Album review: Hirsh Gardner “My Brain Needs a Holiday”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

New England drummer Hirsh Gardner is back with another fabulously varied solo album filled with uplifting, catchy and melodic rock music. The Luke Skywalker of sunshine rock is back.

With “My Brain Needs a Holiday”, Hirsh Gardner gives us a rock-solid album of good-natured melodic rock music. Best known as the drummer for classic American rock band New England, Canada-born Hirsh also played in Warrior (basically New England minus John Fannon plus KISS guitarist Vinnie Vincent) and also played an important part in the early work on what became the first Vinnie Vincent Invasion album.

In a doomy and gloomy world, Hirsh Gardner is the Luke Skywalker of sunshine rock. He makes the world a better place and he is without doubt one of the nicest guys in rock. He’s also a drummer who can sing (his harmonies in New England are legendary) and play multiple instruments. His quite a songwriter too.

This album is full of great stuff. It is very Hirsh: diverse, out there, melodic, funky, uplifting and catchy rock. Some of this is like a modern-day version of Slade, sort of (especially the jolly title track). But it is so varied it is hard to put labels on it apart from the obvious one: “Hirsh Gardner”.

Right now my favourite tracks on the album include “Lost in the Darkness Tonight”, “Git It Back”, “Do Me Do Me” and “If U Need t’ Talk”. The great “Shadows” has a somewhat scaled-back production which I love. It’s kind of a demo-like soundscape in which a fantastic song roams around. The ballad “Diamond Moon” is stunningly beautiful, a bit like if Lionel Richie had fronted Journey (which he didn’t). We also get two decent cover songs, “Sister Jane” (originally by French-Vietnamese prog rockers Tai Phong) and Procol Harum’s “A Whiter Shade of Pale”.

Hirsh Gardner in Tokyo in November 2016. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

The album has a very slick production. Not a surprise as Hirsh has made a name for himself as a music producer in the Boston area. Hirsh has wisely used his musical brother Jimmy Waldo on keyboards and backing vocals throughout this album. Jimmy has not only played with Hirsh in New England and Warrior, he too has done work with Vinnie Vincent and also played with Alcatrazz, Quiet Riot, Blackthorne and Graham Bonnet Band. Among the guest artists appearing on the album are guitarist Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal (Art of Anarchy, Guns N’ Roses, Lita Ford).

The album comes with a bonus disc which is a remastered version of Hirsh’s first solo album, “Wasteland for Broken Hearts”, originally released in 2002.

I love this man and his music. He makes me upbeat, happy and want to scream: Hooray for everything!

Hirsh Gardner’s “My Brain Needs a Holiday” will be released on 25th August via Escape Music (Europe) and GB Music (rest of world).

Interview | Treat: “We’re not a jukebox band!”

Treat posing in Tokyo in 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

When Swedish melodic hard rockers Treat recently toured Japan for a third time, Roppongi Rocks’ Stefan Nilsson met the band for a chat about the balance between being a nostalgia act versus creating new music.

Melodic hard rockers Treat had their heyday in the 1980s, releasing their debut album “Scratch and Bite” in 1985. Quickly becoming a name in their native Sweden, they were invited to open for W.A.S.P. during their first tour of Sweden in 1984 and did the same for Queen and Gary Moore in 1986. The band then made an international impact when they had some airplay on MTV of the video for “World of Promises” and were invited to play the Monsters of Rock tour in Germany in 1988 with the likes of Iron Maiden, KISS and David Lee Roth.

In 1990 they toured Japan for the first time, but shortly thereafter melodic hard rock was no longer flavour of the month. Vocalist Robert “Robban” Ernlund left the band. He was replaced by former Swedish Erotica and future Yngwie Malmsteen and Candlemass vocalist Mats Levén. With Levén, the band put out a great record but commercially it didn’t make much of an impact and the band soon thereafter called it quits.

In 2006, in conjunction with the greatest hits album “Weapons of Choice” being released, the band reformed and has since put out two great records of melodic hard rock, 2010’s “Coup de Grace” and 2016’s “Ghost of Graceland”. In January 2015 they finally returned to Japan for a few gigs as special guests of fellow Swedish rockers Europe. That laid the groundwork for their recent return for two great gigs in Japan in 2017.

