense, and here’s why: A lot of times people think we all go to the studio together, and that it’s great camaraderie, and it’s like a summer camp, and everybody is always in the room, and we all play everything together all the time. And we used to that in the ‘80s, but man, that’s not easy. That is really tedious, because the workload is not distributed evenly, so if we were in the studio together there’s weeks when somebody hasn’t anything to do and he just sit around, and it’s not fun. It’s much more efficient to have just the guys in the studio that have the most work, and a lot of that is guitars, and the other thing is vocals. That’s really what takes the longest on an album. And the way that we record guitars: Rhythm guitars are basically, like, the foundation of each song. A lot of times we put those guitars down first on those demos, and that kind of dictates how everything else falls, like how the drums play, how the bass plays of course, and all that kind of stuff. But the guitars have to just be right and correct, and that’s the foundation. Since I write most of the stuff, I put them usually down for all of us. I mean, on solos it’s different. I like to invite the other guys as much as possible to play solos, which makes sense, because with the solo you hear somebody’s individuality much more than in a rhythm guitar. You wouldn’t hear the difference between me and Uwe playing everything. It just needs to be correct and tight.

How do you try your best to enhance the songs live as you used to be two guitarists before?

Well, you’d be surprised, every song, ever since the Stone Age, had more than two guitar tracks. You know, overdubs, solos, different parts, and in the past, we could only pick two tracks that we represent live. But now that we have three, we can do things like twin solos and a rhythm guitar, we can do overdub parts that we normally couldn’t do, and we pick out fun parts that are fun to play and that make the most sense. So we actually went through the old catalogue, the old songs that we play, and we listened to the albums a bit, and decided, “Oh, there’s a part we can play now, now that we have three guitar players.”.

I love twin solos and I did when I was, like, ten years old as well.

You know who inspired me initially when I was a kid? Wishbone Ash. That was the first band that, that I realized, had twin guitar players. And I believe that both had Flying Vs, or at least one of them did. I can’t remember if they both did it. But in any case, Wishbone Ash. I forget about that, often. Yeah, they were definitely out there, and we wanted some of that. Those twin leads we found quite inspiring.

I think my two first experiences with twin solos were Kiss’ Detroit Rock City, and your song Fast As A Shark. But back to the new record. If Andy Sneap wasn’t helping you guys out on coming Accept albums anymore, would you just throw in the towel then, now that he has been on six records in a row?

I mean, this is the most consistent collaboration with anybody that I can think of, ever. Even in the ‘80s. I mean, we switched from here to there and there, and every album was slightly different. But man, with Andy we’re totally on target. We’re happy with him. I think he enjoys working with us. We always had a good laugh together, and it’s a fun way of working, so I don’t see any reason to ever even think about any other producer. And what we would do if the day was to come where he wasn’t available. I don’t know, man. It would be hard. It was close this time, because he initially said, “Well, I’m gonna be on tour with Priest. I don’t know if we have the time. We might have to use somebody else.”. But in the end, it all worked out, which is great.

Left to right: Christopher Williams (drums), Martin Motnik (bass), Mark Tornillo (vocals), Wolf Hoffmann (guitar), Uwe Lulis (guitar). The band’s third guitarist, Philip Shouse, is not present on this photo.

Is it easier for you to write songs nowadays than what it was back in the day?

No, it doesn’t get easier with time. It was never easy, no. It can be sometimes quite frustrating actually. There’s times when you have no ideas, and everybody knows the dreaded writer’s block, when you just sit there, and you don’t have the right ideas. It frustrating as fuck. And you think, “I will never have a good idea. It’s over.”. You know, you can get into, like, a deep mindfuck about it, when you think, “Everything I’ve done so far is a bunch of shit. I have no good ideas.”, and, you know, sometimes I’m pretty hard on myself that way. And there came a time actually on this album where I felt… I mean, I had recorded, I don’t know, maybe 20, 30, 50 songs. Or half songs, or riffs, and stuff like that. I had no idea, man, “Is there anything here that’s worth recording?”, and I asked Andy for help. I basically said, “Hey, man. Can you do me a favor and listen to all the stuff I have piled up here?”, and he said, “Well, let’s just get together in a room, and we’ll start working on stuff, and we’ll see what happens.”. So I flew out to this place in England, brought my hard drive, and we listened to all the ideas I had, and we started to pick stuff apart, and put it back together, and after a week or so we had six or seven songs.

Does he pick up a guitar as well, and you’re sitting there looking at each other, and trying things out together?

Sometimes, if he wants to explain something, like, “Hey. Can we play it like this?”. He does it very rarely, actually. But he does it on occasion, where he just, “Let me try something.”, and pick up my guitar and does it, you know.

How do you guys help out Mark with the vocal melodies? Can you, or Andy, actually sing?

We try our best. We do it a lot actually. I sometimes sing a bunch of demo vocals, the way I hear that the song needs, but basically only to give a pattern of how I think it should be. ‘Cause I think that makes a big difference. You know, if you have a playback, and you don’t have any reference, whatsoever, no idea, you could sing a million different vocals on top, and it could change the song dramatically, one way or another. So as a songwriter, obviously, you have something in mind. Because to me, it’s all about the vocals really. I mean, the riffs are fine, and all that stuff, but people are paying most attention to what the singer sings, and there, a little change can make a huge difference. So I see it as part of my role to suggest the starting point for the vocals, and say, “This is what I hear in the chorus. This is what I think needs to be sung there. See if you like it. Try it out. If you come up with something, the best idea wins.”. To me, vocals are, like, 80 percent of everything. I mean, some people look at the vocals as the annoying breaks between solos. But I don’t see it that way, at all. The vocals is the most important part. The performance is important, but also the melody, and how you phrase it, ‘cause that’s what people hook on to. And of course, another big part in our songs is a lot of times just little guitar melodies that I have. I mean, ‘cause there’s a lot of sing-along parts in Accept songs that audiences really like, whether it’s Für Elise in Metal Heart, or it’s, like, the middle section in Balls To The Wall, or there is Princess Of The Dawn with all these melodies. They are basically all guitar solo melodies. So the guitar play has an important role too, with the melodies and such, yeah.

Are there any other lyrics, other than in the title track, that are in some way connected to the album title, Humanoid?

Just by coincidence. I mean, we have that song, Frankenstein, that I mentioned earlier. And obviously, Frankenstein and Humanoid, there’s a bit of an overlap. But that’s a coincidence, ‘cause those songs were written individually without knowing whether the other song would even make it on the album, and at no point did we sit and make a decision to make, like, a concept album, or anything, no. These are just individual songs that made it onto the album.

You guys have never been so much into making a concept album, right?

No, I don’t think it’s the right thing for us, man. I think that’s not our style. I don’t think we ever will, no. I don’t know, but it just never felt right for us. We just want individual songs, and it has just never interested me to do a concept album.

And now of course, looking at Humanoid, and all the AI that everyone is talking about all over the world…

Yeah, that’s why we chose it as a title track, because that seems to be the topic that’s on everybody’s mind right now, and actually, when we made that decision, almost a year ago, it wasn’t even as relevant as it became later on. But it felt Humanoid was the one song on the album that is best suited for title track, for an album cover, and all these things. Because we have other songs that are really fun and great, but, like, how do you do a cover for Southside Of Hell for instance? You know, that’s not a visual title, is it? You know, it doesn’t really roll off your tongue as nice as Humanoid. Humanoid is just one word, and that sounds like an album to me.

About ten years ago I asked this question, and now with AI around, I’m asking you the same question again. Do you think that there will be a time when people stop playing guitar and program everything through a computer instead?

Hm. No, I think people will always play guitar, because it’s a lot of fun. Yeah, I mean, if you were just a producer and you just needed a guitar track, and you don’t care about the playing part, then yeah, I guess you could probably do it that way. But that’s not why most people play guitar. We play guitar because it’s fun, and we enjoy doing it, and sort of because of the feeling that you get through the instrument. That’s why we do it. That’s why I started playing guitar all these years ago. Because I was sort of fascinated with the sound. (Starts to contemplate profoundly.) Yeah, sometimes I can’t even remember why I started playing. I just remember I was fascinated by it. Yeah, why do I play guitar? I don’t even know, man. It’s a good question. (Laughs) Well, I guess it’s an expression tool nowadays, because for songwriting, for being on stage, that’s why we do it. But all these years ago, a friend of mine had an acoustic guitar, and I was fascinated, and I just wanted one really bad. But if you’d ask me now, “Why?”, I don’t really have a good answer. Interesting. Hm.

Do you think that AI will soon be able to copy, like, your guitar style, so you wouldn’t know the difference if AI was writing the guitar parts?

It’s probably possible already. I mean, they’re making music with AI already, and they’re making visual art with AI, and they’re making lyrical content with AI that’s shockingly good. And that is something that I find a bit concerning, ‘cause I always thought, like, only humans can do art, and expression motions, and stuff. And then of course there’s also the debate now, you know, when an AI creates a new song, or a new picture, or anything, it’s based on somebody else’s previous work. It’s not original, ever. And maybe that’s the saving grace, that only humans can create really original art. But who knows what technology will do in five or ten years, or a hundred years. I mean, as so often, technology is much faster than we all anticipate, and then we can’t even keep up how to deal with it, and what kind of rules, laws and regulations that should be in place in regards to copyright and all that kind of stuff. And we’re basically in the middle of it all. In front of our very eyes, this shit is developing in a pace that’s scary. And I don’t have the answer. Not at all. No idea, man.

