Interview: The Babes – entertaining underdog rock from Australia

Donna Dimasi and Moni Lashes of The Babes backstage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

Aussie rockers The Babes recently toured Japan for the first time. Roppongi Rocks met the band after their first show in Tokyo to have a chat about being a family band, touring internationally and their forthcoming studio album “Dive Bars and Muscle Cars”.

Donna Dimasi of The Babes on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

When Australian band The Babes’ terrific EP “It Ain’t Easy” arrived at Roppongi Rocks headquarters, it was obvious that there’s still hope for Australian rock. I immediately took a liking to this great rock’n’roll gang. This summer they toured Japan for the very first time, kicking off the tour with an opening slot for Girlschool and Venom Inc in Tokyo. Shortly after they have finished their high-energy opening set at Club Seata in Tokyo, I sit down with sisters Moni Lashes (drums) and Donna Dimasi (guitar) in Girlschool’s dressing room. 

How do you feel being on your first-ever Japan tour? “It’s an absolute dream!” says Moni. Donna adds: “It’s incredible. We love Japan!” The sisters are on a high after a successful debut show in Japan. “I’m sure we’re gonna wake up tomorrow in our homes in Adelaide: Yeah, that was a dream. It didn’t happen!” says Moni. Donna continues: “It’s just so beautiful. Obviously, we’re from Australia. Australia is beautiful too, but totally different.” Moni adds: “A different kind of beautiful. A city and more industrial buildings, to me, appeal so much more. And the people, they’re so respectful and friendly. Everyone is courteous and stays in their lane and that’s why this is such a great country. People respect each other and love rock’n’roll!”

We call it common sense here in Japan. “It’s so foreign to see it as widespread because common sense is just rare in other places,” explains Moni. “I think the crowd in Japan just wants to have a really good time,” says Donna. “They’re here for a reason. They’re actually here for rock’n’roll!” comments Moni. Donna continues: “I think that sometimes in Australia, people get a bit worried about what other people think of them.” 

The Babes is a band, formed in Adelaide in 2011, but it’s also a family – with three siblings in the same band. The sisters’ baby brother Corey Stone is the band’s bassist. Only singer JD Ryan is not a blood relative. “He’s adopted whether he likes it or not,” says Moni. “He’s a good singer and a fun guy on and off stage. Whether we’re related or not, we are genuinely like a family, as lame and cliché as it is. We know that we’ve got each other’s backs. We all want the same thing, which is what the most important part is, to stay long term.”

Donna Dimasi and Moni Lashes of The Babes on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Moni explains that the family band in the early days was also managed by their dad. ”He was our manager for most of the early establishing years. He got diagnosed with multiple sclerosis so took a bit of a back seat. I kind of stepped forward and taking over, getting some advice from him. He’s a drummer. I started drumming lessons from him. Our family is very musical. Mum loves music too, but dad used to be in bands in the 80s.” 

You are a family and a band. Do you get caught up in sibling rivalry and other family dramas? “No!” says Donna quickly with a big smile across her face. Moni continues: “We are a very close bunch of siblings. Donna and I, even though we are not twins, we can look at each other and know what the other is thinking. We can read each other really well. If there’s something on someone’s mind, we can get it out of the way so it doesn’t fester like other bands when you’re not siblings. Just say it and get it over and done with. You can’t do that with strangers, because everyone’s got, you know, feelings!”

You have released a great EP, “It Ain’t Easy”. When will we see a full-length album from The Babes? “We’re aiming to release it in Australia in mid-August,” says Moni proudly. “We have a national tour lined-up in Australia for it. We’re in talks right now to do a Japanese special release with a bonus track and do, maybe a promo tour over here. But it’s in very early stages of that with a local Japanese label and also a tour manager to book some shows to promote it as well as do some media stuff when we’re here next. It’s very early stages but we want to do that. When we get back, we will work on the bonus track because the rest of the album’s done now. I’m just so impatient to release it. We’re really proud of it. It’s a 12-track CD and the bonus Japanese track – so it’s a full value for money album!”

The Babes is a very hands-on band, not afraid of working hard, while at the same time being a bunch of nice people who get help when needed. “Everyone we have met so far has been so helpful. This can’t be real!” says Donna. Moni explains: “We’ve always been a do-it-yourself band from the very start. We do our own artwork, we do our own videos. Obviously, the CD gets produced and engineered by the same people that actually know what they’re doing, because we don’t know that. But when it comes to promotion in Japan, we’re so lucky to have the backing of people who know what they’re doing, because we are not in our element here.”