The current line-up of the band is the same as they had in the late 80s: Anders “Gary” Wikström on guitar, Robert “Robban” Ernlund on vocals, Jamie “Jompa” Borger on drums and Patrick Appelgren on keyboards. Having used a couple of different bassists, last year they recruited Pontus Egberg as a permanent member. He is also a member of King Diamond and Kryptonite and was previously in The Poodles, Zan Clan and Lion’s Share. As I watch Treat perform live the day after the interview, it is obvious that Egberg brings this to a whole new level. He’s a rock-solid bassist who also knows how to perform on stage.

Pontus Egberg of Treat posing in Tokyo in 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

“Earlier I played in The Poodles and we toured together, The Poodles and Treat, around 2010,” explains Egberg. “Thus, we know each other from then and earlier too. When it was time to make a new album, ‘Ghost of Graceland’, I got a call from Mr. Wikström who wondered if I could help them by playing bass on the album. And that’s how I joined. Since then we’ve been out playing a bit in Europe and at home in Sweden too. It’s worked great so far.”

The loyal fan base in Japan is still there. In Japan, Treat’s albums have been licensed by local record company King Records. “It’s an important market for all artists,” says Patrick Appelgren. “That’s how it is. It’s very different from the European and American markets. Here you still sell physical albums.”

Band leader Anders “Gary” Wikström continues: “The Japanese fans had waited a long time for us to come back and play. Yes, there was an audience for us here. We didn’t really know if the audience still existed, but they were here and then it is up to us to nurture that audience. We need to come here more often and follow up properly. To come here and play is something we obviously like to do. It’s hard to beat the impressions we get when we come here.”

Treat posing in Tokyo in 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

So why did the band decide to reunite in 2006? “Anders and I sat in car on our way to Sweden Rock,” says Jamie Borger. “Yes, we were going to check out Mötley Crüe,” adds Wikström. “I thought that we could have another go with this band. It’s fun. All of us had continued with music so it wasn’t impossible,” says Borger who during Treat’s hiatus played with Talisman. “It was quite simple to get everything to work again music wise. When we all got together in the rehearsal studio it really clicked once again.”

Jamie “Jompa” Borger of Treat posing in Tokyo in 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Robert Ernlund continues: “I didn’t realise there was still any interest in Treat. But we had fan clubs all over the place. What? Still? Unbelievable! When we got touring in Europe and played a song from ‘Organized Crime’, everyone was singing along. Shit!”

Having fun has always been at the centre of how Treat operates. “When we started to work on the greatest hits album it was kind of a test,” explains Appelgren. “That’s when we realised it was fun to play together and be around each other again. That resulted in us doing a new album and then one more album. If it wasn’t fun…” Wikström continues: “In the 80s we had pressure on us to tour to promote an album. Today it is all about performing, connecting with fans. That’s a goal in itself. That’s a big difference. That’s why it is important that we’re having fun. Otherwise there won’t be any music.”

Treat is a band with experienced musicians who keep themselves rather busy not only with Treat but also with working with other artists as producers, sound engineers and musicians. Thus, Treat rehearsals are few and far between. “We rehearse when we have something specific coming up,” says Wikström. “You sort of have to trust that everybody is rehearsing on their own. It’s not like when we played with the band full-time. Then we met in the rehearsal room to have something to do. Today we’re so busy that we have to schedule things properly.” Appelgren adds: “We’re experienced. When we were 20, we lived in the rehearsal room.” Egberg continues: “As everyone has so many other things going on, it’s a necessity that everyone deals with this professionally and that they have done their homework when we meet up for rehearsals. Otherwise it would never work.”