I think the scary part about our development is if we look at what we have done in the last couple of hundred years, and then we look at how fast everything goes today, then what will happen, not in the next ten years, but in the next, like, thousand years? I don’t think we even can imagine what is gonna happen. It’s gonna be so far off.

I mean, it’s an exponential thing, isn’t it? It goes steeper and steeper and steeper, at a speed that nobody could have anticipated. But one thing is for certain, we can’t stop it. Nobody can. I mean, there’s these people, like Mark Tornillo. He calls himself the Analog Man, and he wishes it all would go away, but guess what, Analog Man, it’s not gonna happen. I mean, you can bitch all day long, but you can’t stop it. You can’t stop progress. And, you know, at the same time, I find that quite good to think about. You know, anytime anything technology-wise was introduced, there was always a certain amount of people who said, “It’s gonna destroy everything.”, like when the cars were introduced, people were thinking, “It’s bad for people to travel at that speed.”. You know, that kind of stuff, like the planes, or telephones, or whatever was invented, there was always people who were afraid of it, like, “It’s scary. It’s too much.”. So maybe it’s the same thing with this kind of stuff. We just haven’t learned how to deal with it yet. And maybe twenty years from now we look back and think, “You remember when we were scared about AI? Hahahaha.”. Maybe it will seem like laughable then.

Do you remember all the hoaxes, or whatever I’m gonna call it, before the millennium change?

Yeah, I remember that. I remember sitting there thinking like, “The world is gonna end.”, and then nothing happened. That’s a good example actually. I remember that. The big bug; the Y2K.

It’s just insane how time flies. You know, Accept has been around for about fifteen years now with Mark. And looking back, your first album was in ’79, and fifteen years from that was 1994, and then we’re up on Death Row, and that seemed like a long time when I was younger. And now, fourteen years since Blood Of The Nation have past just like that (I snap my fingers).

This is why I wrote that song, Ravages Of Time. I was sitting there thinking, “My God! I joined Accept when I was sixteen years old.”. I’m 64 now, and I still feel like I’m sixteen, I still behave like I’m sixteen, I’m still as dump in a lot of ways, I still have the same amount of fun, but clearly, I’m not sixteen anymore. You know, I was just thinking, like, “I wonder how much longer this will go on, and can go on?”, because, like it says, “Nothing lasts forever.”.

But the Flying V is still there. How often do you use other guitars than a Flying V when people don’t see you?

Never anymore. Even on this record I think I tried a Strat, once or twice, as an overdub because I wanted a slightly different sound. But even that was hardly worth it. I’ve really gone away from using all these different guitars, ‘cause that V is pretty much all I need. I’m so happy to have this custom model by Framus, that they make for me. It’s really all I use. It’s wonderful.

And ever since the Breaker and the Restless And Wild albums, it’s been like a trademark for Accept as well.

Right. But back in those days I actually did use a Strat. I never used that Flying V, that everybody knows. I never used that in the studio, ‘cause it didn’t get the right sound for me, in the studio. It looked great on stage, and I loved it for playing live. And even Balls To The Wall and all these things that people thought were played with a Flying V… That’s a Strat that you hear. It just has a different feel, and more attack, so it does sound different.

You guys release albums quite frequently, I would say. You didn’t remember why you started playing guitar, but can you see where your creativity comes from to make all these songs, and even songs that don’t end up on the albums?

That’s a miracle to me, because, I mean, I know I have to make myself work. Like, there’s a time when I know it’s time for a new album. Because that’s kind of the natural cycle of things in the metal and rock world. You know, you make an album, you do a bunch of tours, and then it’s time for a new album a few years later. New material, because that keeps it fresh, that keeps it exciting. So, I know it’s time, but then the songs don’t just fly out of thin air to my thing. I just basically have to tell myself, “Get your ass in the studio!”. It’s almost like going to the gym actually. You know, when you’re fat and lazy, you sit on the couch, but then there comes a day when you say, “Okay, now I’m gonna do it.”, and then you go to the gym. You feel like shit the first time, you feel like shit the first week, but after a while you get into the swing of things, and you start feeling better. And it’s very similar with the songwriting. At first nothing comes, but then you have to remind yourself, “Just stay with it, and work on it for a few weeks.”. And then, shit starts to happen. You get into the sort of creative zone, and ideas start to pop in out of thin air. And where do they come from? I have no idea. Sometimes I just sit there, and, “Boom! There’s an idea.”, and you wonder, “Why did I just have that idea? Where did it come, from?”.

Do you get ideas too, that just don’t work for Accept?

Oh, many. Tons of them. Yeah, stuff that’s too slow, too poppy, too nice, too evil, sounds too much like somebody else. Yeah, I have them all the time. And that’s why I play all that junk to Andy, and say, “Hey, man. Which are the songs we should focus on?”. ‘Cause sometimes I’m just lost.

A happy 64-year old guitarist.

To what extent, if you have, have you been writing stuff for artists outside of Accept? Stuff that people don’t know about.

No, I have not. Have I? Very, very little? No. Oddly enough, now that you say that, I worked with a band in Germany once. I had even forgotten about it, but all of a sudden, I get this call, and I was asked for the BRIT Awards on TV. All of a sudden, I had this song that had won the BRIT Awards, and I’d completely forgotten about it. Apparently, I played a small part, and recording it, or something, all these years ago. So I must have done stuff that I even forgotten about. But anyhow, that song ended up being played on those BRIT Awards shows, and I was like, “Really?”. I don’t remember the song, I don’t remember doing it, but it was registered in my name, in part, so I must have participated in it. (Laughs) In any case, no, I never really do that, to answer your question.

It’s not totally uncommon that metal guitarists and songwriters write stuff for other artists outside of heavy metal, because it’s their profession besides playing guitar.

I mean, if I’m looking for a personal outlet, that’s when I focus on my classical, instrumental stuff that I do. I’d love to do that more, because that to me is almost like taking a vacation musically from Accept. That’s a bit of a challenging, fun side project that I really enjoy. It’s so different from Accept that there’s no crossover, you know. ‘Cause I wouldn’t wanna write songs for other people that sound like Accept, if you know what I mean? ‘Cause I’m very mindful of Accept, and that’s almost like holy ground, and I don’t wanna mess with that.

Accept certainly has its own style, but from the first record up until Metal Heart, I would say. Like, six records. You developed kind of to something new with each and every record. Then maybe Russian Roulette was kind of the same thing. But then you started developing again with Eat The Heat, and Objection Overruled, and Death Row, and into Predator. In those days there were big changes, but nowadays, I wouldn’t say that they sound the same, that would be rude, but now it’s been six records in a row that really sound like Accept, and nothing but Accept.

That’s on purpose. That is by default. I’ll tell you why. When we got back together in 2009, and Peter and I started writing songs, they were pretty much all over the place initially. There were demos with, like, weird stuff, and stuff that we thought, like, “Well, a bit of that sounds like Accept, but this other stuff don’t.”. And we played all that stuff to Andy, and he said, “Man, I’d love to make a record with you, but I want it to sound like Accept.”. He made us actually listen to our own old albums, and he said, “That’s a killer moment there. That is cool. This is cool.”. And then, “Okay, that’s what you like.”. And from that moment on, we kind of realized, “Okay. We can write that sort of stuff more.”, and the result is Blood Of The Nations. And since that worked so well, and people really loved it, we thought, “Okay, we got our marching orders. Let’s do more along those lines, and stay on course.”. We found an audience. I mean, the audience was still there, but we found new people. We found our sound with Andy, and we found our singer with Mark, and, “Those are the tools. Let’s just march on straight from there.”. We don’t have to find a new style. We know who we are, we know what Accept should sound like, and there’s no reason for us to, like, really deviate from that. That’s why they are so consistent. And I consider myself a bit of the gatekeeper on that. I mean, I make myself write on target as much as possible. And I remember having quite a few discussions about it, even with Peter sometimes, when he came up with songs that in my, or Andy’s way of thinking didn’t really fit Accept. We said, “No. It doesn’t really sound like us. Let’s focus on something else.”.

Like, “Make a solo album.”, like you do.

Yeah, exactly. That’s okay. I think it’s totally legit to do that. I mean, we’re not making the music because we in the spur-of-the-moment go, “Oh, we wanna make something completely different.”. I think we make it for the audience. The same with live shows. I mean, if you think about the setlist, I don’t pick songs just because I feel like, “Oh, I wanna play this obscure stuff tonight.”, but I think about the audience, and say, “Okay. What would they like the most?”. We’re not just playing for us; we’re playing for them. It’s a two-way thing.

Everyone pretty much knows that Wolf Hoffmann has two big interests, music and photography, but is there a third interest in your life, that people aren’t aware of?

Um, I’m a handyman. I mean, I like to build stuff, and I always have. I like to do carpentry, I like to work on houses, I have remodeled bathrooms, I have remodeled whole houses. I mean, there’s not a lot of things that I can’t fix. I mean, I don’t do cars, and mechanical things. Like Uwe, for instance, he’s a car mechanic. He can look at a car and say, “Oh, it needs this and that.”. He knows all of that. I have no idea about cars. But when it comes to houses, and stuff, electricity, and water lines, and shit, I can do the job. I like doing that. And I’ll tell you something else, that hardly anybody knows: In the ‘80s we used to have this huge backline, with Marshall cabinets all over the place. Like, we built those things ourselves. ‘Cause it was so expensive to have, like, a massive wall, and we thought, “You know, let’s just make them ourselves. They’re easy to make.”, and then we did. They sounded great, they looked great, and yeah, we made them all ourselves. (Laughs)

By Tobbe – Published April 17th, 2024

Candlemass är ute på en kort sväng i sitt hemland för att fira plattan Tales Of Creation och innan spelningen på Klubben i Stockholm så passade Metal Covenant på att snacka med gitarristen Mappe Björkman.