JD Ryan and Moni Lashes of The Babes on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

You describe your music as “underdog rock” and “music for the working class”. I hear meat-and-potatoes rock’n’roll meant to entertain. It’s dirty rock with some echoes of AC/DC, a bit of Motörhead with a dash of Girlschool. But you have hair-metal ballads in the mix as well. It shows that you’re more than just one thing. “Haha!!” laughs Donna before Moni attempts to explain: “We have so many different influences. JD, our singer, he loves early Pantera. He’s influenced hugely by that. Even just like the cock rock like Bon Jovi – we were listening to heaps of their ballads at the time we wrote that one. So, you go from Judas Priest to Bon Jovi. And Donna listens to 50s and 60s bebop and girl groups. I’m glad that you mentioned Girlschool because I love Girlschool.” 

You’ve already toured at home in Australia, you’ve in America and now you’re here in Japan. As a newer band, how do manage to get so many gigs booked? Do you work harder than other up-and-coming bands? “I think it is just working smarter and not harder,” says Moni. “I think we work hard, but… I don’t know how to describe it. I think we are more direct. When we know what we want, we just figure out how to get it and go and get it. We wanted to tour America so… We actually got approached for America, so that was like: OK, well, if we’ve got two shows there, we can’t go there for two shows, it’s a very long trip. So, then, where else do you wanna go? You wanna go to Vegas? OK, let’s try to get a show in Vegas. Where else you wanna go? Play LA? OK, let’s see if we can get some shows in LA. We wanted to do Japan for a very long time, but American opportunities came up first, so we had to do that. We had to – it was like a dream come true! When we know what we want and we’re on the same page, there’s nothing that’s going to stop us! It’s lame but it’s true! I know how we can get where we want to get. Then we need some help, like in Japan where these people that have offered us help with label stuff, that’s 100% welcome to me, because it’s not my element. I play drums. I write songs. But I’m not a Japanese promoter.” Donna continues: “I think it is every band’s dream to get out there and play to as many different demographics as you can. So far, it’s been such a journey. Obviously, playing in America compared to an Australian crowd was totally different.”

Donna Dimasi and Moni Lashes of The Babes backstage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

The Japanese fans seem to have made an immediate impact on the band. “I’m still on a buzz from playing here. Oh my God! They were so nice! They were smiling at us!” says Donna. Moni adds: “That’s true rock’n’roll. That’s what rock’n’roll was in Australia a long time ago, but it still is here. And that’s just normal to them! Unbelievable! We’ve almost sold out on our merch and our CDs. I was like: That will last us for the whole tour. Oh no, we have nothing for the other two shows. But it is a good problem to have!”

Following a very successful Japan tour, the band is now touring in Australia and has other exciting things being planned in addition to the release of the full-length studio album, “Dive Bars and Muscle Cars”. “We’re playing with Chris Holmes from W.A.S.P.,” says Donna. “We also got approached by the defence force back home. They deploy entertainers out to the troops, to the war zones.” Moni continues: “They fly us in the actual defence force plane and we get accommodation in the barracks. It’s full-on! We’re really excited about that.” 

This band is winning. They’ve got the talent, the energy, the work ethic and they are also bloody nice people. Soon enough they will have to drop the “underdog rock” tag line. We hope to see them back here in Japan soon.

Donna Dimasi and Moni Lashes of The Babes backstage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

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Album review: The Dead Daisies “Locked and Loaded – The Covers Album”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

New album of classic rock covers by The Dead Daisies.

Rock veteran collective The Dead Daisies is, after a few very busy years with multiple album releases and constant touring, on a bit of a break. They are filling part of the gap by releasing a compilation album featuring cover songs they have recorded and played in recent years. The album’s highlights include “Fortunate Son”, Creedence Clearwater Revival’s era-defining anthem of dissent from 1969, as well as cool live versions of Grand Funk Railroad’s “We’re An American Band” and Deep Purple’s “Highway Star”. We also get covers of The Sensational Alex Harvey Band, The Beatles, Howlin’ Wolf, The Who, The Rolling Stones and Neil Young. The Daisies has always been a band that is all about feelgood music and meat-and-potatoes rock’n’roll. Music to get a party started. They write terrific original material but have always made a point of also playing well-chosen covers. The Daisies has had a rotating line-up of music veterans coming and going with Aussie guitarist David Lowy the only constant. On this compilation, we can hear John Corabi, Doug Aldrich, Jackie Barnes, Deen Castronovo, Richard Fortus, Marco Mendoza, Dizzy Reed, Jon Stevens and Brian Tichy people with some serious pedigree from Whitesnake, Ozzy Osbourne, Thin Lizzy, Mötley Crüe, Ratt, Guns N’ Roses, Dio, Foreigner, Journey and much more. Just like this band is always a joy to see and hear, this album of covers, too, puts me in a good mood. It will do just fine until we get to hear some news about what’s next for the Daisies. 

