Interview: Girlschool “We just go straight through the amps!”

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

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

According to Alice Cooper, school has been out for summer for many students. But one British school has not had the summer off: veteran British rockers Girlschool toured Japan and Australia this summer. Roppongi Rocks caught up with the band backstage in Tokyo.

Kim McAuliffe of Girlschool on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Founded in London in 1978, Girlschool has two remaining founding members: Kim McAuliffe on guitar and vocals and drummer Denise Dufort. Both have turned 60, but are still at the top of their game. Legendary guitarist Kelly Johnson passed away in 2007 and the other member of the classic Girlschool line-up, Enid Williams, left the band, once again, at the beginning of this year. Kim and Denise are joined in the current line-up of the band by lead guitarist Jackie Chambers and bassist Tracey Lamb. Tracey, a founding member of the band Rock Goddess, is back in Girlschool for her third (or fourth stint, really), having first played with the band in 1983.

Sitting in a small room backstage with the four members of Girlschool, there’s endless banter and self-deprecating jokes. It never stops. They’re the same on stage a few hours later. They’re a lovely bunch of ladies and their British humour resonates well with me as I, too, spent a big part of my life living in London. 

It’s now been 41 years since the band was formed. What motivates you to keep going after all these years? “We’re stupid!” says Denise Dufort with a big grin across her face. “Stupidity!” screams Kim McAuliffe and continues: “But also, the fact is, it doesn’t seem like it. It just goes so quick. Anyway, when we first started, if you would’ve told us then that we would still be going now…” Denise jumps in again: “No way!” before Kim says: “It just happened.” Jackie Chambers explains that the band is still going because “We don’t have any other friends!” before Denise screams: “It’s true!”

Girlschool toured here Japan for the first time in 1982. What do you remember from that tour? “The first time you come here, it’s so different,” explains Kim. Denise adds: “Culture shock!” Kim continues: “I remember, when we went on stage, there was so much screaming, we thought we were in The Beatles. What the hell’s going on here? The other funny thing I do remember is that where we’re playing because it was a big theatre, they won’t allow smoke machines. So, there was all this little crew, running in, literally, filling up bags of smoke outside the doors and ran into the stage!”

Girlschool backstage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Lemmy and Motörhead have had a constant presence in the Girlschool story. What has his support meant for Girlschool? “I think what happened was that they gave us more of an identity,” says Kim. “Obviously, we were touring way before we met Motörhead. We sort of had the same thing as Motörhead, the crossover thing. We played punk clubs – they’d think we were heavy rock. And when we played heavy rock clubs, they thought that we were punk. When we did that first tour with Motörhead, people went ‘Ah! That’s what they are! Whatever it is, whatever that may be.’ The crossover thing, you know.” Tracey Lamb adds: “Similar sound. When I was in Goddess in the early years, Jody and me went out and bought all the Girlschool albums and Motörhead albums and there was a similarity in the style, with the crossover punk and metal thing.”

How do you balance playing old classics versus newer material? Do you ever think: Screw the old stuff, let’s just play newer songs? “We’d like to,” says Kim. “But the thing is, I always think, what would I like to hear if I came to see a band? I wanna hear the songs that I know, the classics. Everybody does.” Tracey adds: “It’s good to have a mixture, isn’t it?” Jackie continues: “We put new ones in. We try to put them in, because people who’ve found us only a few years ago, and then there’s some young people only just coming into the band now, so we have to put something new in.” Kim takes over: “But having said that, since Tracey joined, we are playing four new ones, to us, in a sense, that we never usually play.”

Girlschool backstage in Tokyo with Roppongi Rocks boss Stefan Nilsson.

Jackie explains: “We put ‘Bomber’ in for the first time ever.” Kim continues: “We’ve never played ‘Bomber’ live ever. But we do now! And also ‘Action’, which is a relatively new one. Tracey was on that album.” Tracey quickly says: “1988!” before Jackie adds: “New in 1988! Haha!” Kim continues: “We play two new ones, ‘Guilty as Sin’ and ‘Take It Like a Band’, from the last album.” Jackie feels the urge to explain that “When we say ‘new’, it is always like ten years ago!”

Your latest studio album, “Guilty as Sin”, came out in 2015. Can we expect a new studio album anytime soon? “People are saying ‘get a new one together’ and we’re thinking now when Tracey’s back in, we should do something next year,” says Jackie. 

Tracey Lamb is back in the band yet again as Enid Williams left. Was this an obvious choice? Is it a temporary or a permanent solution? “She’s under initiation test,” says Jackie before Tracey proudly says: “I passed. I’m in!” Denise explains: “I wanted Tracey back in the band. Because she’s a great bass player. Me and her always play well together, so I wanted her back!” Kim continues: “This is her third time now. We’ve known each other for 40 years.”

Tracey Lamb of Girlschool backstage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

“It’s fantastic being back,” says Tracey. “I love it! I’m back to stay, I’m back for good. I’ve been away for about 19 years and now I’m back.” Kim screams: “19 years? Bloody hell! Where’s that gone?” before Tracey continues: “It’s great! Because I left Goddess and then a few months later I got a call from Denise: ‘Can you help us out first of all and see how it goes?’ And we had such a great time in Spain and then we played Belgium, didn’t we? It gelled musically.”

Will Rock Goddess continue without you? “Yeah, they have got a new bass player now. They replaced me with a younger model. Haha! She’s only 28!” says Tracey.

Jackie Chambers, who joined Girlschool in 1999, is referred to as “the new girl” by the others. “20 years! New girl?!” says Jackie. “We keep saying the new girl,“ admits Kim. “It’s a bit like Ronnie Wood. He’s the new bloke in the Rolling Stones!” 

Jackie Chambers of Girlschool on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Jackie, you joined a legendary band more than two decades after it was founded. Now, some 20 years later – you have a major role in the band as lead guitarist and songwriter. Was that tough to achieve? “I didn’t see it like that because they were mates,” answers Jackie. “I’d met them all in 1995. Even though we were mates, I never saw myself in the band. Kelly wanted to leave. I never even thought about joining Girlschool. Me and Kim were doing a project, writing together at my house. No, actually we were just getting drunk, weren’t we? Pretending to write songs! When Kelly at one point just had enough, because I didn’t play lead guitar at all. I was in like punk stuff and played rhythm and riffs. She goes: ‘Look, if I help you…’ Cris Bonacci lived two streets away. She’s like ‘I’ll teach you the songs!’ And I thought: ‘Alright then!’ I joined a cover band to get my playing up to speed because I had never played lead guitar. They taught me the songs, I just went away and practised, thinking nothing will ever come of it. And then one day they said: ‘We’ve got some gigs, a London gig and Wacken, which was Kelly’s last gig. They wanted me to do Wacken and I went: ‘Not a chance in hell is that gonna be my first gig!’ in 1999. So, I said: ‘OK, Kelly, you do this as your last gig and I’ll take over there.’ And it just happened. Then Enid came back. The first gigs we did was 2000. So, 1999 I officially joined. I just like writing music. I wanted to be a songwriter, not a guitar player. What went wrong? I get to do both now. I enjoy it. I don’t write all the songs. I like to write music. We just work together, don’t we, really? I jam with Denise to write songs and me and Kim swap ideas on the phone. It’s really high-tech this band, whistling down the phone, an idea!”