När jag gjorde en intervju med dig 2017 så sa du att de ville köra hela Tales Of Creation någon gång.

Ja, det sa jag nog. Men vi kör ju inte hela skivan som vi har gjort med de andra. Det är en svinbra platta. Det är inget snack om saken. Jag gillar den, och många gillar den, och därav den anledningen så tyckte jag att det skulle vara jävligt kul att få köra hela. Men den blir för seg. Alltså, när vi började spela vissa låtar nu så kände vi så här ”Fan, det här kommer jag ihåg.”. Alltså, som hela A Tale Of Creation-låten. Fan, vi fick ju ta bort den när vi spelade den 1989, för folk bara somnade till slut. Men då var det lite speciellt, för vi spelade mycket med thrash-band som Exodus och Nuclear Assault, men i det här fallet funkar det. Jag menar, Dark Reflections är ju en låt som vi tar in ibland och Under The Oak kör vi typ alltid, och de är ju från Tales. Sedan har vi gjort ett medley från Tales som blev jävligt tungt och bra, och sedan kör vi en handfull låtar till. Det är väl det vi gör, så vi kör inte hela plattan. Men det kommer folk inte bli ledsna över. Det här blir ett bättre flyt i setet. Och då hade vi fått plocka bort så jävla mycket annat. Klassiker och så. Men det kommer bli bra. Nu har vi haft lite jobbigt i Candlemass-staben på grund av en medlems barn. Vi fick ju ställa in i Göteborg och Malmö förra helgen, och det var så nära att ställa in ikväll. Så vi har inte hunnit repa ordentligt egentligen, men vi körde på soundchecket nu och så där, och då kände vi att ”Fan, vi fixar det här.”. Vi är bara glada att vi kan genomföra det här. Det blev klart häromdagen, när vi fick besked från honom då, att ”Jag ska göra det här.”. Men han är på sjukhuset nu efter soundchecket. Men det har gått framåt. Det var jävligt illa i helgen. Hans grabb är 30 bast. Men det är barn vi pratar om. Med föräldrar och så är det ju annorlunda. Min morsa gick bort när hon var 90, men det var ju livets gång liksom. Men han lever. Det är inget sådant.

Hur många gig tänkte ni köra det här setet på? Jag har bara hört om tre.

Det är egentligen bara dem nu. För nu drar vi om någon vecka till USA. Det är tre gig där och ett par av dem ligger kvar sedan Corona och då hade vi utlovat att vi skulle köra Nightfall, så där måste vi köra hela Nightfall. Och sedan när vi kör i höst, eller vad det nu blir, så kommer det bli några av det här setet till. Men det är inte som att vi kommer åka runt och bara köra det här. Och det är, som sagt, inte hela Tales. Vi har verkligen inte skrivit det, med flit, alltså ”Hela albumet.” eller ”Början till slutet.”, utan vi har skrivit ”Tales Of Creation anniversary.”, och det är det.

Turnéaffisch för de tre datumen i Sverige.

Candlemass måste fan vara självsäkra på sin kvalitet, på grund av att man har vågat köra tre hela skivor förut och nu jubilerar på den fjärde.

Ja, jo. Men jag måste säga att vi är så jävla skönt ödmjuka och har alltid varit. Vi har ju liksom alltid varit underdogs i hela branschen, och speciellt i Sverige. Jag menar, vi var Grammy-nominerade i USA och det är bara vi och Ghost som har lyckats göra den grejen. Nu har vi många svenska stora band ju. Det finns ett gäng som inte har gjort den grejen. Vi märker med de här gamla skivorna att det är så stort att spela Epicus till exempel, eller låtar från Epicus och Nightfall i ett set. Vi spelar ju mest gammalt. Vi försöker ju ta in nya låtar om vi släpper ny platta, men det kan man göra, ja, någon. Det är inte som vissa band som går ut och promotar, där de kör hela nya plattan och någon gammal klassiker. Vi måste göra tvärtom. Vi måste köra alla klassiker. Nu när vi var i Japan till exempel så står det tjejer och killar i 25-årsåldern och sjunger. De var ju inte ens påtänkta då för fan. Och där kommer vi till svaret på din fråga. Det där är faktiskt varför vi kan göra det. Ta in de här gamla plattorna och köra ett jubileum. Om det nu var så att vi bara fokuserade på det nya och sedan körde någon gammal klassiker som några tycker är kul att höra, då hade vi aldrig kunnat göra det här. Aldrig kunnat köra hela Nightfall, hela Epicus. Det hade inte funkat. Och Ancient Dreams har vi ju också gjort vid något tillfälle. Och det är ju helt fantastiskt. Vi nyper oss själva i armen ofta med det här, liksom ”Hur fan gick det här till när vi spelade in Epicus på 16 kanaler och hade en budget på 20,000, med omslag och allting.”. Och med den plattan var det så att man knappt vågade spela upp för folk, typ ”Va fan, ska de undra vad man håller på med?”. Det var ju samma som för Bathory. Man var polare med dem. Det var ju gamla kollegor och så där. Quorthon speciellt då. Han gjorde ju också en grej. Jag idiotförklarade ju honom efter första plattan. Jag sa ”Det där. Det är det sämsta. Alltså, det går inte att lyssna på skiten.”. Kolla idag. Det var som Jonas Åkerlund sa ”Hade jag fått 50 öre per såld tröja i hela världen, då behöver inte jag hålla på med film. Liksom, det säger en del, efter så många år. Ja, där är en anledning, och det är en så jäkla skön känsla att få ha det här, att kunna göra det här. Jag bara älskar det. Och se det här folket som verkligen lyssnar på de här gamla skivorna. Helt otroligt.

Ja, fansen uppskattar ju mest de två första skivorna. Det kan jag ibland tycka är lite tråkigt faktiskt, för det finns ju så bra material senare också liksom.

Så är det. Och produktionsmässigt… Ancient Dreams tycker jag är ett praktexempel. Jag kan knappt lyssna på skivan för att produktionen är så jävla stel. Jag tror vi skulle spela med click track på den tiden eller någonting, men det gick åt helvete. Men live kommer de låtarna fram till en helt annan dager, när man kör dem nu. Det blir ett helt annat liv. Mycket mer sväng och tryck och grejer. Ja, jag måste säga att det är jävligt kul att vi kan göra det här. Det är ofattbart. Jag menar, återföreningen var ju 2002 med Messiah. Jag tror det var då de remastrade just de här tidigare plattorna. Sedan skulle vi köra Sweden Rock, och då tror jag det var Wacken som frågade, så ”Ja, vi kör det också.”. Fan, den återföreningen håller vi på med fortfarande.

Den har ju pågått mycket längre än när ni körde ihop första gången.

Ja, de första, fram till liven, är ju bara ’86 till ’91, och nu har vi hållit på i 22 år. Och varje år kan vi säga ”Ja, nu gör vi sista plattan. Äh fan, vi spelar in någon ny låt.”. Det bara rullar på. Man får vara jävligt glad att det funkar.

Ja, men så länge ni orkar och vill, så.

Men alla börjar bli jävligt… Jag har ju balansproblem. Jag åkte på en grej. Inte en stroke, men åkte in på sjukhuset i Holland för några år sedan, och jag är inte tillbaka. Jag kan knappt gå uppför trapporna till scenen, och jag kan inte cykla och sådana där saker. Alla börjar få sina krämpor. Jag pratar inte bara om mig här. Jag tror jag pratar om alla. Leffe har ju varit sjukskriven för sitt hjärta. Vi satt just nyss och sa det ”Fan, vi är inte 20 längre, gubbar.”. Och jag får hjälp av monitorkillen. ”Jag kan hjälpa dig nerför trappen.”. Fan, det är som att man är 90 år. Ska jag komma med rollator nästa gång? ”Ja, men då kommer jag med rollatorn då. Ska jag ställa den här utanför?”. Men det skiter jag i. Jag får väl gå med min jävla rollator. Så länge folk vill se det så sitter jag på en stol och spelar då. Om de vill se det så får jag bjussa på det.

Alltså, Mirror Mirror. Det räcker ju liksom. Alltså den skivan, den bara skjutsar igång där. Om det nu skulle vara lite taskigt ljud på den, så är det en sådan otroligt bra start på den.

Ja, det får vara taskigt ljud, för att vara den tiden.

Alltså, jag tycker inte att det är så farligt.

Nej, inte taskigt ljud, men det är att man själv har spelat in det och att man kunde ha gjort på ett annat sätt. Men just Mirror Mirror, The Bells Of Acheron och Bearer Of Pain. De kommer fram så jävla bra live. De är ju höjdare live.

Ja, ni har ju börjat spela The Bells Of Acheron och Bearer Of Pain lite oftare igen.