The Dead Daisies’ “Locked and Loaded The Covers Album” will be released on 23rd August via Spitfire Music.

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Album review: Riot “Live in Japan 2018”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

American metal band Riot’s love story with Japan continues with a new live release and upcoming Japan shows.

Riot has a long and proud tradition as one of the best American heavy metal bands. They have also had a great relationship with their Japanese fans and they always seem to come up with great things for the Japanese fans. In 2018 they toured Japan twice. This year we get a new Japanese live release (the band’s third) as well as two special shows in Kawasaki in October.

Riot, founded in New York in 1975, has seen its line-up evolve continuously over the years. Leading the current line-up of Riot (or Riot V as the band is now called outside of Japan) are guitarist Mike Flyntz and bassist Don Van Stavern who both joined the band in the 1980s. They are joined by Frank Gilchriest on drums, Nick Lee on guitar and vocalist Todd Michael Hall. While the band has no original members left, the current members deliver and are worthy of carrying on with the band name. Most importantly, they play the back catalogue very well, but they are also creating great new music in the Riot tradition, such as the terrific 2018 studio album “Armor of Light”.

This double live album, “Live in Japan 2018”, recorded at Club Citta in Kawasaki in March 2018, gives us all the good stuff from throughout the band’s long career. In 1990, the band recorded the live album “Riot in Japan – Live!!” and in 1998 they recorded “Shine On” during a Japan tour. Only Mike Flyntz was part of those earlier live albums and the setlist is very different on this new live album. Of course, we get some of the obvious classics, including “Thundersteel”, “Warrior” (with LoudnessMasayoshi Yamashita as a guest) and “Swords and Tequila”. But we also get fab newer songs such as “Messiah”, “Armor of Light”, “Ride Hard Live Free”, “Fall from the Sky”, “Take Me Back”, “Metal Warrior” and “Land of the Rising Sun”. The 23-track live release is a great showcase of Riot’s past and present. It’s a great band that is still relevant and still delivering at a top-level.

Riot’s “Live in Japan 2018”, released both as a live album and a live DVD/Blu-ray, is out now in Japan via Ward Records and internationally via AFM Records. On 5th and 6th October, Riot will be back at Club Citta for two special shows to celebrate the release of the new live release. Get your concert tickets here: www.clubcitta.co.jp/001/riot-2019/

Here’s Roppongi Rocks live review of one of the two Japan shows in March 2018: https://roppongirocks.com/2018/03/17/gig-review-riot-celebrates-30-years-of-thundersteel-at-club-citta/

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Album review: Attentat “Punkhjärta”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

Swedish punk rock veterans Attentat are back with a great new album. “Punkhjärta” continues a proud Swedish tradition of power pop-infused shout-along punk rock.

Veteran punk rock band Attentat formed in Gothenburg, Sweden in 1978 and released their debut album “Tatuerade tårar” in 1981. They were one of the leading bands in the original Swedish punk rock scene along with bands such as Ebba Grön, Asta Kask and KSMB. Vocalist Mats Jönsson, guitarist Magnus ”Paddan” Rydman and bassist Cristian ”Crippa” Odin have all been in the band since the late 70s. In the current line-up, they are joined by newer additions Patrik Kruse on guitar and Dennis “Larry” Staaf on drums. The new album “Punkhjärta” (Swedish for “punk heart”) is a terrific take on punk rock of the Swedish kind that was established in the late 70s and early 80s. It is somewhat angry punk rock but with plenty of pop influences and great melodic touches. It’s music with attitude made to sing along to, with lyrics based on everyday observations. The lyrics are all in Swedish as was almost always the case with the early Swedish punk bands. The band’s lyrics are quite simple but they work a treat as they are also very direct. On the new album, we get to hear the Attentat that we got to know and like back in the day. Sure, they are older, perhaps somewhat wiser, and they now sound a bit more mature. But that’s OK. They’re not teenagers any more and neither am I. The standout track for me is the terrifically weird and wonderful “Pissa på”. I love the contrasts and tempo changes and the terrific chorus. “Vad får jag” is another great, but more direct, track in the proud Swedish tradition of shout-along punk rock and power pop, while the emotional and depressing love song “Esmeralda” plays out with a supermarket as a backdrop. What a welcome surprise to see that Attentat is still a very relevant band and one that can still entertain us! 