Let’s talk about the classic Girlschool sound. Throughout the years, you’ve had many different constellations when it comes to guitars and bass and how the lead vocals have been handled. This year you have again had a shift with Enid leaving the band and Kim being, more or less, the sole lead singer. How have you managed to keep it sounding Girlschool through all these changes? “I’m a bit worried about these gigs now,” says Kim, “because we have like six in a row or something. I’m not used to singing all the songs. I need a bit of a break.” She’s pleading with Jackie and Tracey to take on some of the lead vocals. “I’m going to try one!” says Tracey who then a few hours later sings lead on “Watch Your Step”. “I think it’s just the Girlschool sound, isn’t it?” says Jackie. “We don’t use effects, you see. We just go straight through the amps. I think most bands use effects, pedals and things like that. Because we’re straight through Marshall, that is the sound. So, whoever joins, I mean, obviously I’m sort of similar to Kelly in style anyway, so as soon as she starts playing, that’s the sound, straight through a Marshall. That’s it.” Kim rounds it off: “We plug straight in! And I still use leads. People can’t believe it. ‘Where’s your wireless?’” laughs Kim while shaking her head. A few hours later the band is on stage and killing it. What a fab band and a great bunch of Brits.

Girlschool backstage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

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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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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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Interview: Marco Mendoza in Tokyo with Viva La Rock | “I love to entertain!”

Marco Mendoza in Roppongi, Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

Marco Mendoza is best known for his work as a bassist with bands such as Whitesnake, Thin Lizzy and The Dead Daisies. But he’s also a very active solo artist. When he recently visited Japan with his “Viva La Rock” solo trio consisting of drummer Kyle Hughes and guitarist Conrado Pesinato, Roppongi Rocks sat down with Marco Mendoza at his hotel in Roppongi for a chat.

This is the third time within a year you’re visiting Japan – you did a The Dead Daisies Japan tour last year, a gig with Nozomu Wakai’s Destinia in January and now a couple of shows with your own trio. “Now I’m here with my thing and we are going to go to the moon, man. To the moon! I love Japan. I’ve been coming here since…1991, I’d say, maybe. So, it’s been part of my career for a long time. We definitely have a lot of friends here and we get a lot of support. A lot of love. Even though they are so far away and it’s a small island, there’s a lot of music lovers here, so it’s good to come back.” 

You have been here in Japan many times over the years with different bands, but this time it’s the first time for you as a solo artist. Does it feel different? “It’s always special when I’m doing my own music. I love it! I can’t wait to share my stuff with the folks. I don’t want to sound pretentious, but I think the sign of a true artist is somebody that’s constantly opening new doors of creativity and testing yourself. And you keep pushing yourself. I’m not one to be, my career would attest to it, I’m not one to settle down and enjoy the fruits of my labour, because there’s so much going on. There are so many directions you can go. I’m one of those guys who have dabbled in quite a few. When I get back, I am playing at the Big Potato with my jazz thing, a Latin jazz funk band. I love it, man. Music – you can say I’m addicted to it. Addicted to performing. I’m looking for the next best show, always trying to improve, always trying to reach a new high. When you’re fronting your own band, of course, for me it’s more rewarding. There can also be a little pressure, but I don’t let it. I’m very lucky that I have a lot of things going on. My career doesn’t have to depend on what happens with my solo stuff. My solo stuff is just a side thing that I do for the love of it. And if it flies and it’s well accepted – beautiful! And if it’s not, that’s OK too. I’ll try again whenever I get another chance.”

Marco Mendoza on stage at Club Edge in Roppongi, Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Drummer Kyle Hughes (of Bumblefoot fame) has been playing with you for some time, but these shows in Japan are the first-ever with guitarist Conrado Pesinato (Out Of The Woods, ex-Graham Bonnet Band, Alcatrazz, Hardly Dangerous). “I’m very lucky that I get to play with the best players I can possibly get my hands on. In the past with my solo project, I’ve used quite a few players. My friend from Italy, Nicola Costa. Micky McCrystal from Tygers of Pan Tang, I’ve used him for quite a while. But my main guitar player was Soren Andersen. I brought him to LA and I introduced him to the LA scene and a lot of people there, including Glenn Hughes. I told Glenn; ‘This is your cat, man. You’re gonna love this guy.’ He’s very talented. He’s a sweetheart, he’s a good guy. A lovely person to hang out with. An amazing talent – singer, songwriter, producer. I knew that was going to happen – so he’s gone, real busy with Glenn. So, Micky McCrystal came in. Again, the guys that I choose are guys that are busy, they’re in demand. They have other projects like I do. It becomes a bit of a juggling thing. On this last tour, we started March 20th, I believe, in Portugal, in Lisbon, and my main guy right now is Tommy Gentry from Gun. Tommy was tied up with this other project for a week. And the dates were coming in, so I either let them go and wait until Tommy is available, but I decided to go. The way I look at my project is this: if I sell me and my music, if I show up, then I’m fulfilling the contract. For me, the players matter a lot. For the promoters, as long as I show up, I play my music, they’re happy. So, I booked shows based on that. He came with me for a week, then he went back, Micky flew back, Tommy came out. And we did that twice, kind of flipping. When the opportunity came to play in Japan, neither of the guys were available. They’re both tied up. Tommy is right now working with this artist in Sweden. It was a prior commitment for a long time. And Michael is in the studio with Tygers of Pan Tang. So, Kyle introduced me to Conrado. They’re good friends. I looked him up and he’s an amazing player. He lives in LA, so I’m like opening another door because my next step was… Right now, I’m getting offers to do some gigs in the US. I’m hoping that everything is good and everything works well. He’s a sweetheart. He’s really dying to play. He loves the music. For me, that’s where it’s got to start. When we get together, we play the songs together and it gels, it sounds great and I see him enjoying himself, and he really loves what he’s doing, then it’s a go. Now that gives me another option in the US for future dates. I’m getting a bunch of offers for the US, South America, Australia. The other thing that has to be part of who I bring on stage, who I play music with, they have to sing. That’s one of the requirements. Kyle sings great. Micky McCrystal sang great. Tommy Gentry sang great. And now Conrado sings. I’m a big vocal guy. My recordings have a lot of background vocals. I love that colour. I’m looking forward to it. We are going to play, for the first time, tomorrow, at soundcheck. We’re gonna rehearse the set.”

Marco Mendoza in Roppongi, Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

The “Viva La Rock” album was released last year and you have done quite a few solo gigs since then. Did you expect it to turn out this way or is the success a pleasant surprise? “It’s a pleasant surprise. This is my third album. I think, with the first album, I realised I didn’t do any live gigs. I did not support that album until a year and a half later, two years later actually. I realised I can’t do that. I gotta make time. With ‘Casa Mendoza’, it came at a time when I was really tied up with Thin Lizzy and really tied up with The Dead Daisies, making that transition. Black Star Riders and all that stuff. I really didn’t have time to support that album. Out of the three, it’s not my favourite. Oops, I said it! But this one is very special. I can listen to it now and I dig it. It sounds pretentious of me to say that, but I think the writing is getting better. I think the production is getting better, the playing, the lyrics… Everything about it is growing, it’s maturing. I’m excited about it and I want to play it. The next album, I’m having the same expectations. I’m hoping we’re taking it to the next step. Me and Soren were talking yesterday actually, to get our schedules together to do that.”

With your setlist now, do you focus a lot on “Viva La Rock” or is it more a mixture of your albums? “It’s definitely a mixture. But the main focus, I’d say 70%, if not 80%, is ‘Viva’. Because, again, the songs played live really work well. To the point where, if you’ve never heard these songs, when you hear them live, there’s the energy there, there’s something going on there. You see the people bopping. We haven’t got a lot of radio support and we haven’t got a lot of promo and marketing. Unfortunately, that’s just the way it is. I’ve changed the set based on that – what works live? If I show up in front of, I don’t know, a couple hundred people that don’t know the music, and you play for the first time and you look at the reaction, you feel the reaction. You hold on to those songs. When you play some songs, you can tell when it’s clicking or not. You hold onto the ones that click and you kind of discard the other ones or have them on the back burner. One thing that I do insist on doing is not only just play the music. I love to entertain. I love to play with the audience. I’m a big believer in audience participation. I think that’s when it becomes special. When the audience becomes part of the performance in one way or another. So, people walk away with a smile on their face and they go: ‘Wow! We were snapping our fingers, we were singing, we were chanting, we were jumping!’ You know, it becomes a party.”