Ja, vi brukar växla mellan Bells och Bearer Of Pain. Det är lite olika. Ibland kör vi bägge, men nu kör vi ju det här Tales-medleyt och det, så då måste vi fokusera där. Men vi måste ju ha vissa låtar med. Mirror Mirror, självklart. Den kan vi typ aldrig ta ut. Jag vete fan om vi gjort något gig utan Mirror Mirror. Ja, kanske. Jag ska låta det vara osagt. Solitude har vi aldrig kunnat ta bort. Det har vi inte kunnat göra.

Solitude är inte min favoritlåt på första skivan.

Du vet, den kom ju med som en… Vi var ju tvungna att fylla ut plattan med sex minuter, och Leffe hade ingenting. ”Äh, men jag har ett riff här. Vi kör det här bara och så får det bli vad det blir.”. Jag kan ju säga så här. Jag sätter inte heller den som min favorit. Alltså, stå och repa den, det är ju… Du vet, man har gjort det så många gånger. Där den kommer fram för oss, det är ju när vi kör den live och publiken tycker att det är så kul att sjunga med i den.

Alltså, den är ju svinbra, den också, men A Sorcerer’s Pledge är ju typ…

Det tycker jag också. Den är min favorit. Och det är en jävla bra låt att sluta första delen med. Vi går ut ganska tidigt innan extranumren, men då kommer ett jävla sjok med låtar på extranumren.

Nu när ni kör många låtar från Tales, skulle ni någonsin kunna tänka er att göra något liknande på er femte platta, Chapter VI?

Faktum är att om du hade frågat mig för tio år sedan, då hade jag sagt ”Nä, det kommer nog aldrig hända.”. Vi har inte pratat om det, men när du ställer frågan… Det är en jävligt bra fråga. Nu vet jag inte hur de andra ser på det, men om man ska se generellt på det, så är det ju så att den plattan var helt nedvärderad när den kom. Messiah var inte med och ”Thomas Vikström ska spela pop och Melodifestivalen.” eller vad han nu fick höra. Liksom ”Va fan ska han dit och göra?”. Men det var ju en polare till oss och jag visste att han kunde sjunga Priest-låtar i ett Priest-coverband och grejer. Så han är grym, Thomas. Men då var det också så här att vi inte fick några utlandsjobb. De ville inte ha oss till England och spela eller någonting. Det var bara några Sverige-gig. Men idag så kommer det ju folk och säger ”Jag har den som topp 4 eller topp 5 av er plattor.”. Så jag säger varken bu eller bä på det. Skulle vi komma upp med det så skulle jag lätt göra det. Lätt. Har vi gjort det på de här plattorna så skulle vi lätt kunna göra på den.

The Ebony Throne, The Dying Illusion och Where The Runes Still Speak. Alltså, de där tre låtarna skulle platsa på vilken av de andra skivorna som helst. Ibland känns det så här ”Fan, hur kan ni ens hoppa över alla de tre låtarna live?”.

Ebony Throne är skitbra. Och det är flera med dig som säger det nu, men för 20 år sedan, säger jag, då var det inte tal om det. Men skulle det komma upp på tal så skulle jag lätt kunna tycka ”Ja, varför inte?”. Det hade varit jävligt kul faktiskt. Och jävlar vad man skulle få repa då. Jag satte på den för några år sedan, just för sakens skull, ”Jag måste lyssna på den här plattan. Fan, har jag spelat det här? Ja, det är klart jag har, för jag är ju med på skivan.”. Vissa låtar, som vi aldrig spelade live, Temple Of The Dead till exempel, är ju svinbra.

Från vänster: Lars Johansson, Mappe Björkman, Johan Längquist, Leif Edling, Jan Lindh

Till det nya istället. Tycker ni att ni har turnerat tillräckligt mycket på Sweet Evil Sun?

Nej. Vi skulle ju kunna turnera mer, men det som är är att, som jag nämnde om att man börjar bli gammal, med familjer och barnbarn har alla så jävla mycket runtomkring sig. Och vi har märkt det att när vi sätter oss i en turnébuss sex veckor, de få gånger vi har gjort det, då blir det alltid något knas. Alltså inte knas så att vi blir ovänner, men folk blir så jävla less och trötta. Du vet, man sover inte ordentligt och så. Det låter lite som ett lyxproblem egentligen, vilket det är. Men det är klart som fan, hade det varit ett annat svenskt band som har släppt en ny platta så turnerar de betydligt mycket mer än vad vi gör. Vi fokuserar rätt mycket på festivaler. I USA gör vi bara några gig nu och normalt sett ska ett band vara ute fem veckor för att de ändå är där, med arbetstillstånd. Och sedan kanske vi är hemma ett halvår och sedan åker vi tillbaka till USA. Nu är det tredje gången vi åker på ett år. Vi gjorde ett gig i Mexiko i somras. Dit, spela, åkte hem. Så här har vi hållit på jämt. Det går inte lära en gammal hund att sitta. Vi har ju turnerat på Sweet Evil Sun, men vi kör ju bara titelspåret. Det är den enda låten vi har spelat live.

Finns det något nytt material nu redan för en ny platta?

Nja. Leffe har ju alltid grejer i huvudet, så det skulle förvåna mig om han inte hade någonting. Men det är ingenting som har presenterats så nu. Nu får vi ju titta på 40-årsjubileet som blir 2025, så då ska vi försöka slå på den stora trumman lite grann. Vi ska försöka göra det, så vi har liksom inte pratat om en platta nu. Men det kommer garanterat bli någonting. Under det året så kommer han ju komma upp med någonting. Han har så många idéer i huvudet. Och det är ju bra grejer. Det är faktiskt det.

Utåt sett, om man är ett fan av Candlemass, och eftersom Leif skriver alla låtar, så får man nog gärna för sig saker, men om man nu skulle plocka ut en bandledare, om man måste göra det i Candlemass, är det inte herr Björkman då som är lite ledare?

Jo. Alla är väl i princip… Ja, det tycker väl Leffe också, lite grann, att jag är en stöttepelare. Jag och Leffe, vi är ju från början, och med allt som hänt Leffe när han har varit risig, så lutar han sig mot mig, och jag lutar mig på honom, för utan honom har vi inte Candlemass-låtar. Och så ska det vara. Vissa andra har velat skriva låtar förut, men ”Nej. Leif gör låtarna. That’s it.”. Jag är stenhård med det. Så vi har en jävligt bra relation, han och jag. Vi kan ju gå i luven på varandra. Vi är som brorsor liksom. Det kan ju bli ett jävla tjafs ibland om saker och ting. Men det lägger sig efter någon minut. Ja, som bandledare. Jo, jag står väl däruppe då. Jag gör många intervjuer och jag är väldigt social liksom, med folk som jag gillar. Folk tycker det är kul. Jag berömmer fansen lika mycket som de berömmer mig.

Hur skulle det vara för dig egentligen att spela i ett band där Leif inte är med?

I Candlemass har jag inga problem att spela utan Leif, om han år dålig och vill ha en ersättare. Det är inga problem överhuvudtaget, för då vet jag att jag har de andra gubbarna. Det är fortfarande Candlemass. Janne, Lasse och speciellt Johan nu när han är tillbaka. Men Janne och Lasse är ju också en kärna. Om Lasse har en ersättare, vilket han haft också, och för Janne också någon gång, då funkar det. Alltså, då har jag inga problem. Men skulle jag sätta mig i ett helt nytt band så är det så jävla mycket som spelar in. Det är inte bara själva musiken. Det är jargongen liksom i en loge, eller på ett rep, liksom ”Hur jobbar ni?” och de säger ”Vi repar två gånger om dagen.” och vi säger ”Jaha. Vi repar en gång i halvåret.”. Alltså, det är så mycket. Det är som en familj. Om jag byter min fru efter 40 år, eller byter ut mina barn, ”Jaha. Nu kommer de här ungarna. De vill hålla på med det. Jaha ja, det var jag inte beredd på.”. Det är lite en sådan känsla. För mig är det så här, jag vill inte vara den här, jag ska inte nämna några namn, men det finns ju otroligt många musiker, kollegor, där jag tycker ”Koncentrera dig på det bandet.”. För det blir ingen respekt. De får ingen identitet. Jag har en identitet i Candlemass, ”Vem spelar kompgitarr i Candlemass? Det är Mappe.”. Jag vill ha det så. Men det är väl olika. Jag säger inte att de gjort fel, för vissa vill ju ha det så, men jag vill definitivt inte ha det så.

Ni har ju sagt att Johan är er siste sångare, men är det verkligen, verkligen så? Skulle du kunna tänka dig att, om Johan slutar, bara lägga ner bandet?