Anders “Gary” Wikström of Treat posing in Tokyo in 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

In 2013, after a great reunion album and some successful touring, the band took a bit of a break. “We were actually a bit unsure if we were going to continue,” explains Wikström. “Should we or shouldn’t we? Unlike many other acts, we never did a farewell tour. For us it’s a lot about inspiration when we make music. We are not a jukebox band! We don’t just tour and play old songs from the past. I don’t think that is justifiable, Treat without any new music to showcase. We want to show people that we are active. Music comes first, then playing, then touring. That’s the order it has to be in. We can’t just fall back on our old songs. I love playing songs we did 30 years ago that people still like. It’s fantastic. But it can’t be just that. Whenever we have added newer songs in our set list, we’ve had stronger and better gigs. Many people have told us that we are one of the very few bands whose new songs are as good, or even better, than back in the day.”

With a back catalogue consisting of seven full-length albums, Treat has plenty of great songs to choose from. “It’s hard,” says Wikström. “But it sort of leaves many wanting more which is an advantage.” One way of dealing with this dilemma is to play medleys, such as the “Dreamhunter” medley they performed on the Japan tour. “We have to do it that way,” says Wikström.

The response to the newer songs has been great at the live shows. “When we play some of the old hits, we get a nostalgic reaction from the audience, but the newer songs have really worked well,” explains Egberg. Ernlund continues: “They’ve been growing on people. Take the ‘Coup de Grace’ album, it’s really grown on people and properly landed. The new album too, slowly but steadily. The more we play the more they have become part of the Treat catalogue.” Borger adds: “These gigs that we are doing now, we kick off with three new songs in a row, before we look at the back catalogue. We’ve planted them there to show that we actually have great new songs that we can play. It feels great, they’re great songs and that’s why we start with them.”

Patrick Appelgren of Treat posing in Tokyo in 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

How does the band create new music? “The engine is Anders and the rest of us contribute our own things. All of us have some unique abilities and that’s how we try to get the best out of all of us,” explains Appelgren. Ernlund continues: “With this record, ‘Ghost of Graceland’, we were in a situation where we had to ask ourselves if we should continue or not. Then one day Gary calls and says he has ten songs. Oh, OK! Then we worked on it from there.”

“In the end it is the personal touch which all of us put into the music,” says Wikström. “That is very important for how any band is defined as a band. I understand that very well from my work as a music producer. Nowadays it is very easy to create music on your own and then call it a band or a project or whatever. That’s how many are doing things now. That’s why it is even more important for us to use a proper studio where we meet up. It is a kind of a pep talk for ourselves: now we’re making a record, laying down the drum tracks with everybody there together. Even if we don’t record the entire album there and then, it serves as a morale boost by getting everyone focused on working together. That’s how you have to do it in order to catch the feeling we had when we recorded albums in the 80s when there were big budgets to make albums, when you went away abroad for two months with the whole band staying at a hotel. You can forget about that nowadays as there is no budget for such things. But one can recreate that feeling a bit by meeting up and do things together.”

How does Treat create new music but stay within what is expected from the classic Treat sound? “It sort of happens naturally,” says Appelgren. “It depends a lot on the musical arrangements. How I play my keyboards, what Jompa does with his drums, how Robban sings. It’s the way it all interacts, that’s what makes it Treat.”

Wikström elaborates on Treat’s creative process: “It’s kind of brutal. If I have a couple of song ideas in my back pocket that I show the rest of the band, it is very clear if it doesn’t fit. Then those ideas won’t make it. That’s how it is. If people don’t get turned on by the song idea, then I just put them to the side. Somehow we all feel what kind of things can be worked on together to arrive at our finished songs. I also think about this technically: writing things that will fit well with Robban’s singing. It has to fit or it won’t be much fun because his voice will front this. The vocals are a key component in our songwriting.”

Robert “Robban” Ernlund of Treat posing in Tokyo in 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

A live DVD, “The Road More or Less Traveled”, recorded at the record company Frontiers Music’s own festival in Italy last year, was released earlier this year.

“There have been big gaps between the albums. We get punished for that. We need to make more frequent releases to keep things cooking,” says Wikström.

Treat’s summer is filled with festivals and gigs in Europe. “I will also try to sit down during the summer to start work on a new album,” says Wikström. “I’m at least going to start so that we have a chance of getting the new album released during next year.”