It seems you are already planning for the next studio solo album with producer Soren Andersen. “Yes. He’s an extremely busy cat. Not only playing wise, but he’s become, in the industry, a big name as a producer and as a mixer. Like big time. The projects that are going to him are unbelievable. So, we’re juggling things. I have this other project, Journey Through Time, so we’re looking at each other’s schedules and it’s looking like December right now. Things are changing as we speak, so him and I are going to stay in touch and I have been sketching out some songs. He’s been doing the same. He knows what works for me. We decided – and I hope we go that way – that we are going to strip things down even more and go smaller production and go for like the Faces sound, go for like the Free sound, Aerosmith, Alice Cooper… Go for the generic five-piece band, four-piece band.”

Marco Mendoza in Roppongi, Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Will you record in Denmark again? “Yes, right now, that’s the plan. I told him I had a great time getting away from… As much as I love being home and my family, my wife, my kids, I like the idea of getting out of the scene and being out there in Copenhagen and being very focused. That’s what we did, the whole day – I would wake up, have breakfast, go to the studio and we would spend six, seven, eight hours every day. And the product was great, man! It was very productive. I think there are three or four songs left from that. We did everything in twelve days! I have, I shouldn’t say this, I have the ballad, man! Oh my gosh! I have the ballad that is a radio-friendly AOR, stab-me-in-the-heart kind of, what do we call them? Torch! The torch pop song! I have it! It’s ready to roll and I can’t wait to record it and put it out there. ‘Leah’, the one that I dedicated to my wife, that was given a great response, so much that we decided to do a video.” 

Do you still have recording deal with Target/Mighty Music? “Yes, we have an option. If both parties agree we move forward. We just have to iron out a couple of things, but I think that they did well. What’s good these days? I don’t know anymore. What’s left? What are the other labels that are left?”

Marco Mendoza on stage at Club Edge in Roppongi, Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Being involved in so many different things, how do you prioritise? Does The Dead Daisies always come first or is it more complicated than that? “No, it’s not. It’s very clear. The Daisies are my first priority. Absolutely! The reason why you see me working a lot now on other things is because we are taking a break until further notice. We will make an announcement of things to come for the future of The Dead Daisies. Some changes coming, but I think for the best. But it’s definitely my first priority until it’s not, you know what I mean? This is the music business, so I don’t know what to tell you. I move forward. I am very lucky, very blessed that I have so many options at any given moment. My solo thing right now is bopping. It’s just hot! I am getting invited everywhere.” 

You’ve been doing some things with Neal Schon in Journey Through Time which The Dead Daisies drummer Deen Castronovo is also part of. Will you do more things with them? “Yes. Right now, it is looking like the end of October, November into the first week of December. Deen is part of The Daisies too and I think that was part of the reason why The Daisies realised: ‘OK, let’s take a break. Let’s get something together for next year.’ But it’s good. I think we did everything we could. I think we covered a lot of ground. We’ve done a lot of shows. We went to, probably, everywhere we got invited to, including Japan. We’ve been here three times. Wow! Within four years, three times. That’s a lot. With a new album every time. We did four albums and one EP in five years. I think for projects like that, that big and at that level, you need to step back a little bit, let it breathe. Let it simmer if you will, and then come up. I’m like, alright, everything I had on the back burner comes up and I’m like, let’s do this and let’s do this.” 

How do you keep the energy levels up with such a punishing schedule? “I take a beating. Right now, you can tell, I’m a little down. I don’t know, man. I’m healthy, I guess. It’s just the thought of getting on stage here in Japan tomorrow, I’m excited! That gets me excited. You could say I’m addicted to music. I’m addicted to the next performance, the next album, the next recording. And I’m sober now, for 31 years. September will be 32 years of sobriety. I don’t do any drugs, I don’t do any alcohol, I don’t do any tobacco, I do a little bit of sugar. I take care of myself. I love what I do! It’s important.”

Marco Mendoza is taking part of the summer off to spend time with his family, but from August he’s busy again with gigs and other commitments in Europe and North America before it is time to get into the studio again. This hardworking cat is seemingly unstoppable.

Marco Mendoza in Roppongi, Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

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Interview: Kyle Hughes – a young English drummer touring the world in the name of rock

Kyle Hughes in Tokyo, Japan. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

English drummer Kyle Hughes may only be 21 years old, but he’s already toured with Bumblefoot and Marco Mendoza. With his first Japan tour now under his belt, this drummer has a bright future ahead of him. 

Having started to make a name for himself locally as a drummer in Twister, young and talented Newcastle drummer Kyle Hughes got discovered by former Guns N’ Roses guitarist Bumblefoot. Having toured internationally with Bumblefoot, the English drummer then teamed up with former Whitesnake and Thin Lizzy bassist Marco Mendoza. When Marco Mendoza’s trio recently came to play in Japan during their “Viva La Rock” world tour, Roppongi Rocks sat down with the drummer at his hotel for a chat a few hours after he had landed in Japan for the very first time.

You’re from Newcastle in England. How did you go from playing the local pubs to playing internationally with American artists like Marco Mendoza and Bumblefoot? “It’s crazy and it blows my mind that it’s worked out that way. It’s kind of one of them stories where it’s like – it takes one moment for something to happen and then it just changes everything. Meeting Bumblefoot was actually one of those moments. I was in an original band, which was called Twister when I was… How old was I, 15 when I joined them? They were a bit older than me, mid-twenties and stuff. I got a phone call from the singer. Well, actually, we were in a local club, ironically. ‘Bumblefoot is coming to town and he needs a backing band and we’ve got the gig!’ He was travelling around the world, just kind of going into different, I guess it was music schools and doing gigs with lots of musicians all over the shop. Then he comes to Newcastle of all places and my band, through Peter Mann, who works in the northeast scene. He had seen us play a local gig in Durham somewhere and he got the call: ‘We need a band, who’d you recommend?’ That’s how it works! So, we got the gig. I was 17 and I jammed with Bumblefoot. I loved the material, it’s full of a lot of chops for me to play and stuff. ” He met Bumblefoot for the first time at soundcheck and, there and then, they ran through the whole set. “We went on stage after one rehearsal and just blasted it out. Ever since then we’ve kept in touch and played gigs all over the place – in USA and Europe. I’m very grateful for that. He’s a very good friend of mine. Yeah, crazy experience! It leads on to everything else, to now! That’s how it works!”

Kyle Hughes on stage in Tokyo, Japan. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

How did you meet Marco Mendoza and ended up playing with him? “In London. That’s when I, I guess, got the gig if you like. We’d met, he was looking for a drummer and my friend Micky Crystal, fantastic guitar player of the Tygers of Pan Tang – a good friend of mine from home, obviously – recommended me for the gig. Marco was open to the idea, so we exchanged emails and the next tour he called me and said: ‘Do you want to do this?’ I was like: Yeah, why not? Haha! You’re not going to say no. I mean I grew up… My dad’s a bass player and a singer. We watched videos and Marco’s name would pop up with Whitesnake and Thin Lizzy of course. So, I was like: Yeah, I’m in! We just hit it off musically. He’s a great person and here I am in Tokyo, Japan! It blows my mind! I’m really grateful for the friendship and we have a great time on stage. That relationship from the bass and the drums is really solid now. I’ve been in this band now for about a year, so it has to be! Haha!” 

As a younger musician, you’re still only 21, do you ever feel nervous or intimidated playing with industry veterans, or do you just get on with it? “Not really. I was jamming in LA a couple of months back with Mike Keneally and some friends like Bryan Beller. You know, they’re older than me, they’ve been around awhile. But it’s one of them things where I feel once you are kind of in with people and you’re friendly with them, I think that’s the difference when you’re comfortable with someone on a friendly level. This guy is just a normal dude or whatever, just normal people. The more I’ve been in those circles and hanging out with people like that, it just becomes, I guess, normal and you don’t really get starstruck. Obviously, I have my heroes, which if I’d have met, I’d be a bit more… Like Tommy Aldridge, who Marco knows. Haha! Certain people, but in general, it’s kind of like I feel like when you’re in that circle you’re on the same level as everyone and you don’t feel intimated. There’s a reason that you’re there, I guess. I stay humble. I’m always one to work to improve and get better, but I feel when you’re in the same room and you’re going to be on stage with someone, they obviously see you as, I guess, one of them. ‘He’s on my level.’ That’s the way to kind of look at it, which keeps you confident and doesn’t put you in that intimidated spot.” 