Om man säger så här. Skulle han säga så här ”Jag lägger av i bandet.”, då skulle jag nog se ett problem som vi inte haft förut när vi bytt sångare. Om vi skulle göra till exempel ett jubileum på Chapter VI så skulle jag inte ha några problem med att Thomas Vikström skulle sjunga på vissa av de låtarna. Skulle vi göra ett jubileum på någon av Messiahs plattor, absolut. Men då skulle Johan fortfarande få vara med. Jag skulle inte acceptera ”Vi gör ett jubileum på det, Johan borta.”. Nej, det finns inte. Vi skulle aldrig åsidosätta honom. Det finns inte på kartan. Men att han är sista permanenta sångaren, det skulle jag nog säga fortfarande. Okej, om vi skulle komma i luven på varandra och om han tycker det här är piss och så… Men han är inte sådan som människa. Om han var någonstans kaxig eller dryg eller någonting, du vet, då hade jag tyckt ”Okej. Då får vi ju skaffa en ny gubbe här.”. Nej, men jag säger, ingenting är ju hugget i sten. Vi har ju sagt det förut, då vi skulle göra sista plattan för någon platta sedan. Psalms For The Dead var det. Men det var ju på grund av att det var en sådan jävla katastrof med Robert Lowe, och då var alla jävligt less, och då såg vi inget ljus i det och så. Men då kom ju Mats Levén med, för att han ställde upp och gjorde releasen for Psalms For The Dead. Det var ju bara för att vi skulle kunna genomföra den releasen. Och sedan blev ju Mats kvar efter det, och vissa tyckte väl det var bu eller så, men Mats räddade faktiskt Candlemass. Sedan kan jag tycka att han kanske inte var den som passade bäst, men jo, han räddade Candlemass från den misären vi var i innan, för då var det så nära att vi la ner. Och då tyckte vi att det var kul, att vi faktiskt kunde genomföra gig och att festivalerna ville ha oss med Mats. Det var någon som skrev det någonstans, att ”Ni har bytt sångare, men det finns inte ett annat band som har lyckats hålla i det där med plattorna och fortfarande kunnat leverera.”. Och när Johan kom tillbaka så fick vi den här fjädern i hatten med nomineringen till en Grammy i USA. Vi har vunnit två svenska, men de kan jag slänga i soporna. Jag kan ha de på bokhyllan, men det har inte gett mig ett skit, och det kommer det inte göra heller, för det är ingen som vill ha oss i Sverige. En Grammy award i USA är som att bli nominerad för en Oscar, om man tittar på film. Det är ju jämförbart. Det är samma sak, fast det är musik eller film. Om någon skådespelare, det kan vara en statist, är nominerad för en film i USA, du vet, då sitter de i TV4-soffan dagligen, och det är med på varenda jävla nyhetsprogram, kulturnyheter, tidningar och allting. Vad hände när vi blev nominerade i USA för en Grammy? Efter Fem ringde mig, för de ville ha någon grej med mig, men då skulle jag på ett flyg så jag hann inte göra det. Och SVT var jag med på, men det var på grund av att vi skulle vinna den svenska grammisen, men den kan jag skita i. Jag ska inte säga så egentligen, för det är jävligt taskigt mot de som verkligen tycker att det är fantastiskt att vinna den svenska. Men de har inte gett oss ett skit, och det är verkligen så här ”Nämen Candlemass, de skiter vi i.”. Det rör mig inte i ryggen på det sättet egentligen, men jag tycker bara att det är ett konstigt resonemang i svensk kultur. Alltså, hur man resonerar. Det tycker jag.

Av Tobbe – Publicerad 12:e april 2024

Metal Covenant got to spend some time with Prong’s driving force Tommy Victor.

Prong’s new album, State Of Emergency, was out in October. What does that album have to offer to the band’s fans?

It ties in all the earlier Prong records. Being, like, a legacy band you can pick and choose, and see what’s good and what’s bad, and what you wanna focus on. So it’s naturally what comes together, this fusion of all these styles, in the old records, in the old influences, and that’s really why it was so easy to write this record and really to do it. We have all these older records that people like, and I know what they like, and we play the old songs. With every record the sound of Prong gets more concise and more recognizable, and that’s something I always wanted to do, ‘cause we did so much experimenting in the early years. We started out like sort of a hardcore band, then we were like a grindcore band, then we did groove metal, and then industrial metal with groove metal. You know, it was all over the place. All that is fused together now, finally after all these years.

Even if you’re talking about these changes between musical styles, I still feel that Prong has never abandoned its musical style anyways, right?

It’s hard to, because it just wouldn’t feel natural. So, being at the influences that I have, or sort of all over the place a little bit, that’s what makes it Prong, and weird, and not like anybody else. People still scratch their heads about it because of that. Essentially, when the band started, I mean, I came out of, like, a post-punk scene, really. Some people called it a noise-New York-scene, or industrial, or whatever you wanna call it, and that fused with the hardcore scene in New York, on the Lower East Side. So, that’s a very unique circumstance, so a lot of people don’t really understand where that’s coming from, really. But I can’t help that; it’s natural. It’s all ingrained in my playing, and you know, lyrical style, et cetera. I mean, it just happened naturally. We didn’t sit down and design an algorithm to do this. This is just the way it happened.

It was over six years between the two last Prong albums. That’s the longest gap ever for Prong. The pandemic hit, okay, but what else happened during this time?

The pandemic was one of the issues, yeah. Then my wife and I had our first child. I have an older one from another marriage. So we had a kid, and that was during the pandemic, so I was really a stay-at-home dad, and I was enjoying it too. I was, like, “Well, this is cool.”, you know. No one really knew what was going on in the music business, so I wasn’t really doing that much. And I was fine with that at that point, but then we got offered this Black Label Society tour, and something I wanted to do for a while was going on tour with them, and my wife said, “Yeah, you should do it.”. It was a good tour; it was very successful. We didn’t even have a record deal at that point. Then we secured another deal. That took more time. But the big thing was the move. We moved back to New York, so. Just the planning of the move, and then getting settled back in New York took up a really big chunk of time. And then deciding when I could actually pull the time out that I could work on a record, ‘cause we had another baby coming, so I was trying to figure that out. A lot of that personal stuff, and the pandemic, and then the move, I think are the essential things. I had a couple of Danzig tours amidst that too, so. Yeah, I mean, time flies. You know, the record has been done a while. It was done in 2022. The records take a while to come out now, because of the vinyl, the pressing plant. It was finished, yeah, in November 2022.

There’s a Rush cover on the album, the last song on the album, Working Man, and in 2015 you released a full covers album, and what is challenging to you to play other guys’ songs?

It has sort of made up for lost time with me, because when I first started playing with Prong, or guitar in general… I was playing bass as a kid. I didn’t really learn other people’s songs, and do that whole thing. So, the concept of learning other guitar players’ stuff is kind of novel for me because I never really did it. We just formed the band, and I sort of just created my own style, or whatever, and knew my own songs. You know, we paid tribute on Songs From The Black Hole to groups that were a bit influential, that people may have not realized, and they still didn’t realize it, and they didn’t really care, so. If I was gonna do another cover, I wanted to do one from somebody more mainstream. I mean, Rush is pretty mainstream, so. But that wasn’t the reason why we wound up doing it. It sort of came together a little bit by accident. In the process of preparing for a new Prong album I was listening to stuff just to get the vibe of things. Like, I started listening to more music. Not really copying anything, but just seeing what was going on. And maybe jamming some songs. Mainly the Black Sabbath – Vol. 4. So I got that record. You know, like learned all the songs and the solos on it. It was in a C sharp tuning, so playing that guitar with other riffs, it was like the Working Man came about, “Oh, this sounds pretty heavy.”. So when we were doing pre-production we jammed it out. It just felt really good, pretty much. And then I like the lyric a lot too. So it was like the lyric makes sense for Prong, ‘cause, you know, Snap Your Fingers, Snap Your Neck is sort of like a working anthem; a working-class anthem of sorts. So is the song The Descent on the new album. It’s this guy who’s, like, in a modern world and doesn’t fit in. So, I thought that the last song would be cool, with this guy who’s trying his best, but nothing’s working out. So that’s sort of a theme with Prong a little bit, you know.

State Of Emergency – Out October 6th, 2023

Do you see yourself having a really clear vision of what you want to do when you’re continuing your musical journey?

No. That’s a good question, ‘cause I don’t. I’ve always said that I believe in the art gods. In some way you got to, like, go with the flow of things. That’s why I don’t really fit into modern music that well, because everything is so contrived, which means it’s all planned out, and mapped out. I couldn’t do that. Like, if I try to do that, it doesn’t really work. Like, I’ve tried, but it just doesn’t work, so. I got into painting a while. I don’t do it now ‘cause I have kids now again. But I got into painting. I didn’t really have a plan of what I was gonna do. You sort of do it, and then you make adjustments along the way. This is the way I am, you know. I’m a little undisciplined in that way. But no, I don’t. Especially at my age, I don’t really have any plans about anything.

Is it sometimes a bit challenging when you start writing songs to not end up in the same track over and over again.

Ah, this sounds fictitious a little bit, but sometimes I like when that happens. I like bands that have formulas, or people that have a formula. I’ve never been able to grasp the formula that much. If you look at bands like Disturbed, and these big, huge metal bands, they have, like, this formula, and it works. Whether you like the music a lot, whether you think they’re cheesy, and everything, it’s like they got this thing going. I’m a little bit jealous of that, so if something like that starts happening with me, I like that. It’s a little bit of that with the title track of this record, where I felt like it’s almost like a formula Prong song a little bit. I was almost like, “Now I’m onto something. Maybe this is cool.”. So, I’ll see. I mean, If I do another record, you know, if that continues. Yeah, I think that formula comes a little bit from the songs on Cleansing, like Another Worldly Device and Snap Your Fingers, Snap Your Neck, and then another part of the formula is, like, from the Rude Awakening. There’s sort of like elements of songs that created this formula, you know.

You’ve been with Danzig now for a total time of about 20 years, I would say, on and off.

Yeah, I started with him in ’95, and I did, like, a couple of tours then. Then I quit, then he had me back, and then he fired me, and now I’ve been back for 15 years.

Tell me about the biggest difference in terms of playing guitar in Prong in comparison to Danzig.