Attentat’s new album “Punkhjärta” will be released on 23rd August via Busy Bee Production.

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Album review: Destruction “Born to Perish”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

German thrash metal band Destruction is once again a quartet. 35 years after their first demo cassette they are as good as ever. “Born to Perish” is world-class thrash metal.

Destruction plays hard-hitting and punishing thrash metal of the German kind. This is world-class thrash metal with deep roots in the 1980s thrash metal scene but with a contemporary sound. The band is still fronted by Mike Sifringer (guitar) and Marcel “Schmier” Schirmer (bass and vocals) who co-founded the band in 1982. They released their first demo cassette “Bestial Invasion of Hell” in 1984 and their debut studio album “Infernal Overkill” in 1985. The band was early on firmly established as one of Germany’s leading thrash metal bands and they have remained at the forefront of German metal. So, what’s new this time? Terrific Canadian drummer Randy Black (Primal Fear, Annihilator, W.A.S.P.) joined the band during last year’s tour. He’s an animal on the drum stool and a perfect match for Destruction. The band is also no longer a trio – they’re once again a quartet since they added Swiss guitarist Damir Eskic. The new line-up is all we could ever hope for. It’s solid, punishing and tighter than tight.

Having seen Schmier and Mike perform live with Randy in Tokyo last year, my expectations on the new studio album were sky-high. The addition of a second guitarist got me even more excited. I am very glad that the band lives up to and even exceeds my expectations. The song titles are in line what we have come to expect from Destruction: “Born to Perish”, “Inspired by Death”, “Betrayal”, “Rotten”, “Filthy Wealth”, “Butchered for Life”, “Tyrants of the Netherworld”, “We Breed Evil”, “Fatal Flight 17” and “Ratcatcher”. Musical highlights on this new album include the terrific title track as well as “Inspired by Death”, “Betrayal”, “Rotten” and “Filthy Wealth”. Most of the songs are gloriously fast and furious. It seems that Black and Eskic have given their German friends an international vitamin injection. “Butchered for Life” is a bit different – starting off as a sinister kind of ballad before exploding into chaos, then calming down again for a guitar solo and then yoyoing back and forth between different styles. It’s a bit different but very good. Destruction delivers crushingly good stuff on this new album. Today’s Destruction is a terrific version of the band and the new songs are up there with the band’s classics.

Destruction’s album “Born to Perish” will be released on 9th August via Ward Records in Japan and Nuclear Blast internationally.

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Album review: HammerFall “Dominion”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

Swedish heavy metal band HammerFall is back with “Dominion”, its eleventh studio album. This band is still all about good-fun and bombastic shout-along melodic heavy metal.

“Dominion” is HammerFall’s eleventh studio album since the band was formed in 1993 in Gothenburg, Sweden. Guitarist Oscar Dronjak is the only original member left in the band. Early line-ups of the band featured members from In Flames and Dark Tranquillity. Frontman Joacim Cans has been in the band for 23 years now and has sung on all of its albums. The current line-up also features Fredrik Larsson (Evergrey) on bass, Pontus Norgren (Talisman, The Poodles, Zan Clan, Great King Rat, Jeff Scott Soto) on guitar and David Wallin (Pain) on drums.

After all these years, HammerFall has a well-established signature sound which is melodic heavy metal with plenty of power metal and NWOBHM influences. HammerFall plays melodic, high-energy metal. At times it’s bombastic and often humorous. But this band is for real and they are on a heavy metal mission. The new “Dominion” album is more of the same music that we have heard before. They are not reinventing themselves here, but no one wants them to do that anyway. If you like your metal based on the classic 80s metal sound and with plenty of shout-along anthems and plenty of opportunities to play air guitar, this is for you. The track “We Make Sweden Rock” is both fun and terrific at the same time. This is good-fun metal with plenty of echoes of the 1980s but without sounding retro. This is a band that knows what its mission is and the band members are very good at what they do. “Second to One” is a great power ballad complete with emotional vocals, piano and a fine guitar solo. But it is with heavy metal songs such as “Scars of a Generation” and “Dead by Dawn” – with terrific metal guitar riffing – that HammerFall shows us its best side in my opinion. Song titles such as “Battleworn”, “Bloodline”, “Chain of Command”, “Dominion”, “One Against the World” and “Never Forgive, Never Forget” are part of a long and proud tradition of heavy metal lyrics. We Make Sweden Rock indeed. Japan too.