Your hometown Newcastle has a proud history of producing some serious musical talent. What’s the secret? “That is a really tough question. But I am going to say this much, and I wouldn’t just say this. Even now I still play gigs locally when I’m not on tour. There are some of the most talented musicians… There’s some amazing talent in Newcastle that some people don’t even know. Some of the best players I’ve ever played with are from Newcastle. I don’t necessarily know why it is, but there is something about… Like for me, here I am now and in a couple of weeks, I’ll be back playing a working men’s club. It keeps you humble. It just brings you straight back down to Earth. I always think that something like that is a good thing. It keeps me in check. It’s the grind of like pulling big bass bins and drum kits up the stairs to get to the gig. It’s really cool and, honestly, I treat every gig the same. There’s something about that, where you play a pub or a club and then you’re given an opportunity to do something like this or when you’re touring Europe or the world, you’re just ready. I started in the pubs and clubs with my dad’s band when I was about 13 years old. I had the training years before I even met Bumblefoot or any of this even happened. I was, maybe not tour ready, but I was ready musically. You learn your craft and that’s for me, anyway, how it worked. I knew what I had to do. Then you get one tour and the next tour and then you just adapt. It’s all a learning experience though.”

Kyle Hughes on stage in Tokyo, Japan. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

What’s the highlight of your career so far? “This being one of them. I can’t lie. I’ve always wanted to come to Japan. I feel very welcomed here. It’s amazing! I’m very grateful for this experience. Haven’t even played a show yet! There’s so many – doing my first gig in America, playing at the Iridium with Bumblefoot, that was a highlight for me. Playing my first big gig at a festival supporting Simple Minds – it was insane – with my old band Twister. There are so many… I can’t put it into one. This whole tour has been amazing. It’s the longest tour I’ve done. I’ve played places I’ve never played before. I’ve seen new places. I’m just really grateful for everything. I know it sounds cheesy, but I never want to take it for granted. I wanna be in the moment.”

Marco Mendoza’s shows in Japan are followed by a few gigs in Russia. What’s coming up after that for you? “5th Avenue from Hamburg has called me to do a few shows and maybe Wacken festival and things like that. Pretty much kind of studio things and I have companies asking me to do things. I am just trying to find the time when I am home so that I can actually act on it. And, of course, I want to get back to LA as soon as possible. We played there at the start of the year, me and Marco, and it was great, it’s really working out over there. I feel that’s the place where I want to be. I want to try and maybe experiment with going into something new, stylistically, musically. Just experiment and try something new, kind of like Conrado Pesinato. Doing like a hip-hop R&B thing. That’s kind of what I want to try. That scene, like pop music. Not to go away, or detach myself, from the classic rock thing, it’s nice to do something that keeps you versatile, it keeps you on your toes. There’s something about learning a new style. It’s rewarding when you nail it and do a good job. I’m always one to keep things fresh, for sure.” 

Kyle Hughes in Tokyo, Japan. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

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Interview: Conrado Pesinato | Escaping from Alcatrazz to get Out Of The Woods

Conrado Pesinato in Roppongi, Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

He made a name for himself as lead guitarist in Graham Bonnet Band and also sitting in for the Alcatrazz reunion of 2017 when he filled in for Yngwie Malmsteen and Steve Vai (as documented on the live release “Parole Denied – Tokyo 2017”). Now Brazilian guitarist Conrado Pesinato is hard at work with his new band, Out Of The Woods in Los Angeles. When he recently visited Tokyo again on tour with Marco Mendoza, Roppongi Rocks sat down with Conrado at his hotel in Roppongi to talk about his career.

Conrado Pesinato played with bassist Beth-Ami Heavenstone in Hardly Dangerous, an LA rock band fronted by Tomirae Brown, the widow of James Brown. In 2015, Beth-Ami subsequently brought him into the Graham Bonnet Band which she was forming with the legendary Rainbow, MSG and Alcatrazz vocalist. In GBB, Conrado played a significant role as guitarist, songwriter and producer of the band’s 2016 album “The Book”. He toured Japan twice with GBB. First in 2015 when GBB opened for Michael Schenker’s Temple of Rock (when Michael Schenker and Graham Bonnet reunited on stage for the first time since their brief time together in MSG). In 2017, GBB did a headline tour of Japan which also included the terrific Alcatrazz reunion with Graham Bonnet, Jimmy Waldo and Gary Shea reunited on stage in Tokyo.

Conrado Pesinato in Roppongi, Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

You’ve done two Japan tours and now you’re here for the third time. “That’s right! The first time was 2015 and…2017, yes. It seems to be the pattern, every two years I am back” says Conrado with a big smile as we sit down at his hotel a few hours after he has landed in Japan. 

What’s your best Japan memory so far? “Too many. Too many! Ah, Jesus. Where do I even start? The first one was really special. It was my first time in the country. It was my first time experiencing all the excitement about rock music that the Japanese fans have. It spoils the whole thing for you and anywhere else you play after that. It’s not quite the same. And seeing Graham and Michael for the first time together, being a fan, that was cool. But the second time was really special too because that time we were headlining.”

Is it different for you as a guitarist to step into a band like Alcatrazz compared to playing your own music? “Yeah, that was a lot different, for sure. I’m a lot more comfortable… I think I excel as a songwriter and doing my thing. I think I did a decent enough job honouring those songs in those performances. But, by all means, I was never to do that, playing Yngwie note for note. That’s just not the kind of player I was. So, it was challenging. A lot of growth for me, I learnt a lot trying to make justice to those songs. It was challenging because I was never that type of dude that sat down… I can definitely count on my fingers the number of solos I’ve learnt note for note. I have always tried to find my own voice and that’s always what I prefer to do. As much as I had fun and I felt honoured to be part of that, especially being a guitar player… At the same time, I was a lot more excited to play the songs we wrote back in the day on the album that we just released, ‘The Book’. I was a lot more excited about the response of people from those songs, because those were my babies, than doing the whole Alcatrazz thing. Then, of course, there was a little bit of guitar ego there. ‘Yay! Look at me playing in Alcatrazz!’ It was good. It was fun.”

On the Graham Bonnet Band album “The Book”, Conrado not only played the guitar, he wrote songs and produced the album which also featured Beth-Ami Heavenstone, Mark Zonder and Jimmy Waldo. “I co-wrote ‘The Book’ with him. It was mainly me and him and Zonder did a lot of good ideas. Great drummer, great guy. We co-wrote the songs and I ended up producing. I was wearing many hats in that band. That was one of the reasons that that band was very challenging for me too, other than all the legendary guitar stuff. I was always so busy with everything else, helping with arrangements and recording and writing. I produced the album, but I didn’t mix or master, but I engineered the whole thing. I’m proud of it. It’s a good album.”

Now you’re here in Japan for two gigs with Marco Mendoza’s trio with Marco and British drummer Kyle Hughes. These are your first-ever gigs with Marco. “That was an invite that came through my good friend Kyle. I knew of Marco and I think we spoke a couple of times previously on different occasions. Kyle was like ‘Hey, we need a guitar player for Japan’. I was like, wow, that will be fun! I love Marco’s material. I think, even me as a guitar player, I’m a lot more comfortable with that kind of classic rock-funk-bluesy type of thing instead of the neoclassical stuff. I think that is a lot more who I am as a guitar player. It’s my first gig with them so that’s definitely exciting.”