It’s completely different. Absolutely, totally different. It’s very challenging for me to play in Danzig, for a couple of reasons. I’m playing, for the most part, the John Christ parts, and his solos are very difficult to figure out. He’s got a very strange style, and he’s a great player. He’s got a whole bunch of stuff, and there’s blues, and there’s sort of like fusion in there, and then it’s like punk rock, so. It’s very challenging. And I’m always nervous about it, so.

But is it a little bit relieving to just play the guitar on stage and not having to sing as well?

Yeah, the singing, I must say, is a real pain in the neck, you know. Singing is a whole other thing. Yeah, it is cool to just play guitar. I enjoy that. I enjoy the Danzig gig. When it’s good, and the band sounds good, and it sounds good, and people are going crazy, it’s great. But every night is not like that, no.

It’s difficult to sing and play the guitar at the same time. Why did you choose to go that way in the beginning?

It was, again, we really didn’t make any conscious choice. We were auditioning singers with Prong, and there wasn’t that many people. Like, I had written the lyrics, and we were writing the songs, and we cut a demo, and, I don’t know, I just started singing. I mean, we just started doing it. Like, the guys that we got down weren’t any good. Not many people were interested to begin with, and one guy couldn’t stand me. He hated me. He was in another band. Then he wanted to be the singer in Prong, and I just didn’t think he was good. So, we decided not to get a singer. It was just that we couldn’t find anybody.

Since you’re with Danzig, and you’re having Prong, do you think it’s important for a musician to have different musical outlets?

No, I don’t think it’s important. It’s almost better to do one thing, and that’s it, really. I do it because Glenn calls me to do it, and he pays me, and I like it. And I like playing with him. I like being in a band with him. So, you know, that’s all the reasons why I’m doing it.

He is focusing quite a lot on Misfits now.

Yeah, I know. I mean, there’s where the big money is, so. Yeah, I mean, he is doing a lot of Misfits stuff now.

Are you just kind enough to sit and wait for that phone call?

No, we did a tour in September in America with Danzig. We did a full tour, in America, and then we did a couple of festival fly-ins. You know, enough for me. It’s too much for me right now. So, I’ve been doing a lot.

Yeah, with a family at home.

Yeah. It’s very difficult. It’s horrible. I mean, it’s really bad, so.

My final question: Describe the difference between being just a band member with Danzig and being the main guy in a band like Prong.

How can I put this in words? I mean, when you’re a musician in rock music, which is popular music… If you’re a real musician you should be content with being in an orchestra, and your personality doesn’t make a difference. You’re in the orchestra, you’re doing your parts, you’re reading music, you’re playing, you’re a virtuoso, or you’re working in Broadway. You know, all rock musicians, we have some kind of ego problem, so I sort of have to set that aside playing with Glenn. You know, it’s his gig, and I understand that, so I don’t step on his toes, you know. You know, I’m a supporting role with him. And I think that’s great. I mean, to be able to do that. I understand him, so that’s what’s cool. You know, like in Prong I’m the singer and guitar player, so I know what he wants, and I treat him with the respect that I would expect from people. To be a good sideman, you got to put yourself in somebody else’s shoes, you know. Like I said, playing with Danzig is more for, like, the guitar playing, the challenge of that, and it’s very challenging for me. It never ends, it’s very nerve-racking. The songs I enjoy, and that’s really the gist of it. I’ve realized this later in life, that what I really enjoy about the whole thing, all of this, is playing the riffs. I mean, it’s simple, and as basic as that is it’s really the end of all enjoyment of it. It doesn’t really go beyond that too much. You know, the whole, like, signing autographs, and doing anything like that, you know, it’s not as good as being able to get on that amplifier with a guitar and play the riffs. That’s the whole thing. So, like, with Danzig playing those riffs, like you were saying earlier, without singing, is cool, you know. When I go out playing, like, the songs properly, and the band sounds great, I love that. And that’s all I wanna really get out of it. I don’t wanna interfere with his glory, or anything like that, you know.

By Tobbe – Published April 9th, 2024

Metal Covenant got to spend some time with lead vocalist and bandleader Chris Boltendahl as his long-running heavy metal outfit Grave Digger came to Stockholm, Sweden for a show on March 10th.

You guys put out a new single in January, The Grave Is Yours. Tell me about that song.

That was more or less to introduce our new guitar player Tobi Kersting. We wanted to present him to people before the next record, because the next record will be released in January 2025. So meanwhile we thought it was a good idea to make some new music with the new guitar player. That was the only thing behind that. And we made it as a special one with only 500 physical copies.

Will this be a standalone single, that will not be on the album?

I don’t know yet, because we are writing songs at the moment. Perhaps we will put it as a bonus track on some special edition. It will not be a regular track on the next album, because we are writing completely new material now.

Were some parts of that song something that you had from the Symbol Of Eternity sessions?

No, no, because Symbol Of Eternity was with Axel Ritt. No, we wrote this one as a completely new song.

The Grave Is Yours – Out January 12th, 2024

Did you have some material left from Axel Ritt’s days?

No, no. And if we had that, we wouldn’t record it, you know. Because they have different styles and it’s something totally different.

The B-side. Of all Grave Digger songs you have in your back catalogue, why did you specifically choose to re-record Back To The Roots?

Because we also played this song with my solo project Steelhammer, and it worked out very well, and that was the reason. And also because to show the new face of Grave Digger to the people again. More or less, if you lose a member of the band, especially a guitar player, then it’s like a chapter is closed, and now we open another chapter. I am the head and the mastermind of Grave Digger, but every guitar player puts a stamp and his profile on the band. And with the new one we got a different profile. Tobi is a real heavy metal fan also, and that is a reason why we thought it was a good idea to bring something new to the market and show the people that Grave Digger is a little bit more back to the roots, because he’s playing more or less the style of Uwe Lulis or Manni Schmidt, you know.

Axel Ritt was in the band for about fourteen years. That’s a long time. Is it hard to deal with, for a short while, that you have to find another guitar player?

No, because as you know, I made my solo project with Tobi, and a lot of people say that the solo project sounds more or less like old Grave Digger stuff. Tobi was not the reason, I wanna make that clear, that Axel is no longer in the band. Because after Symbol Of Eternity, I felt something empty between Axel and me, and that was the reason why I said, “Hey, our creative process is finished. It has reached the end.”. Then I said to myself, “Okay. Who can replace him?” and for me, it was just the right way that Tobi stepped in. I had my experience with Tobi. We worked together for two years. We have known each other for a long time, since the Orden Ogan tour in 2011, when they supported us. We always met during that time, and he’s a funny guy, and he’s a nice guy.

As you said, you’re the mastermind of Grave Digger, and have always been, and do you always have a clear vision before you enter the songwriting process and what you wanna come out with?

This time it’s a little bit different. For the last records, and especially the concept records, I have in my mind what I want to do. Now, it’s a time where I said, “Okay, we’re writing songs until the end of April, and then we choose the best songs from fourteen, fifteen songs, you know. It comes out naturally at the moment, and we already have the cover, and more or less a title for the album. We are free, you know. Jens Becker, the bass player, will also contribute with some stuff to the new album. We have found some funny things. We found some dark songs. It’s a good mixture, I think. We feel that during this songwriting session, all songs we make are better than the previous one we made.

Will you tour more for the Symbol Of Eternity album, or is that touring cycle now completed? I looked at a setlist from the other day, and there weren’t many songs from Symbol Of Eternity on that one.

We actually only played one song on the Symbol Of Eternity tour. We have so many songs now in the history of the band. With Tobi we are able to show the older side of Grave Digger again, you know. The last three songs in the set are totally old-school, from the first two records, you know. And they come out pretty cool, I think, and it sounds a little bit like punk rock again, like we did in the eighties, so. Yeah, I’m really satisfied, because Tobi is perfect for the older ones, but he can also play the Ritt stuff in a good way, so that the Ritt stuff sounds like older stuff. That’s the reason why we also play some from Axel’s era.

Are you just a little bit worried that Grave Digger and Steelhammer pretty much will become one band now, so that they will sound very similar to each other?

No, no, no. The Grave Digger stuff is Grave Digger. It’s really different. With Steelhammer we didn’t have a really concrete plan when we started. I think that Steelhammer came out a little bit more like the US power metal stuff, but Grave Digger’s new stuff is really typical Grave Digger. We have also a plan for another Steelhammer album, but perhaps we will record it in the end of next year, or something like that. And that one will be different from the previous one. We will show more the difference between both of the bands, yeah.

You seem productive. You make a Grave Digger album every second or third year, and then now Steelhammer, and in 2021 you sang on the Hellryder record.

And I have a studio too. And Hellryder is finished from my side. I also gave the name to Axel. I know it’s my name, but Axel wanted to have that name, so I gave it to him. I also think Axel will not come out with another heavy metal record, because from the beginning he was a replacement for Manni Schmidt, because Manni left the band from one night to another. We had some shows booked, and Axel was an old friend of mine, and I called him to see if he wanted to help us, and from that time he more or less was in the band. But originally, he was a replacement. And he is not a heavy metal guitar player. He can play it, but you will see the difference, because Tobi is living heavy metal, and Axel is more a rock guitar player, so. If you see what he’s doing now, he has a band called Jäst! and he is doing some, yeah, Poison-metal again.

You said you have your own studio. Do you, like, work every day?

Yeah, I like to work. At the moment I’ve started producing a German band called WarWolf again, and another one called Rigorious. Both bands will support us on the tour next year. Yeah, I like to help little bands, and do some producing stuff, and meanwhile I do also produce the new Grave Digger one, so.