Treat posing in Tokyo in 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

They have an existing record deal with Frontiers Music for the next album too. “They love what we do!” says Wikström and Egberg continues: “They almost have a monopoly when it comes to melodic hard rock nowadays.” Appelgren adds: “They’re an indie label which is almost a major in this category. It is a bit of a monopoly but they have really succeeded. They have really managed to attract bigger artists away from the majors.”

While Frontiers has its own festival, they don’t seem to have moved into producing tour packages, despite their extensive artist roster. “It is almost surprising that they haven’t done that, taking a couple of acts and get them on the road on a tour together. It should be a good business idea for them,” says Egberg.

During their third Japan tour, Treat shows us that they are better than ever. Their newer material is great and with the addition of Pontus Egberg on the bass and back-up vocals they have got a heavy vitamin injection. This is definitely no mere nostalgia act.

Album review: Barb Wire Dolls “Rub My Mind”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Barely a year after their last album, Barb Wire Dolls are back with a new studio album packed with attitude and catchy tunes.

There’s something about Barb Wire Dolls’ sound that I love. The band has plenty of attitude but also the skills to back it up. “Rub My Mind” is the band’s third album and it builds further on the achievements of 2016’s album “Desperate”.

Originally from Greece, the band relocated to Los Angeles in 2010 and got discovered by the late Lemmy, who signed them up to Motörhead Music.

Musically this is quite different from Motörhead. It’s somewhat closer to Lemmy’s other band, The Head Cat. Barb Wire Dolls have crafted an easily recognisable signature sound. If we need to mention references, it is perhaps best described as the Ramones meets Blondie with some The Cramps and Transvision Vamp thrown into the mix. It’s catchy, melodic punk rock crowned by Isis Queen’s characteristic vocals. Her voice is addictive.

The politically charged “Back in the USSA” is fantastic. Another clear favourite of mine on this new album is “If I Fall” and the emotional “Gold” is a treat.

Barb Wire Dolls are a hard-touring band. The experience of countless gigs around the world shows in their new material. The band knows what it takes. Currently they are touring North America as part of the Vans Warped Tour package.

Barb Wire Dolls’ “Rub My Mind” is out now on Motörhead Music.

Gig review: The Dead Daisies makes some terrific noise in Tokyo

The Dead Daisies on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Rock’n’roll knockout delivered in Tokyo by the fab The Dead Daisies.

The Dead Daisies‘ Australian founder and guitarist David Lowy has managed to take the best bits from rock history and put together a vital, high-energy band full of attitude, skill and abilities. This is a band that is having fun performing for its fans and with the skills to deliver a proper rock show.

With the band’s members having solid rock industry pedigree (Dio, Whitesnake, Thin Lizzy, Mötley Crüe, Ratt, Ozzy Osbourne, Journey, Slash, Glenn Hughes, Billy Idol…), they know how to put together a world-class rock show.

The Dead Daisies on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

They kick off in style with “Long Way to Go” and then move on to the fabulous “Mexico” before we get the rock anthem “Make Some Noise”.

The Dead Daisies on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Frontman John Corabi knows how to entertain and leads from the front. But he’s also experienced enough to not overshadow his bandmates the whole time. Fierce bassist Marco Mendoza is hard to ignore as he takes possession of the stage while drummer Brian Tichy bangs away on his drums like it’s nobody’s business. The newest addition to the band, guitarist Doug Aldrich who joined in 2016, has taken the band to a whole new level. His guitar wankery and classic rock poses make this band complete. This evening in Tokyo we get a two-hour rock’n’roll party. The audience at the sold-out gig is with the band the whole way. What we get is like a deluxe, in-the-flesh version of the band’s new live album “Live & Louder”.

The set list is terrific. The best bits from the band’s catalogue plus a few carefully chosen rock classics in “Fortunate Son”, “Join Together”, “Helter Skelter”, “We’re an American Band”, “Midnight Moses” and “Highway Star”.