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

Marco and Kyle have come straight from a European tour and you flew in from LA. Have you had any chance to rehearse together as a trio? “No! Haha!! So, we’ll see how it goes. We have not, but they have been very solid together. They are the rhythm section and the front men together. I just have to sit in and do my part. I think we will be alright. It’s gonna be a good time, no doubt. At least for me! Marco is such a legendary musician, playing in such legendary bands like Thin Lizzy and Whitesnake, which I love. Thin Lizzy is one of my favourite bands of all time. Even his solo material has so many guitar players, like Richie Kotzen and Steve Lukather and all these kinds of guys. I have to do justice to those songs at those gigs. It’s an exciting part of the process. Yeah, it will be a fun time!”

Recently Conrado formed a new contemporary rock band in Los Angeles called Out Of The Woods together with vocalist Zach Jones and drummer Tomas Slemeson. The sound is quite different from the classic rock we normally hear Conrado play. “Yeah. The way I see it is… I would call it modern American rock radio. Bands like Bad Wolves and Bring Me The Horizon, that kind of stuff. It’s a whole different thing. I co-write everything with the guys and I help with a bit of the production. I don’t do the full production, but I do a little bit of it. That’s kind of exciting, to not be the guy that does everything. I use a seven-string guitar, which is something I don’t use in the most classic rock sound bands that I do. Seven-string guitar, I try to do more effects, I try to do beats and samples and things like that. It’s different stuff. That’s the beauty of it. I like it all. From The Beatles to extreme death metal to ABBA to whatever, you name it. Linkin Park and Ramones and whatever else. I dig songs!”

Out Of The Woods has done some gigs in the US and released its first song. “We have one single out and finishing an EP. We’re excited about it. We’re shopping it around with some labels for that type of music. It’s nice doing something different. It’s definitely refreshing.” Out Of The Woods is Conrado’s main focus now. “There’s a couple of other things I am working on, but, for sure, Out Of The Woods will be it. We have this EP coming out. I am trying to get busy. I like to do it all. I was even making beats for hip-hop artists! I just like to be busy and collaborate with creative people with a good heart.” 

Keep an eye (and both ears!) on Conrado Pesinato. He likes to stay busy and there will no doubt be more interesting music coming our way from this creative musician.

Conrado Pesinato in Roppongi, Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

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Interview: Ian Haugland of Europe | “We have our roots in the hard rock of the 70s”

Ian Haugland of Europe backstage at Club Citta, Kawasaki, Japan. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

When Swedish rockers Europe recently returned to Japan for three special shows at Club Citta in Kawasaki, Roppongi Rocks’ Stefan Nilsson caught up backstage with drummer Ian Haugland to talk about working with producer Dave Cobb, life on tour now versus in the 80s, performing deep cuts from the back catalogue, when work on the next album will start and much more.

Swedish rockers Europe – with the band’s most classic line-up consisting of Joey Tempest on vocals, John Norum on guitar, John Levén on bass, Mic Michaeli on keyboards and Ian Haugland on drums – are back in Japan for three special shows at Club Citta in Kawasaki. They last performed in Japan in 2015 and during their four-year absence from Japan, Europe has released two new Dave Cobb-produced studio albums that have a more mature classic rock sound.

It’s been 40 years since the band was founded in a Stockholm suburb in 1979 and the sound keeps evolving. The early days of rough-around-the-edges hard rock morphed into the more polished melodic metal of the late 80s and early 90s and then, following your reunion, we got mature hard rock and, more recently, grown-up classic rock. Are these musical changes deliberate actions? “No, they are not!” explains Ian Haugland as we sit down backstage at Club Citta shortly before Europe will perform its second show. “It feels as if we’re on a musical journey. We let the music lead us in the right direction. We have never started to produce a new album thinking it should sound in a certain way. It just turns out a certain way. But, of course, we have our roots in the hard rock of the 70s. It’s from somewhere there we get our direction. Then we also get influenced a bit by current temporary favourites, albums that are influencing us a bit extra. But as a foundation, we always somehow have the 70s. I also think that with the last two albums, that we have done with Dave Cobb, the producer, it feels like we have dug out the 70s in us even more.” Nashville-based Dave Cobb has produced a lot of country music, but also rock bands such as Rival Sons. “Yes, that was one of the major reasons we chose him because we liked the Rival Sons albums. We don’t decide any musical direction in advance, it’s the music that takes in whatever direction we end up going.”

Ian Haugland of Europe backstage at Club Citta, Kawasaki, Japan. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

In 2015, when you last toured Japan, you performed a “Wings of Tomorrow” special. This time you’re doing three different special gigs, each focused on different Europe albums. Where did this idea come from? “It was probably a request by Club Citta that we should do three nights with different themes, to focus a bit more on different albums. It’s fun. It gives us the chance to revisit music that we perhaps haven’t played in a long time or never. I think it is quite exciting. Some of the songs I feel like: Oh shit! This song is really adolescent if you know what I mean. Whereas other songs I feel have aged better somehow. We get a great overview of our own musical journey. Oftentimes, you’re too busy with here and now when you are composing and touring. This is actually really exciting.” 

This evening you are focusing on the debut album “Europe” from 1983 and the reunion album “Start from the Dark” from 2004. How have you chosen the songs you play from these albums? “In these two cases, it has really been more about what we want to play, what we think are the best songs. With ‘Start from the Dark’, that’s an album we played many songs from on the first tour after its release. But after that most of those songs have dropped off. We chose a few that we haven’t played earlier and a few we did play on the ‘Start from the Dark’ tour. From the first album, we’ve thought about the fact that Japan was the first country, outside Sweden, that discovered Europe. Here in Japan, it’s always been… They have loved ‘In the Future to Come’ and ‘Seven Doors Hotel’ and ‘The King Will Return’ and those songs. Thus, we thought we should treat the fans to those songs that we know that they like. That’s how it is.”

Last time you were here, you had recorded but not yet released the “War of Kings” album, which meant you didn’t play any songs from it. Now you’re back after having released “Walk the Earth”, but not doing the usual “Walk the Earth” shows. Thus, the Japanese fans have kind of lost out on your last two album tours. Have you faced any disappointed Japanese fans because of this? “No! I think that the Japanese fans are the most grateful in the whole world when we come here to perform. They are really grateful just because we come back here. It’s really fantastic. We’ve been to Japan… I am not sure if we’ve been here after every album, but in principle, we’ve been here after every album since ‘Final Countdown’. They’ve been with us since the first album. The Japanese have always been loyal to Europe. It’s fantastic! I think it is incredible, especially as it is an isolated territory on the other side of the Earth from Sweden. And there’s still interest here. I think that’s terrific!” 

It’s now 40 years since the band was formed. Do you feel it is different touring now compared to how it was in the second half of the 80s? “In the 80s, everything happened so damn quickly with ‘Final Countdown’. When it took off with a bang, it became a rocket ride, so to speak. We didn’t have time to reflect on anything, really. It was so unbelievably intensive right then. But then when we reunited the band at the beginning of the 2000s, we decided that it always had to be the love for the music and the inspiration for the music that should steer the band somehow. We didn’t want to milk it by just going out and playing old hits. Thus, we’ve always been careful to ensure that we all feel good, that we don’t tour too much and especially now as a few of the boys are on their second round of having kids with more or less small kids at home. You have to find a balance between tour life and family life in order for it all to work. I think we have a pretty good balance. Personally, I think we perhaps could tour a bit more, but then I don’t have any small kids anymore.”

You joined Europe in 1984 when the band had already achieved a bit of fame and success. Was it an obvious yes from you when the offer came? “Yes! I had reached a point where I had to consider giving up this big rock’n’roll dream. I was working at Arlanda airport, driving some truck or whatever it was. I sat there that summer and thought: I probably have to reconsider. Music can perhaps not be my number one. Perhaps I have to grow up and become more responsible, like a normal person. Just a week or so later I got the phone call with the offer. Nothing else could have been better than this! Europe was the first and, at that point, the only band that had this kind of success in Sweden. Yes! Let’s go!”