To what extent do you see all this as a job or a hobby?

I see it as a gift, you know, to be a musician, and to live from that. It’s a gift. Yeah, on one side it’s my job. I can feed my family with that, you know. But yeah, I made my hobby to my job, and that’s a gift. It is.

Left to right: Marcus Kniep, Tobi Kersting, Chris Boltendahl, Jens Becker

You guys were recently in the Caribbean once again, on one of those cruises (70,000 Tons Of Metal). Tell me about those cruises from a band’s point of view.

Oh, the cruises. It’s party, you know. You have to play two times. You have two shows on the boat. And everybody is happy. I don’t know if the bands are of such interest as opposed to when people buy a ticket on a normal tour, you know. I think it’s like Wacken, or any other festival. They don’t have this festival character anymore. It’s the event character. They buy tickets and don’t even know which bands are playing there, you know. And the same goes for the boat, you know. We have another boat tour in September. We play the Full Metal Cruise here in Europe, and we go around in the North Sea again, to Norway. Yeah, it’s fun.

Touring is a bit expensive for bands today.

I think not only for the bands, but also the ticket prices, you know. I don’t know what the ticket price is here, but I read something about € 40. That’s not cheap, I think. If you look at the tour plan in Stockholm, or in Göteborg, almost every evening has a heavy metal band playing. So we are happy with the numbers we have. 200 to 250 people is okay for a band like Grave Digger, you know. Could be a little bit more, but I think times are not like they were twenty years ago.

Grave Digger is a four-piece today, and you used to be five guys on stage, but you have no keyboarder on stage anymore. Is that because it’s cheaper to go out on tour as a four-piece?

No, no. It had nothing to do with that. In the end we decided to do so because we don’t have so much on keyboards. It’s not necessary to have a keyboard player, you know. I wanted to go back to the four-piece band that we started off as. I think it’s enough musicians on stage.

A record I listened to, in September last year, was a record called The Forgotten Years. Was that an official record?

Yeah, it was an official one. It’s a small record company from the Netherlands. This guy is always collecting demo tapes, and then ask the band if he may release it, and yes, he got permission from Uwe Lulis and me, and he decided to release it.

What kind of input do you personally have on such a release?

Oh, we only say, “Yes.” and, “Give us some money.”. (Laughs)

The 40-year anniversary of your first record, Heavy Metal Breakdown, is in this year. Are you gonna do something for that anniversary?

No, no, no. Next year we celebrate the 45th anniversary of the band, so we can do some anniversary stuff every year. (Laughs) And if you do any anniversary stuff, people always expect you to play the entire Heavy Metal Breakdown album, you know. But that’s not my point of interest, you know.

And let’s face it. You have made better records than Heavy Metal Breakdown.

Definitely, yeah.

But you celebrated an anniversary with the Tunes Of War record some years ago. I can’t remember when.

It was on the 30th anniversary of the band. We played the entire Tunes Of War album at Wacken.

Could you celebrate that album once again, you think?

I don’t know. Let’s see what comes. We also had some ideas to celebrate the Excalibur record, playing the entire one. But in the end, if you play an entire record… You have three or four classics on a record like Excalibur, and I don’t know if people are so interested in listening to the entire record live, you know. So, let’s see. We are planning a tour in January, February for the 45th anniversary, and let’s see what we’ll play there. I don’t know at the moment.

By Tobbe – Published April 5th, 2024

Official Site


Metal Covenant met Arejay Hale, drummer of Halestorm.

As you’re writing for a new album nowadays, are there many intense discussions, or do you guys know one another so well that the process kind of runs itself?

No, no, no. We’re still experimenting, we’re still trying some new things. We’ve been bringing in people that we’ve known for a long time, and we respect, to help us try some new things. It’ll be different, you know. I feel like the most fun that you can do is just kind of try new things and just kind of expand your sound. I felt like that with Back From The Dead. I feel like the mission objective behind that record was to make the heaviest, most high energy, most aggressive record we’ve ever made. For the next one, we’re letting the music guide us, rather than putting in specific barriers of how far we can go, you know.

Would it be a great risk, or maybe even stupid, to try to change the sound too much?

I think that the best mission objective you can have is to be yourself, but show the world a different side of yourself, you know. I feel like that with Kemikalfire too. I feel like it’s my style of writing, and singing and drumming on that project is not too dissimilar to what I already do, but it’s just a different angle and a way to be a little more personal about the things that I write about. You know, being less systematic and more organic about the things that you wanna talk about.

Do you believe it’s important for musicians to have different outlets?

Yeah, yeah, I think so. Besides music I also started getting into making fragrance content. (Laughs) ‘Cause I really love fragrances. In fact I have a few with me. I take little sample vials of smells, you know. I like to wear different fragrances and I think the thing I love about perfumery is that it blends my love of art, and also of science, and chemistry, and stuff like that. Perfumers that make these things they’re, like, chemists, right? And it’s just fun. You know, when you first start touring, and you’re in a van, and you’re playing tiny, little clubs, it’s hard to find a shower. You know, back then we couldn’t afford hotel rooms, and a lot of venues didn’t have showers, so you’d go a couple of days without showering. I can’t even imagine doing that now. That’s just so gross. But the best way to combat that is, like, you know, have some fragrances with you. Before you go and meet the fans you can splash it on and, you know, you smell nice for everybody, so. So yeah, I like having different outlets, because you need to shift your mind in different directions, so when you come back to music, or whatever you’re doing, you feel rejuvenated, and you’ve got a whole new refreshed passion for it. I feel like it’s helpful for me anyway, ‘cause I’m so ADD. (Laughs) It helps for me to have, like, different creative things going on, so yeah.

And how do you get through customs with those vials?

Well, I mean, I put them in my checked bag, but I have, like, a hundred of these, and luckily they’re all under a hundred milliliters, so. (Laughs)

I was thinking more about the content. What they really could contain. Customs are suspicious, you know.

Yeah, they are. One time I tried to carry them on through security, and they, like, ripped it, and, “What the hell is this?”. So now I just keep it in my checked bag, and nobody cares, so. I haven’t had a problem yet. Knock on wood.

Left to right: Josh Smith, Arejay Hale, Lzzy Hale, Joe Hottinger

Which are your band’s greatest qualities?

I think one of our most well-known qualities as a band, with Halestorm, is that we don’t use any backtracks and we don’t use a click track. Everything is very raw and very honest, and what you see is what you get. We plug in and play. I have nothing against bands that utilize playback, ‘cause, like, with my other project, Kemikalfire, we love to use playback ‘cause it’s a different way of expressing our art. But Halestorm has always been most comfortable by not depending on laptops, and playback, and timecode, and things like that. It does make it a little more difficult, because we need a lighting guy that can actually play along with us, rather than just have everything programed. But that’s kind of what makes it fun, and it also makes it a little bit different every day. So it gives the fans a different experience every night, because we have fans that are coming to a lot of shows on a tour. So, for them, specifically, we want to give them a new experience every time they see us, so that they don’t get bored with the same show. And so we don’t bored with it too, ‘cause if we did the same set every night, and it was just, “Push play. One, two, three, four, go!” and we’d play the exact same parts, the exact same moments, then we would get bored and then we wouldn’t feel like we’d be standing on our toes. You know, on stage we have to be on our toes ‘cause, yeah, we switch it up every night.

You personally play a drum solo every night. Does that in any way make you feel like the great old drummers?

It’s not my idea. (Laughs) Honestly, my job would be a lot easier if I didn’t have to do that every night. But it’s become a staple part of the set. People really like it. My bandmates have often observed that the crowd, after the drum solo, are even more fired up. It’s a way for the band to take a little break for a few minutes, and then for me to just kind of fuck around and have fun. And honestly, the most fun that I have during the drum solo is, like, doing the crowd interaction, and getting them to yell and clap their hands. As a drummer… You know, we’re all wanna-be front people (Laughs), but we’re in the back, you know. So it’s, like, our one moment to get to, like, interact with the crowd. So that’s what makes it fun for me, and of course, if we don’t do the big sticks, then the fans get mad. (Laughs) So we have to do that.

To what extent is your drum solo part pre-written?

Oh yeah, pretty much for the most part. I have been kind of known to just kind of improvise everything and kind of wing it on the go, but that really, really is hard for our lighting guy. So, I’ve been trying to at least have some consistent moments built in, to where our LD (Lighting designer) can fire strobes and enhance the parts with the lights. And he’s been really good at that. So just to make it easier for our LD, I’ve been trying to do kind of the same thing. But there are, like, little moments where I can kind of fuck around, you know. And I like doing that, ‘cause I feel like if I did the same drum solo every day, it would get really boring for me, so I like to fuck around with it. (Laughs)

What about the songs? Do you play them the same from night to night?

I should. I should play them the same, but I don’t. (Laughs) Okay, like, I try to be fair, ‘cause I try not to throw my band too many curve balls by changing drum fills, or changing parts, but every once in a while I’ll do something weird, and then I’ll get the look, like, “What was that?”, you know, and I’m like, “Hey man. It’s live. We got to take the audience for a ride.”.

In comparison to the old days, not so many bands have solos in their sets anymore. What changed?