HammerFall’s new album “Dominion” will be released on 16th August in Japan via Ward Records and internationally via Napalm Records. On 15th September, they will perform in Tokyo.

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Album review: Hellsingland Underground “A Hundred Years Is Nothing”

Hellsingland Underground. Photo: Emmy Åhström

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Sweden’s Hellsingland Underground is back with the band’s fifth studio album. This time with a more mature and bigger soundscape with lots and lots of keyboards and piano mixed in with the guitars and Charlie Granberg’s terrific storytelling. The end result is magic.

Known as a terrific and high-energy live band, Hellsingland Underground has always also delivered in the studio. They released their self-titled debut album in 2008 and all their five studio albums are great. Having started off with a combination of Swedish melancholic folk-rock and Southern Americana rock, the band’s sound has evolved on every album. Nowadays they seem to have few if any, musical limits. “A Hundred Years Is Nothing” is the follow-up to 2016’s “Understanding Gravity” and here we can hear the band creating great music without worrying about fitting into any specific genre. The band’s current line-up consists of Charlie Granberg (vocals), Peter Henriksson (guitar), Jerry Ask (guitar), Thomas Pettersson (keyboards and piano), Martin Karlsson (bass) and Patrik Jansson (drums and percussion).

I could write about the band’s evolved soundscape where David Bowie now seems to have moved into Neil Young’s garage right next to John Belushi, Joey Ramone, Ray Manzarek and Jon Lord…and Scott Gorham’s guitars still standing there. 

I could write about the smart and beautiful use of various forms of piano, organs and keyboards by what is essentially a guitar band.

I could write about how frontman Charlie Granberg has lifted the band with his production of this set of exquisite new songs. It’s a very cool production where a more mature Hellsingland Underground emerges, with no musical limits. There is a great atmosphere to the songs that without being rushed get some space to breathe. Somehow, the songs still manage to retain that excellent raw energy that drives the band. The main focus remains on the songs that live in a wide musical range stretching from dusty rock via pop and bluesy country rock to I don’t know what. 

I could write about how the background vocals of new guitarist Jerry Ask have added a great dimension to the atmosphere of the songs. 

I could write about very diverse new songs such as “Carnival Beyond the Hills”, “Strangelands”, “Pig Farm”, “Elephant”, “Rainbow’s Gold”, “The Blessing and the Curse” and “Bloodlines”.

I could write about the splendid “Criminal Summer”, one of the most beautiful and best songs of the year so far (The piano! The guitars! The genius “tarararara-oolalalala-ratatatata” vocals!).

I could write about how I grew up in the same neighbourhood as frontman Charlie Granberg and how, in the 1980s, we played in the same rehearsal studio. (Well, “studio” might be too fancy a word to describe the shabby rehearsal space in the attic of the by-then closed-down Fenix cinema in Ljusdal, Hellsingland.) He was a heavy metal drummer back then, but It was always obvious to me that this was a driven man who would choose his own path and make a success of it.

But no. I am not going to do that. I am just going to sit here, with a big smile across my face and enjoy the masterpiece that “A Hundred Years Is Nothing” is. The music speaks for itself. I love this band. You should too.

Hellsingland Underground’s new album “A Hundred Years Is Nothing” will be released on 30th August via Wild Kingdom/Sound Pollution Distribution. 

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Interview: Nicke Andersson and Linus Björklund of Lucifer | “There’s quite a bit of ABBA in Sabbath!”

Lucifer’s Nicke Andersson and Linus Björklund backstage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

After a splendidly high-energy Lucifer gig in Tokyo’s Shibuya district, Roppongi Rocks’ Stefan Nilsson sits down backstage with Lucifer’s drummer Nicke Andersson and guitarist Linus Björklund to talk about the evolution of the band, songwriting, tuned-down guitars, the poppy side to Black Sabbath and much more.