Ian Haugland of Europe backstage at Club Citta, Kawasaki, Japan. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

How does Europe record its albums nowadays? Do you record together in a proper studio or do each record your own bits and pieces in home studios? “We’ve been through different phases. In the 80s, then Joey did most of it in his home studio with drum machines and added guitars, just to create a demo. A song was more or less ready back then when we recorded ‘Final Countdown’ and ‘Out of This World’. Now, during the 2000s, it is more been a case of sending demos between us where keyboards, bass and some digital drums get added. But that has only been in order to do demos. Since we started to work with Dave Cobb, we no longer do demos in that way at all. He doesn’t want to work with demos. When we were going to start recording ‘War of Kings’, we asked him where we should send the demos. ‘No, let’s listen to those when I arrive later’, right when we will record the album. We had never experienced that before. We were like: Oh! He doesn’t want to hear the songs? Then when we were in the studio to start recording the album, he said: ‘OK, guys! What songs do you have?’ Then we played him a song that he was listening to on an iPhone, just to get an overview of the song structure. He didn’t care about all the details. He wanted to take the song apart and then put it together again from scratch. We realised that there was no point in coming in with ready song structures. It was better to come with a riff or just a rough sketch and then take it from there. At first, we were not used to working like that and even a bit afraid to do so. We thought: how is this going to turn out? We knew we only had so much time in the studio to get things done, what if it doesn’t work? We were a bit afraid of the unknown in a very Swedish way! We recorded ‘War of Kings’ in a brand-new studio in Stockholm. We were the first band to record there. That was a bit of risk-taking as we didn’t at all know how the studio sounded. There was nothing to listen to that had been recorded there. That was a big question mark, but it all worked out fine with Dave. He’s such a cool guy that it was easy to start working with him and integrating him with the band and the creative process. It turned out really great. Then when we did ‘Walk the Earth’, we just brought some riffs and stuff, because we knew we could do it. We went with real self-confidence into Abbey Road Studios. We worked on the songs more or less from scratch in the studio. It was really exciting. A creative and good way to work. Not being overconfident, but you know you have a good riff but that you need to be on the top of your game to get it done. If we will work with Dave again, then we will continue on the same path. We will see what happens.”

European summer festivals are up next for the band. And then a South American tour in the autumn. “Then we will probably start focusing more on ‘song fragments’ for the next album. The plan is that we will start recording the next album at the beginning of next year sometime. The wheel keeps turning.”

When Ian Haugland is not touring with Europe, he and keyboardist Mic Michaeli are working together as radio DJs in Stockholm at the Rockklassiker radio station. “I started already in 2000 to broadcast radio there. Thus, it’s been almost 20 years already! Mic joined about a year ago. We have started hosting a show together. It’s a lot of fun!” says Haugland before it’s time for the drummer to stretch and get ready for the evening’s Europe show.

Ian Haugland of Europe backstage at Club Citta, Kawasaki, Japan. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

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Interview: Shane Embury, Napalm Death | “I can’t imagine doing anything else!”

Napalm Death’s Shane Embury on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Roppongi Rocks’ Stefan Nilsson recently met with English music legend Shane Embury in Tokyo to talk about his 32 years in Napalm Death, the new Tronos album and family life in Birmingham with his Japanese wife and two young kids. His Napalm Death colleague Barney Greenway also sat in and added some thoughts to the conversation.

While his day job as the bassist and the longest-serving member of British grindcore legends Napalm Death keeps him busy, Shane Embury somehow finds time for a wide range of other bands and projects, including Tronos, Brujeria, Venomous Concept, Bent Sea, Lock Up and much more. Shane Embury seems to be a songwriter and artist who can’t sit still. He’s always working on something new.

Shane Embury and Barney of Napalm Death backstage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

The current line-up of Napalm Death – consisting of Barney Greenway on vocals, Shane Embury on bass, Danny Herrera on drums and live member John Cooke on guitar – is as busy as ever with seemingly relentless touring around the world. While not an original member (there are none left in the band – the last founding member left in 1986), it is now 32 years since Shane joined Napalm Death. “Well, probably. It is actually. 32 years, yeah, you’re right,” says Shane as we sit down in Napalm’s dressing room in Tokyo during their recent Japan tour. Do you ever get tired? “You get tired, but we’ve done it for so long, it’s what I’ve wanted to do. It becomes part of your everyday thinking in a way, which is good and bad, I suppose. I should ask my wife that question and see what she says about it. It becomes part of your DNA for want of a better word. I can’t imagine doing anything else! I love playing music, I love writing music. I joined because I used to hang with the guys anyway. It obviously goes onto other things. Because you meet other people and you create a network of friends around the world. There’s a lot of people I would never have been able to meet without being in the band. That’s very encouraging as well.”

Napalm Death’s Shane Embury on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Napalm Death never seems to stop touring. “We enjoy it. It does get tough like anything else. We all have lives outside of the band. It would be stupid to say, but of course, we make a living from it, but it’s not our sole goal. That’s just part of what we do. In the early days, it was never like that.” Napalm Death frontman Barney adds: “You’d be surprised, it’s actually structured pretty well. It looks as if we’re out all the time, but actually, it’s really well organised, so we get a lot of time that everybody needs. But we also put the work in.” The impression I have is that when Napalm goes on tour, there are gigs every day. “It looks like it, but it’s actually pretty reasonable,” says Barney while Shane adds: “It is intense. Some years have been pretty relentless.”

Shane has many musical projects and he has his own record label as well as many other commitments. Does Napalm Death always come first and the other things have to fit in around Napalm? “Napalm comes first!“ says Shane without hesitation. “I do things outside because I’m just obsessive, I suppose. Danny always said when I first met Buzz from Melvins and became good friends with him, because Buzz is quite an obsessive character: ‘You just keep busy because Buzz keeps you busy.’ Not necessarily. I like his ethic. I like the fact that he’s doing different things musically and I sort of like to do that too. And you meet people that you share a common thing with. But Napalm comes first. Sometimes things do clash, but very rarely. I try to keep on top of things with Marc at MAD who is our manager back in Europe. When I first started doing some of the other bands or they became, like Brujeria started to tour more, sometimes they would clash occasionally. But now with Brujeria things are a lot better because they can do stuff that doesn’t necessarily require me.”

Napalm Death’s Shane Embury on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

There was a tour a few years ago where Shane played in three of the four bands on the bill – Napalm Death, Brujeria and Lock Up. “That was kind of a freakish occurrence. That really came about because we were trying to structure one tour with another band, didn’t happen, and I was talking with the booking agent and they said we will try Brujeria as an idea. And it just so happened that the Lock Up album was coming out. So, it was like: should I, or shouldn’t I? I said yes. To me, it seemed logical, but at the same time, it’s a lot to do. That’s not something you want to do all the time.”

The last Napalm Death studio album, “Apex Predator – Easy Meat”, came out in 2015 and “Coded Smears and More Uncommon Slurs”, a terrific hour-and-a-half compilation album of rare bonus tracks and deep cuts, was released in 2018. Can we expect a new Napalm Death album anytime soon? “It’s in the works. Music and vocals are being recorded. Not sure when that will come out. It’s pretty much there as such. It needs a few sprinkles here and there. I don’t think it will come out this year. It might do, I don’t know. Probably next year, I’d imagine,“ says Shane. Barney adds: “Probably next year, I would’ve thought. But it could be this year. A lot of it depends on me. I just fucking need to get it finished, which I will do.” Shane remarks that “There’s no rush in a way,” before Barney continues: “The thing is, as you just mentioned with the compilation album, that was exactly the purpose of it, to give a stop gap, whilst we sort of… Although, of course, it’s valid in its own right. But it also serves as a bit of breathing space. People know there’s a new album coming out at some point, but it’s not stopped anybody from wanting to book the band. They’re booking us on the current album.”