You know, it’s really funny that you bring that up, because, yeah, as you were saying earlier, “Do I switch up the musical parts?”. I have warded away from improvising too much during the songs because I realize that the fans are listening to the songs. They know the parts, they know the musical moments, so I wanna make sure that I can deliver those hooks and those musical moments for them. A great example: I saw Rush, a long time ago, and when they played Tom Sawyer, you know, the big roll down the toms, it was, like, 15,000 air drummers, all at the same time. I mean, if you saw Phil Collins’ In The Air Tonight and it didn’t go (Imitates drum part). You know, those were iconic moments. So in the studio I’ve been trying to be mindful of writing hooky drum parts. I try to approach it like a songwriter, so. I also try to approach playing the songs live like a songwriter. I wanna make sure that I deliver those signature moments to the people that wanna hear it. So, in order to remedy the boredom of playing the same show every night, we have started to build in moments in the set where we get to improvise. We have these little jam moments where we just get to go off and just have some fun, and those are really electric moments, because we get to communicate as a band, and musically, in this weird musical language. And that’s, like, the fun, really spontaneous moments in the set, that we try to work in, you know, And the fans seem to be liking it, so yeah.

Besides practicing a lot, obviously, what do you see as the most valuable assets to become a great drummer?

I think, absolutely, rudiments. I think learning rudiments on a practice pad, or on a snare drum. And even doing it with your feet, if you wanna get better at your double bass. I think that that was a real game changer for me, ‘cause I never really took rudiments seriously growing up. I was, like, “I’m a rock star. I wanna just bang on stuff.”, but then, like, I listened to old videos of me drumming as a kid, and my drum fills are sloppy, and everything just sounds not very professional. And even, like, the first couple of years of touring as Halestorm: I looked back and I listened to my playing, and I’m just like, “Oh, God. It’s just so sloppy and non-consistent.”. So, learning all these different rudiments… It’s almost like a game for me. It’s a fun challenge. I love just going on YouTube and looking up different rudiments. Obviously, you got your standards: single stroke roll, double stroke roll, paradiddles, flams, triplets, stuff like that. I feel like a lot of drummers that were in a marching band in school, they’ve got the chops, they’ve got the rudiment chops. So I love going online and looking up marching band rudiments and trying to learn them. And you feel completely dumb when you’re trying to figure it out. You’re so frustrated, but when you do, like, get it right, it feels really good, and you’re like, “I feel as such a pro.”. I’ve always encouraged that for up-and-coming drummers, ‘cause it just does something for your brain. Especially if you do it to a metronome. You’ll start on a low tempo and really try to space your strokes out, space out your velocities, and where you wanna accent. And it just trains your brain. When you’re playing a song and doing a crazy drum fill down the toms, you’re velocities are gonna be consistent, and you’re spacing in between notes is gonna be really consistent. So, I’ve been trying to encourage that, ‘cause I know it sounds boring, but it really is fun when you lock in and when you start realizing that you’re learning something. It becomes addicting and you’re like, “I wanna learn more.”. So that’s been a really fun challenge for me, and I love a good challenge, so yeah.

It’s funny, because you have to coordinate two feet, two hands, and the left side of the brain controls the right side, so when you’re drumming you got to actually interfere with the brain’s normal function. Most people can’t even use both their hands with juggling three balls, or draw a circle with one hand and simultaneously draw a square with the other hand.

Oh, yeah. Just like anything that you’re trying to learn that requires coordination, it just takes doing it over and over and over, and eventually it becomes second nature after a while, and then you can do fun stuff like throwing your sticks in the air, spinning them, and doing tricks, and stuff like that. Yeah, that’s a really good point. It does kind of mess with your brain, ‘cause it’s a natural human instinct to… Like, we hear this all the time. We get the crowd clapping, and sure enough, it starts to speed up. And I remember when I first ever used a metronome. I started playing along to it, and all of a sudden, the metronome started slowing down, and I’m like, “This metronome is defective. It’s slowing down.”, but it was actually me, you know. Like, it’s very much against human instinct to play at a consistent tempo, or just to live at a consistent tempo. We either wanna accelerate or decelerate, so. Yeah, so you untrain your mind by having that outline, that guardrail of using a metronome. I’ve always said, “Make the metronome your friend.”. It’s not gonna seem like your friend at first, it’s not gonna be fun, but I really have grown to learn to play to a click. We don’t play to a click with Halestorm, and it works better for us ‘cause we like to have the show breeze, but it’s a lot more pressure for me, ‘cause I really have to focus on tempo. If we’d play to a click, I could just not pay attention and just follow along, you know.

You guys used to put out covers EPs, but is doing that stuff now something that belongs to the past?

I don’t know. Every decision we make is kind of subject to, like, where we are in the moment. I think now that we live in a post Covid world, our focus has been mostly on putting out original music, and just writing, and continue to be better songwriters. But I’ll be honest, covering songs is a great way to learn how to write your own music, you know. I always say that it’s a good training when you get in the mind of another songwriter. It’s basically what you’re doing, like when you’re learning how to play a song, what you’re essentially doing is entering the mind of whoever wrote that song. So it makes you learn new ways to approach your own writing. So, I’m hoping that we do it again, ‘cause I think it’s really good training for us. You know, one of our biggest examples is: on the first cover EP we covered Slave To The Grind by Skid Row, and had we not covered that song, we probably wouldn’t had written Love Bites. Not that we wanted Love Bites to sound like Slave To The Grind, but we just wanted to write a song that had that type of energy. We’d never played a song that fast, we’d never played at that tempo. We were like, “It’s kind of exhausting.”. But it’s fun. I like the driving. You know, it’s superfast tempo, so that’s kind of what spawned that. And that’s happened consistently. There’s always, like, a cover that we covered on an EP, and then on the following record there is a song that we write that was kind of inspired by one of the songs we covered. And I’m definitely hoping that we do it again soon. Right now I don’t know. (Laughs) It’s all up in the air. The last time we did an EP, we reimagined some of our own songs. We did them in a different way. We did them acoustic, or just approaching it differently just for fun, you know. So we like the challenge, and we like doing that kind of stuff, so I’m sure there will be more. I hope so.

Left to right: Josh Smith, Arejay Hale, Lzzy Hale, Joe Hottinger

The band’s lineup has been solid now for about twenty years. That’s quite an accomplishment, I would say.

Can you believe it? I didn’t realize how unheard of that really is, you know. I can think of, let’s see, U2 has the same lineup. Who else? The only other band, that we were friends with, that had the same lineup for a long time was Black Stone Cherry, who are awesome. But they just got a new bass player, and the new bass player is great. They’re all great. But it’s fine. They’re probably the closest thing, you know, to having the same lineup. ‘Cause they’re all like a family, and we’re like a family, so. I think the family helps, you know.

Hypothetically, who will be the first one to leave? Who’s closer to the door?

Um. Gosh, I don’t know. Probably Lzzy. (Laughs) We’re actually hoping to replace Lzzy soon, because I think we would really take off if we got somebody else. (Irony)

That would probably be one of the biggest career suicides ever.

Yeah, that would not be a smart move. Well, I don’t know. I mean, I plan on doing this until I have to duct tape the drumsticks to my hands, so. I think all of us are too stubborn to leave. (Laughs) We’re way too stubborn, you know.

I remember asking Lizzy when I talked to her about five years ago, what would happen to the band if she would quit, and, I quote, she said, “Arejay would probably try to be the singer.”.

Sure. (Laughs) I mean, I can sing. I sing with Kemikalfire. I’m kind of a co-lead singer with Taylor Carroll. But I wouldn’t wanna step into those shoes. I do my own thing. I love singing. I do love working on my voice. I’ve taken vocal lessons for years, and I like the things I’ve been doing with it, but those would be too big shoes to fill.

It used to be a photo of the whole band on your front covers, but for the last couple of records it’s only been Lzzy. Tell me about this decision.

Oh, aah. You know, I don’t know. It just kind of happened. Like, we worked with a photographer, and we got a lot of incredible photos, and the picture of, like, Lzzy screaming into the glass just looked so cool. We were like, “I think that’s the cover.”. But I don’t think it’s ever been a conscious thing or decision. I think, in the beginning they were like, “We should have you on the cover, so people can be introduced to you, and see that you are a real band and not like an artist with a backup band.”. Some of my favorite album covers are the ones that don’t have any pictures of the band on them. Some of the most iconic album covers are, like, Pink Floyd, or Tool. Those are, like, the albums that you wanna put on your wall, ‘cause they’re just pieces of art, you know. We did it a few times with the cover EPs. We would do like just kind of an art piece on there. And I really liked that. I really liked the one on the third Reanimate. I thought it was really cool, so.

Do you sometimes get recognized in the streets?

Yeah, especially with the green hair.

So with the green hair you get recognized?

Definitely. I stick out like a sore thumb, yeah. (Laughs)

So you’re gonna keep it so you still get recognized in the street?

No, it’s just I just like it ‘cause it’s fun. It looks fun in the lights. But if I wanna go incognito, I’ll put, like, a beanie on. As soon as I put a hat on, like nobody recognizes me. That’s the thing. Like, nobody knows what my face looks like. They just know me as the green-hair-guy. (Laughs) You know, some people have sniffed me out. ‘Cause I love to go watch the opening bands. I put my beanie on, and my hoodie on, I’m just kind of standing there, and the guy next to me is, like, “Hey! By the way, I’m a big fan.” and I’m, like, “Thanks buddy.”. It’s like, “How did you know what my face looks like? That’s crazy.”.

By Tobbe – Published April 3rd, 2024