The European band, founded by German singer Johanna Sadonis (ex-The Oath) in Berlin in 2014, has evolved a lot between its two albums. Gaz Jennings of British doom band Cathedral played an important part in the band’s early days but with his exit from the band, things have changed a bit musically. The current line-up of Lucifer consists of Sadonis on lead vocals, her Swedish husband Nicke Andersson (Entombed, The Hellacopters, Imperial State Electric) on drums, Austrian Alexander Mayr on bass and Swedish guitarists Martin Nordin and Linus Björklund. Their latest album, “Lucifer II”, was released in 2018.

Lucifer’s Nicke Andersson backstage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Welcome back to Japan! “Thanks!” says Nicke Andersson who has been here a few times over the years. “It’s the first time for me,” says Linus Björklund. 

It is hard to accurately describe Lucifer’s style of rock music, but Johanna Sadonis has made it clear that she’s not keen on being called a stoner rock band. “It’s difficult,” says Nicke. “I think the easiest way, a kind of shortcut, is to say it’s a mix between Black Sabbath and Fleetwood Mac. Done! There’s quite a lot between there. It’s obviously Black Sabbath-influenced, but also quite a lot more than that.” Linus adds: “As long as it’s not stoner rock! We do not want to be associated with that.”

Lucifer has become a new band with different members between its two albums. The band’s sound has also evolved as Gaz has been replaced by Nicke as Johanna’s songwriting partner. “When Johanna founded the band following The Oath’s much too early split, she had a vision for the band. But it became a bit different as she started writing songs with Gaz from Cathedral. When I heard the first Lucifer album, I thought: ‘Damn, this is like Cathedral but with a good singer!’ Haha! No disrespect to Lee. One can immediately hear that it is Gaz from Cathedral. He has a special sound and I like Cathedral, I’m a fan. I think that if Gaz were to write a KISS song, it would still sound like Cathedral!” explains Nicke.

Nicke continues to explain that he liked what early Lucifer sounded like but that he soon saw a chance to get closer to both Johanna (his future wife) and the band. “I really like the first album a lot. It’s a bit of a strange word, but Johanna and I started dating. I was really interested in how it is to write songs together with others. I write songs more or less on my own. When I’ve had help, it’s been with some lyrics, but I’ve never written music together with someone. I’ve had some draft texts with some blah blah and nonsense English and then Dolf or Kenny have written the lyrics,” explains Nicke with a reference to Dolf de Borst and Kenny Håkansson, his songwriting partners in Imperial State Electric, The Hellacopters and Entombed respectively. “I was really interested in the songwriting process. I was also very interested in Johanna!” says Nicke with a big smile. “Yes, obviously!” says Linus. Nicke continues: “Then she called and said: ‘Do you know what happened?’ No. ‘Gaz is leaving.’ Oh! She was distraught. They wrote 50-50. During the call, I thought that perhaps this wasn’t so bad. Perhaps I can do something. She thought I was just trying to be nice. But then we said: OK, let’s try! We started sending drafts back and forth. The first song we got sorted was ‘Dreamer’. I immediately thought that this will be great. Melodies and music always come at the same time for me. It’s very rare for me to just come up with a riff. Johanna has told me that it wasn’t the case with Gaz.”

Lucifer’s Linus Björklund backstage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

“On some of the songs, the verse and the chorus have the same riff. That is quite unusual,” explains Linus about the old Lucifer songs. Nicke continues: “He thought: ‘Here’s a pile of riffs. Do something with them.’ That must’ve been harder. That’s how it is. Nowadays Johanna says that this is how she wanted to do it then as well, but perhaps she’s just saying that to be nice too… Even if I try to do a hundred riffs, it still turns into some kind of pop thing. I just can’t resist! Let’s go back to Sabbath: all of us in the band like Sabbath a lot. But I think that I, or all of us, like parts of Sabbath that these doom bands seem to have forgotten. I think there is a lot of ABBA in Sabbath!” “Absolutely!” adds Linus, before Nicke continues: “But they ignore that. They’re like – let’s take the heaviest Sabbath riff and make a whole career of it. But I want to catch, or steal, everything, even the poppier parts.”

“Born Again” remains Black Sabbath’s best-ever album. I am dead serious, but Linus laughs out loud before Nicke says: “No, it isn’t. But it is very good and really underappreciated. There are of course other bands than Sabbath, but Sabbath really has parts that people tend to forget about. They’re really poppy and that is why it becomes really heavy when it’s heavy.” 