The compilation album proved to be a real treat for many fans. “Unless you’re a diehard fan, you wouldn’t have heard a lot of those songs,“ says Shane. “When we were compiling it, it was interesting. We always like to do lots of songs. We always have done. We always put a lot of effort into the songs we do, they’re not like fillers. That’s why it gets really hard to choose. It’s interesting compiling cuts for the record, it’s almost like a new album because you’d forgotten some of it.” Barney adds: “I didn’t remember half the stuff that was on there.” Shane continues: “Vague recollection! That’s a good thing. A few people have said when they listen to it, it’s got that feel of it.”

Shane Embury and Barney backstage in Tokyo with Roppongi Rocks boss Stefan Nilsson. Photo: Aaron Hill, Eyehategod

Barney has some strong feelings about bands putting out compilations. “I’ve seen it from a lot of metal bands and this is really fucking annoying. They put like a compilation album out of songs that are not really hard to get and it’s like ten songs. Really? You’re really putting that out? Fuckin’ hell! Show some fuckin’ application! What we said when we went to do it, if we’re gonna do it, it’s gotta be fuckin’ worth it, you know? There’s no sense in doing that. When I saw the tracklist, I was like: where did all this stuff come from? Then it started to be worthwhile. And I think it’s such great artwork. I didn’t think we could top ‘Apex’, but this one is just as good in terms of being confrontational.” Shane adds: “You don’t get confrontational artwork so much anymore, I think,” before Barney continues: “I think you have to. We’re a confrontational band, so why wouldn’t your artwork be confrontational?”

Shane is a very productive songwriter who writes music for several bands and projects. Do you write music specifically for Napalm or do you just write music and then use it wherever it fits? “You write specifically for Napalm. Over the years, some of the slower, more experimental tracks were for nothing particular, but they came into Napalm as we were all looking in a similar direction, I guess. But overall, the mindset I tend to have musically for Napalm… Lock Up would be more death metal whereas Napalm, even though it’s experimental, it has a punkier core element, more bar core element. There might be some death metal, but there’s more a core thing going on with Napalm for me, Lock Up will be a bit more not like that and other things that I do… Venomous Concept tends to be more old-school punk, I suppose.”

Napalm Death’s Shane Embury on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

One of Shane’s most exciting recent projects is “Celestial Mechanics”, the debut album of Tronos, a terrific dark ambient project where Shane has worked with Russ Russell (whose production credits include Napalm Death, Lock Up, The Haunted, Dimmu Borgir, At the Gates and much more) and Dirk Verbeuren (Megadeth, Cadaver, Bent Sea). The album has guest appearances by the likes of Snake from Voivod, Faith No More’s Billy Gould and Mastodon’s Troy Sanders. While still dark and at times extreme, Tronos is very different from what we are used to hearing from Shane. It also stands out as Shane is not playing bass but rather playing guitar and singing. “The whole album is different. Every track is very different. It’s a small spark in me really. It took like seven years for us to put it together. Originally, what it was, me and Russ, we always talked about putting this thing together. Russ has been working with us for like 20 years now, live and producing. We share a lot of love for heavy stuff and mellow stuff. I always wanted to see if it would be possible to bring ultra-heaviness together with ultra-ambience. When we eventually did start, I thought it was going to become a bit more industrial, but Russell, he’s obsessed with Tom G. Warrior as I have been. We were starting doing riffs at first. It was a series of riffs. We sat there and I recorded it. Right, OK, let’s use this riff. Where do we might go next? And we built it and it grew from there. I didn’t want to play bass, because I was playing guitar. So, then Billy came in and did a couple and Troy came in. It kind of grew from there. We tried to find a vocalist for quite a while and they all said ‘Yeah, I’ll try some vocals’ and they never did. Then I ended up singing which is good. It’s a good experience really. It’s quite a varied album. It’s not one thing. It goes off in loads of different tangents. Erica Nockalls who plays in the band called The Wonder Stuff, she came in. Of course, Snake did come in and did a couple of vocal recordings. That was really good. That’s quite a big thing for me to do something on the same record as him. I’m over the moon with it really.”

Will Tronos ever perform live? “If we ever did anything live it would be something like a festival. We shall see. A touring thing would be impossible because of all the people involved. Russ and me also would like there to be visuals. Russ does a lot of graphic stuff. He’s also a tattoo artist now as well. He does projections. It would be quite a visual experience. The whole point would be to do something quite out there, really, once in a while. If people are interested at all. I don’t know, people might not like it. We’re very happy with it. We’ve started working on some new stuff. If we do another one, it will probably not take seven years, because now we’ve established a kind of formula.”

This year you remain busy touring with Napalm and other commitments. “Napalm is pretty busy, up until about the end of September, I believe. Brujeria and Venomous Concept are going on tour in May in Europe for three weeks. So, it’s pretty much busy up until September. After that, I am not quite sure what is happening.”

When he is not on tour, Shane spends time with his Japanese wife and two young kids at home in England. “Me and my wife just had a baby boy. So, that’s kind of the big thing really. More energy is consumed there. It’s all hands on deck now. I live in Birmingham. We thought about moving at one point, and that may still happen at one point, I don’t know. Now, after many, many years, she’s got a network of friends and Japanese women who are married to English people in the Midlands. She found out there are a few Japanese schools on weekends. Through that, she started to… Now she feels a lot happier because obviously, she has a network of friends. That really helps. It’s OK. I am not there half the time. We’re always away. She holds the fort pretty well. She grew up in the States, so her command of English is extremely good. She probably speaks better English than me. She’s always correcting me.”

Family and friends are clearly important parts of the Napalm Death story and Napalm are clearly very happy with its Japanese partners such as Hirokazu Nambu of tour promoter Smash and Tetsu Miyamoto at record label Trooper Entertainment. “Most people that work for us, started as friends,” explains Barney. “A lot of the stuff that is out there in the regular music industry was just fuckin’ chancers, just trying to swim in the pool. So, it’s good to be able to get people that you can trust. Trust is a big thing. A guy like Nambu, the Smash West guy, we’ve worked with Nambu since fuckin’ hell, since… Consistently we’ve worked with him, because when you find somebody and it’s going well… Yeah, OK, someone else may come along and offer you the fuckin’ world on a plate, but that’s not the point. The point is, you want sustainability, you want people that can, because without these people, in some countries, you’ve got no chance. They actually helped to keep you where you are. That’s part of the reason why Napalm comes to Japan every other year, it’s because of people like Nambu, Tetsu and even the techs. The guys work with us all the time. It’s trust. You can go to bed at night and not have to worry about if something is going to fuck you.”

Napalm Death remains quite possibly the best band in the world.

Shane Embury backstage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

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Interview: Elize Ryd of Amaranthe

Elize Ryd of Amaranthe in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Amaranthe vocalist Elize Ryd caught up with Roppongi Rocks over an early morning coffee and talked about the “Helix” world tour, the current state of the band, how happy she’s with the band’s new manager Angela Gossow, possible side projects and what Japan means to the band.

The morning after Amaranthe’s gig at the Download Japan festival, I meet frontwoman Elize Ryd for an early morning coffee. It’s 7:30am but the hotel lobby is full of metal fans who want to get glimpses of Amaranthe and Anthrax members who are staying at the hotel. Elize smiles and greets all her fans and then sits down for a cappuccino and a chat before she will head to the airport with the rest of the band. Following the most recent leg of the “Helix” world tour – a Russian headline tour and a festival gig in Japan – the Swedish band gets a well-deserved two-and-a-half-month break from touring.