The Dead Daisies on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

We do get an extended drum solo by Brian Tichy in the middle of the gig. No major fan of drum solos, I feared the worst, but Tichy delivers. Like a possessed maniac he attacks the drums and shows us his skills. Even goes full-on Tommy Aldrige on us and does part of his solo with his bare hands.

The whole band’s tight and work very well together. Having initially been a band with a constantly changing line-up, since last year it now seems there is a real band here and not a project with rock star guests. Wow! What a night of great fun rock’n’roll!

The Dead Daisies on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

The Dead Daisies – Club Quattro, Shibuya, Tokyo, Japan – 5th July 2017 – set list

  • Long Way to Go
  • Mexico
  • Make Some Noise
  • Song and a Prayer
  • Fortunate Son
  • We All Fall Down
  • Lock N Load
  • The Last Time I Saw the Sun
  • Brian Tichy drum solo
  • Join Together
  • All the Same
  • With You and I
  • Mainline
  • Helter Skelter
  • We’re an American Band
  • Midnight Moses
  • Highway Star

EP review: Aborted “Bathos” | Sheer extreme metal brilliance

Aborted on stage in Tokyo in 2015. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Nowadays I expect nothing short of perfection from Belgian extreme metal maniacs Aborted. On their new EP we get it. This is nothing short of a brutal masterpiece.

Aborted’s music is intense, a punch in the stomach. It’s fast and technical extreme metal with twists at every corner. On top of the fantastic music there is Sven De Caluwe. He is one of a kind. His voice and performance makes Aborted stand head and shoulders above the crowd. The “Bathos” EP is faultless, it can’t be improved. It’s complete. The beauty of a two-track EP is that there is no time to get bored, no fillers, no dips. This is sheer extreme metal brilliance from these sick Belgian bastards. The combination of great musicians, fab songwriters, bundles of never-ending energy and an insanely gifted frontman, takes Aborted to perfection. Love it! When a record company descries its artists as “busy-as-a-beaver death metal sickos”, you know it has to be good. This is ridiculously great extreme metal.

The new EP continues where last year’s splendid full-length album “Retrogore” left off. In addition to the intense title track “Bathos”, we get the phenomenally named song “Fallacious Crescendo”. It’s quite possibly the band’s best song so far. Terrific evil awesomeness in a song format with a rather tasty guitar solo in the middle of all the brutal chaos.

Aborted’s EP “Bathos” will be released on 7th July via Century Media Records. Yes, you should by this one.

Sven De Caluwe of Aborted on stage in Tokyo in 2015. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Dynazty vocalist Nils Molin officially joins Amaranthe

Nils Molin backstage in Tokyo in February 2017 while on tour with Dynazty. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Dynazty vocalist Nils Molin has become an official member of Amaranthe.

Hardly a surprise, but now Dynazty vocalist Nils Molin has officially joined Amaranthe. He joins the band as one of its three lead vocalists and replaces the band’s co-founder Jake E who departed the group earlier this year. Roppongi Rocks learnt already early this year of Amaranthe’s interest in Nils Molin’s services. When Molin was in Tokyo in February with Dynazty, he smiled when we mentioned Amaranthe to him (“we know that you know that we know”, kind of) but without revealing what was coming up.

Having earlier used Chris Adam from the band Smash Into Pieces as a stand in for Jake E, in March Amaranthe started using Nils Molin for gigs in Europe.

When Amaranthe’s Elize Ryd played in Japan with Gus G in March, she said of Molin who had then done his first few gigs with Amaranthe: “Nils is top of the list. We had fun with these gigs in Sweden. It was so much fun! He’s a cool and great guy. Thus it would be great to have him in the band. Exciting! It’s great with some new blood. He’s awesome. It sounded really great. His voice fits us really well. He can even reach the high octaves together with me. That was cool! We want him! We obviously would like to have him. We’ll see what happens. We’ll find out.” Now we have found out. Nils Molin is now a permanent member of Amaranthe. What remains unclear is his future with Dynazty. Officially it seems he will do both bands, but with the kind of schedule Amaranthe normally has, there is bound to be very little time left over for Dynazty.