The two of you were not in the band when the first album was made. Does this have any impact on things when you put together setlists for the gigs? Do you feel like you can skip the old material and focus on the newer songs? “Quite the opposite!” says Linus. “It’s more Johanna,” says Nicke. “We want to play more of the old songs than Johanna as she’s already done a world tour with them.” Linus continues: “We think it is fun to play those songs. She wants to do more new material and we want to keep the old stuff. The band is Lucifer. There are two albums.” Nicke adds: “Thus, we end up with some kind of compromise.” “It is also about respecting the band’s whole career,” says Linus. “The band was formed without us and thus we can’t come in and just… No!” says Nicke. “Apparently, that’s what Brian Robertson did when he joined Motörhead. He didn’t want to play ‘Ace of Spades’…”

You joined an already great band and made some material changes. Were you ever worried about how the fans would react? “We can only play the way we play,“ says Nicke. “I don’t think Johanna was worried. I thought about it. Here comes the pop guy and destroys the whole doom thing! There was more of the mysticism and hocus pocus on the first album. At the beginning when I and Johanna started writing songs, she was like: ‘Shall we skip tuning down?’ No! It has to be tuned down, I said. That’s how it should be.” Linus adds: “It’s important. It gives a whole different vibe to the songs and, once again, Black Sabbath tuned down. Haha!”

Lucifer’s Nicke Andersson backstage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

A few days ago, you were on a large stage at a major summer festival in Sweden. Now you’re here doing a club gig in Tokyo. Do you approach different types of gigs and different audiences in the same way or do you somehow adjust what you do? “No, we only have the songs that we have. There’s no difference” says Nicke. Linus adds: “I believe that we think it is a bit more fun to play at a club because we get a bit closer on stage.” “There’s something special about when a festival is great too. The opportunity to win over a few new fans. But I think it is a bit safer at a club. Nothing bad about festivals, but…” says Nicke. “We have mainly played club gigs together,” says Linus. “I saw a picture from when Kris Kristofferson played Gröna Lund the other day. And that is quite a big stage. They all stood right next to each other, all of them. Because they wanted to keep it tight and they wanted to feel each other. I can relate to that a bit. Sometimes I feel as if we are too far apart from each other on stage.” Nicke adds: “I’ve noticed that at certain festivals where I am supposed to sit and play the drums on some big podium. ‘Hello? Can’t you come up here? I am so lonely up here!’ I think that we, in typical Swedish fashion, find that somewhere in the middle of the two extremes is best.” 

Both Nicke and Linus have other musical commitments outside of Lucifer. Linus plays with the band Vojd while Nicke has numerous bands and projects, including the reformed versions of Entombed and The Hellacopters as well as the splendid Imperial State Electric and much more. Getting it all to fit in logistically isn’t always easy. “The logistics are difficult. But where there’s a will, there’s a way to solve it somehow. But it is tricky,” says Nicke. Linus continues: “We have to plan far in advance. But sometimes we are not doing that and then it becomes hard. But we’re learning all the time!”

Have you been forced to take in fill-in musicians? “I started as a fill-in really“ explains Linus. “When a new line-up was forming, Robin Tidebrink was there. Martin joined at the same time. Martin couldn’t make the first few gigs and I was asked if I could do them. Yes, obviously I can do the gigs. Subsequently, I filled in for both of them for a while. Robin eventually quit the band as he became a father and such. Then I got the question if I could join permanently.” Nicke adds: “But since then we haven’t done it. Not yet…”

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

While you now have a strong line-up, the “Lucifer II” album was basically recorded as a trio. “That was mainly because we couldn’t find the time. We thought: Let’s do this now in order to finish the album“ says Nicke. “Otherwise it would’ve taken even longer. The idea was to get it done faster.” Linus adds: “It is hard to get an album done with a complete band. It is perhaps almost easier when you’re not that many people.” Nicke continues: “But now we’ve recorded bass and drums for a track for the next album and so we have started!” The new song is called “Ghost” and the band performed it live on stage in Tokyo. Playing new songs live before they are recorded in the studio can be a good way to test new music. “For the sake of an album, it would absolutely be best to have performed the album for a year. Isn’t that the way that Bear Quartet does it? It’s not very commercial, but it’s fun that they perform an album for a year, then they record it, release it and they never perform it any more. They then perform new material!” says Nicke. Linus continues: “It’s a weird way to go about it but kind of cool. The album must get better that way.” Nicke adds: “That is obvious!” before Linus continues: “They have played through everything and rehearsed so much and tested the songs and been able to make amendments along the way. That is a luxury!”