Elize Ryd of Amaranthe in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

The world tour kicked off last autumn in conjunction with the release of the band’s fifth studio album, “Helix”. It’s the first album featuring Nils Molin from Dynazty as one of the band’s three vocalists. The band also features Olof Mörck on guitar and keyboards, bassist Johan Andreassen, drummer Morten Løwe Sørensen and singer Henrik Englund Wilhelmsson. “We started the tour as support for Powerwolf. It’s been going great. This new album really feels like us. It’s nice for Nils to tour an album he’s singing on. Not that it should really matter, but, still, it is a feeling of completeness for the band. Earlier, there was a kind of interim period that was tough for all of us. Now we have emerged from that. We’re having a lot of fun. We’re all feeling much better, all of us.”

Nils initially came in as one of several stand-in vocalists, before becoming a permanent member of the band. They have also had a few other stand-in musicians over the years in order to keep the band rolling. “Yes, that was a bit cumbersome. It feels like we have stabilised ourselves now. It feels like we have proven to ourselves and others that we are synced live. But the foundation of the band, it has always been Olof and me writing music together. If someone can’t make it, then it’s not the end of the world if we have to change that member. I know how sensitive it can be, especially when it comes to a voice. If people realise that we write music and use different instruments – and that a voice is one of those instruments – then it doesn’t have to be the end of the world. We have become more mature and open after this process that we have gone through that was very tough. It felt as if many fans may give up on us and that we would never again get to come back to Japan! We were really worried. We felt really bad. Everything became a bit strange and wasn’t handled properly. Psychologically it wasn’t a great situation. Now the ball’s back in our hands properly, without having to deal with all of that other stuff.”

Elize Ryd of Amaranthe in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Amaranthe, famous for having three lead vocalists, has seen two of its three original vocalists depart the band. “It was just the other two singers that didn’t think it was enjoyable any longer. We are still four founding members. That shouldn’t be forgotten,” explains Elize. “I’ve listened to Nightwish, for example, and they have changed vocalists. When a band has decided on something new it feels as if people accept their decision. It’s nice to be able to still hear the songs and the band avoiding being forced to disband. That would be tragic.”

Another major change for Amaranthe is new management. They now work with the mighty Angela Gossow as manager. Angela, the former lead singer of Arch Enemy, manages Arch Enemy and some of the band members’ solo work and side projects. So far, Amaranthe is the only “outside” client she has taken on. “It works great with Angela. She has really been the person who has got the band together properly. I really have to give her cred for that. Without her, I don’t… Then everything would have been much harder. She came in as an immense power and asked who’s who, what do you do, what do you want to do, what should we do? She’s really professional and I have the highest respect for her. It’s fun working with her.”

Can we expect a joint tour with Amaranthe and Arch Enemy in the future? “Yes, we hope so! It now feels like we are getting to know each other more and more. Having been independent for many years, we never understood how all other bands could know each other so well and have fun together, while we didn’t know anyone! Now we get it. If you’re under the same management you automatically become a family in a different way than just being on the same label.” Elize is clearly very happy with Angela Gossow as Amaranthe’s manager (“She’s fantastic!”). Elize knew Arch Enemy’s current vocalist Alissa White-Gluz from their time together as back-up singers in Kamelot. “I have always been speaking with Alissa and she has always been so pleased with her management. I remember I asked her who her manager is and she said: ‘It’s Angela.’ Oh, yeah. One thing that’s really cool is that she knows everything about the music business. I notice that myself now that I have been in this industry for ten years. I understand how everything is connected. But I don’t have any education like Angela has. She got a marketing education even before she joined the band. She has a lot of knowledge and the ability to speak with people. She’s not exactly shy. These really are skills a manager should have. She is on the band’s side because she’s been an artist herself. Many managers have never been artists and that’s why they easily make the wrong decisions. Their artists get overworked. They sit in their offices and have never really properly experienced tour life themselves. I think it is really, really important for all artists to work with someone that understands what it means when you book a flight at five in the morning, via Russia, and you have a gig at eleven at night. If you keep doing that for a couple of weeks, you’ll become ill. I was totally overworked and I almost thought I would die. I thought that my body would give up. It’s because it’s been planned by someone who doesn’t really understand the lifestyle. That’s how it is – your manager is basically planning your life.”

Elize Ryd of Amaranthe in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

“I asked around if there were any managers. I know it is hard to find good managers. There are many managers or people who call themselves that. Managers, the ones who can manage for real, they’re normally busy and not available. Also, I wanted to get another woman into the group. Not that it should really matter, but… I have always felt really lonely as a girl. It’s fantastic to have someone that has toured, knows what it entails, who even don’t see certain things as strange. Perhaps things one needs in life but that I have never found any understanding for in the past. Now that I have perhaps ten years left – or more, I would hope – then you want it to feel good. Otherwise, what’s the point? It has to be fun!”

Elize has been very busy with Amaranthe for a decade now. Does she still have time for side projects, such as the guest spot she had with Gus G on his 2017 Japan tour? “That’s the thing. I want to do things but never really had the time. But now that we have a manager you can talk to, then I can say, let’s put aside some time to do other stuff because it would be fun. That’s what Alissa does. But now we have so many cool things with the band. It’s easy to get stuck with band stuff because that’s where it’s at. Side projects are for the sake of my own creativity. It would be fun to work with others. There are so many great people that it would be fun to share something creative with. Something that would be my own album but with other musicians. After ten years it feels as if it would be something fun to do. The thought is at the back of my head, but I haven’t gotten that far yet. Writing songs, that’s what is fun. What takes time is recording things properly.”

All Amaranthe’s five studio albums have been recorded at Jacob Hansen’s studio in Denmark. “Yes, we have recorded all of them there. Should I do something on my own, I assume that I would do what many other artists are nowadays doing: sending around tracks that the musicians then add their respective bits to. Gus G, for example, has promised to play on my solo project. He has to, damn it!”

Japan has been supporting the band since the start, with Amaranthe performing in Tokyo for the first time in 2011, shortly after the debut album was released. “Yes, I know. I was very moved yesterday because it really felt like we got a great reception. It was really fun. I also think that perhaps there were a few new fans that have discovered the band recently, people we haven’t had a chance yet to meet since we released the previous album.”

Elize Ryd of Amaranthe in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

It’s been about two and a half years since Amaranthe last toured Japan, as the opening act on Helloween’s Japan tour in 2016, before they now came back for a set at the Download Japan festival. “Yes, a lot of things can have happened since then. We thought it was great and the fans’ support has been absolutely wonderful. We felt that we need to come back ASAP because we love Japan! It’s great that we still get the chance to come and play here. I think we got a bit of an upswing now that we played this festival. I remember we played Loud Park, for example, and then we got to do a headline tour after that. Then we also did another not so great set at Loud Park, unfortunately, when there were a lot of problems with the crew and technical issues. Now it’s Angela that is in charge of the crew and thus there are no mishaps. Haha! Now everything is done properly, that’s really how it is. It’s fantastic! We don’t need to stress over things now. Now we can perhaps return and just be artists and focus on that and not focus on all the other things like we had to in the past. If we get the opportunity to be here, then we will grab it! We are so grateful, really. Download was really fun. It was magical! It went well and the support was great. I was positively surprised, really. Especially at eleven in the morning. People were awake and dancing. We played a 40-minute set. If we come back here soon, if we get to do that, we will then perform more songs from the latest album. We played a bit of a best-of set and some new things. We managed to play ‘Helix’, at least, and ‘GG6’. What else did we play? We obviously want to play longer sets. In 40 minutes, you can’t fit in much.”

As Elize departs Japan for this time, she has a chance to catch up on some sleep at home in Gothenburg, Sweden before the summer festival season kicks off. She might need it as well as a visit to a dentist. “I cracked my tooth in Russia. With the microphone! When I sang yesterday, I could feel the pulse in the tooth. Some nerve has been damaged. I went to a Russian dentist to do a filling. But that is just temporary so that the roots can start to heal. I can’t eat properly.” Well, Elize Ryd is not an artist that can be stopped by a cracked tooth. Soon she will be back on stage as the “Helix” world tour continues with European summer festival appearances.

Elize Ryd of Amaranthe in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

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