By Stefan Nilsson
The day after their triumphant return to the Tokyo stage, the members of Swedish melodic rock band H.E.A.T sit down with Roppongi Rocks’ Stefan Nilsson and Ikuko Yamanaka for a chat about the end of the successful “Touring Down the Walls” tour, a move to become a rockier band and what’s next.
H.E.A.T introduced themselves to Japan back in 2009 when they played at the big metal festival Loud Park in Tokyo. Shortly thereafter their original vocalist Kenny Leckremo left the band and was replaced by Erik Grönwall who had already made a name for himself as a solo artist in Sweden.
H.E.A.T’s melodic rock has in recent years gone from AOR to melodic rock with a bit more edge. Musically they’re not miles away from how Europe sounds and that may not be such a surprise as both bands are from the small town of Upplands Väsby, just outside of Stockholm. “That kind of music really works here. Our music is flirting a bit with that music,” admits Grönwall of the similarities between H.E.A.T and Europe as we sit down with the band in the Tokyo office of Japanese record company Marquee. Upplands Väsby is also home to Yngwie Malmsteen and Candlemass and is considered holy ground by some of the most dedicated Japanese rock fans.
Just like it is for Yngwie Malmsteen and the boys in Europe, Japan is an important market for H.E.A.T. They already have a Japanese license deal with Marquee and now want to build on that.
“We really want to build something here. We really enjoy being here and it is a great audience. That’s the plan, that’s why we’re here,” says guitarist Eric Rivers. Keyboardist Jona Tee continues: “It is a great market and so far things are going well for us here.” “Overall in Japan, when they do something they do it 100%,” notes bassist Jimmy Jay of the record company support for them so far.
The band, who has mainly focused on and had success in the European market, has noticed some differences between touring in Europe and doing so in Japan. “There was more excitement at the hotel with waiting fans and such. We don’t really get that in the same way elsewhere. That was rather unique. They were waiving to us as we were leaving the hotel,” says Eric Rivers with a smile.
“There were fans waiting for us at the airport as well,” says drummer Crash. “And they gave us gifts too!” says an excited Rivers.
“I noticed a big difference when it comes to audiences. Here they are quiet between songs. It is really different. But I was prepared for it,” says Grönwall. Crash continues: “When we played in Switzerland the audience was totally crazy and loud when we got off the stage at the end of the set. ‘H.E.AT! H.E.A.T!’ It was very lively and loud. We though that the building might collapse. But here, nobody said anything when we finished the set, even though they probably wanted to get an encore from us. They were clapping their hands, in a coordinated sort of military way. It was cool but very different.”
H.E.A.T has very effectively made use of festival gigs to win new fans. This past summer they played several European festivals, including Download, Graspop and Väsby Rock. “You can build up new fans through live gigs and then you can keep them engaged via Facebook. Social media is a great way to stay in touch with fans but in order to build a sound fan base you need to get out on the road and play gigs. Festivals are great for that as you reach so many people there,” explains Grönwall. Eric Rivers continues: “We have noticed that wherever we have played a festival gig, we get a bigger audience there next time we’re back for our own headline gigs.”
Since the arrival of Erik Grönwall in the band, they have become a bit rockier, especially live. Earlier this year they released the “Live in London” album which clearly shows this. A rockier H.E.A.T is a better H.E.A.T in my opinion. I am hoping that we will get to see more of this rockier side of the band on the next studio album. “I think people like it,” says Grönwall of the rockier side of the band. “People give us compliments about the live band H.E.A.T. We are working on this and will keep building on it. Even in the studio we sit down together and record everything live”. “Live we’ve always felt a bit more like a metal band. We try to rock out on stage, especially in recent years. This is starting to show in our music in so far as that we now are a bit rockier and heavier,” adds Eric Rivers.
“We don’t know much about the next album yet. We haven’t really talked about how we want it to sound, so we’ll see,” says Jona Tee. “On the first two albums, as a new band we had to compromise a bit more with our opinions of what the records should sound like in order to get a record deal. Once we gained control over our own sound there has been a natural progression in our music,” explains Jimmy Jay on why they are moving to a rockier sound.
The band didn’t worry about potential issues with bringing in an already famous singer into the band when they chose Grönwall as their new vocalist in 2010. “We didn’t think a lot about that. We just wanted to get a really great singer,” explains Crash how Grönwall was selected for his talent rather than his fame.
Guitarist Dave Dalone, a founding member of the band, left in 2013 and was not replaced as the band started to work on its latest album “Tearing Down the Walls”. Eric Rivers is now the sole guitarist and there are no plans to get another guitarist anytime soon. “It’s kind of fun that we are now a bit heavier and there’s more guitar on the album after we dropped one guitarist,” laughs Rivers. “I think that often, when you have more than one guitarist, it tends to become more melodic. For example, if you listen to Pantera, which is among the heaviest and most aggressive music you can listen to, it’s only one guitar,” says Jimmy Jay. Jona Tee continues: “We’ve never really played anything where we need two guitarists. We don’t have any twin leads like Maiden or Thin Lizzy or that kind of stuff.”
The Tokyo show the night before our interview was the band’s final gig on the current tour. One can tell that plenty of touring and many gigs have made the band tight and experts on delivering a very lively show. “We rehearse the show but we don’t really do any choreography,” says Crash. “We are more focused on the music, to put together a great show, getting the order of the songs right. That kind of things we spend time on. We’ve been working on perfecting this show for quite some time now, ever since we released ‘Tearing Down the Walls’. We’ve now got the perfect set list after making changes here and there. We can now deliver this show in our sleep. What our Japanese fans got was a concentrate of our live show.”
Tour’s over, so what’s next for the band? “We are going to write songs. That’s where our focus is,” says Grönwall. “We feel that we need a little break now, get some inspiration and think about what’s next. To take our time as we’re not in a hurry to release a new record in order to get out on tour again. We’ll take our time and then we’ll see when the next record is ready to be released.”
“The most important thing is that it will be the best alum we’ve ever done,” says Jimmy Jay.
H.E.A.T – band members
Erik Grönwall – vocals
Eric Rivers – guitars
Jona Tee – keyboards
Jimmy Jay – bass
Crash – drums