What’s next for Lucifer? A new album? It isn’t that long ago since you released your last album. “Much too long ago!” says Nicke. “I feel like it was so long ago. It should be like Creedence. Didn’t they release three albums in 1969? All hits! That’s how it is done! We are aiming for March next year. That’s when it should be released.” Linus adds: “That’s when it will be out. We will work on it this year in parallel with touring and festival gigs…and other bands.” Nicke continues: “We won’t be going into the studio for two weeks and then be done. Rather we’ll be doing bits and pieces here and there.” “We do have the luxury of having two studios in the band. I have one and he has one” says Linus with a nod to Nicke.

They do great studio albums, but Lucifer is also a phenomenal live band where the skills of the musicians are built around the obvious centre of attention, Johanna Sadonis. “We believe that it is very important to be great live. If you can’t deliver on stage you might want to consider not playing at all. It is impossible to not look at Johanna when she’s on stage,“ says Linus of his bandmate who combines a terrific voice with a world-class stage presence.

During August, Lucifer will tour North America. If you’re there, you should go and see them and spot the ABBA influences in Black Sabbath.

Lucifer’s Nicke Andersson and Linus Björklund backstage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

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Interview: Graham Bonnet on new Alcatrazz album | “It will be released in 2020”

Graham Bonnet on stage in Tokyo with Alcatrazz. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

Graham Bonnet, one of the best and most iconic voices in rock, has been a frequent visitor to Japan. Recently he was back in Japan for an Alcatrazz tour as well as a guest appearance with Impellitteri. Roppongi Rocks’ Stefan Nilsson had a brief chat with Bonnet about the reformed Alcatrazz. 

More than five decades have passed since his first hit single. But in 2019, California-based Englishman Graham Bonnet is better than ever. Bonnet’s past includes having fronted Rainbow, Alcatrazz, Michael Schenker Group, Impellitteri, Blackthorne and much more during a long and varied career. At 71, he is still here, he’s still singing and he’s still very relevant. In recent years, he has reunited with several of his past bands, including Michael Schenker and Impellitteri. His main touring and recording activities are currently centred around Alcatrazz and Michael Schenker Fest, both highly successful, not least in Japan.

This year you have reformed Alcatrazz. What triggered this after a couple of great albums and touring as Graham Bonnet Band? “Three things: The music of the Graham Bonnet Band sounded like it could be a continuation of the Alcatrazz music. We have Jimmy Waldo in the band. He is an original member as well. Also, new guitarist Joe Stump really helps make this band sound like classic Alcatrazz. Add to this the continued request to perform Alcatrazz music and it seemed like the logical thing to do.”

The reformed Alcatrazz performs quite a few Rainbow, Impellitteri, MSG, Graham Bonnet Band and your solo songs. Did you ever have second thoughts about doing this while performing under the Alcatrazz name? “Alcatrazz in the 1980s performed songs I did with Rainbow, MSG and solo. It’s the same thing, there is just more of it in the catalogue now.” 

The new boy: guitar wizard Joe Stump. What a find! How did he end up in the band? “Our manager Giles Lavery was aware of him and found him.”

Initial Alcatrazz gigs have mainly focused on material from “No Parole for Rock’n’Roll”. Will you perform more material from the other Alcatrazz albums at future shows? “I think some songs from ‘Disturbing The Peace’ will go into the set for sure. ‘Dangerous Games’ we did a couple from two years ago in Japan. It’s hard to play everything but we hope to get to it all eventually. We keep the setlist interesting from tour to tour.”

Will you record a new Alcatrazz album any time soon? “It will be released in 2020!”

Since you reunited with Michael Schenker on stage here in Japan in 2015, both your and Schenker’s careers have picked up. What led to that 2015 reunion where Graham Bonnet Band was supporting Michael Schenker’s Temple of Rock and you also guested his set? “An agreement between our manager Giles and the promoter that I would perform with Michael. Obviously, that got everyone thinking and it became Michael Schenker Fest. It all happened at the same time as we were doing the Graham Bonnet Band albums.”

Graham Bonnet on stage in Tokyo with Alcatrazz. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

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