Interview: Paul Shortino’s unfinished business

Paul Shortino Band on stage in Tokyo in June 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Unfinished business: The former Quiet Riot frontman Paul Shortino is still raiding the Vegas rock vault, has a King Kobra live album coming out, a new Rough Cutt studio album in the making and a great Japanese collaboration. Roppongi Rocks’ Stefan Nilsson recently sat down with Shortino in Tokyo to talk about his past and his future.

Paul Shortino in his hotel room in Tokyo in June 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

One of the nicest men in rock finishes our recent interview in Tokyo by giving me a big hug. That’s Paul Shortino in a nutshell. A great singer who has both the vocal abilities and the stage moves to pull off a great show. But also a decent chap full of love and gratitude.

Shortino is in a great mood as we sit down in his hotel room in Shinagawa in central Tokyo. He has taken a brief break from his Las Vegas show Raiding the Rock Vault to come and do some gigs in Japan with his all-Japanese Paul Shortino Band.

Shortino started to make a name for himself as the frontman for Rough Cutt, one of the many LA-bands that appeared in the early and mid-80s. Rough Cutt’s manager was Wendy Dio and her husband, Ronnie James Dio, also got involved in helping the band with some songwriting, production, promotion and guidance. Most crucially, he decided to include Shortino as one of the lead singers on the track “Stars” for the Hear ’N Aid charity project in 1985. This put Shortino next to not only Dio, but also rock stars such as Rob Halford of Judas Priest, Don Dokken and Kevin DuBrow of Quiet Riot. Shortino also landed a small role as Duke Fame in the cult movie “This is Spinal Tap!” Shortino eventually joined Quiet Riot (singing on the great “QR” album in 1988) and later Carmine Appice’s King Kobra, in addition to many solo things and other projects. In recent years his main project has been the very successful Las Vegas show Raiding the Rock Vault.

Paul Shortino on stage in Tokyo in June 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Touring in Japan

Shortino has successfully been touring Japan in the 80s, twice with Rough Cutt and twice with Quiet Riot. He returned to Japan to perform with the Paul Shortino Band in 2016 and 2017. “It’s a pleasure to be here! I love it! I love this country. I love the fans, they’re nothing like anywhere in the world. They’re really loyal and just beautiful people,” says Shortino who has great memories of his Japan visits in the 80s. “When I was here, we also did a two-week tour for Charvel Guitars with Grover Jackson. We got to actually see more of the country, outside of the cities. We went to Mount Fuji and went to the hot springs. It was nice to see Japan outside of the cities. Because when you come here to tour, you perform in the cities and – boom! – you’re gone. This time we were actually able to see some of the beautiful cities and the countryside. It’s so beautiful here.”

Paul Shortino Band on stage in Tokyo in June 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Leaving Rough Cutt to join Quiet Riot

Paul Shortino-fronted Rough Cutt, a great American band from Los Angeles, got a record deal with Warner and did well – including two successful Japan visits – but not quite as well as some of the other bands on the LA scene at the time. One issue was that they were waiting for their chosen producer to be available to record their debut album. “We waited so long that that window for that type of success that was going on in the 80s from Ratt, Dokken, Mötley… All those bands that at that time, they already had records out. Lovely Tipper Gore decided to put labelling on records. Our album didn’t sound anything like… Maybe the cover with the spider and the heart and the knife. For people like W.A.S.P. and bands like that, the more gory the album cover was, it didn’t matter if there was a sticker on it. They already had a following of fans and everything else.” When the debut album finally came out, “We were touring with Ronnie on the ‘Sacred Heart’ tour in the States,” explains Shortino who thinks the warning labels that were put on the band’s album covers put off some people. “It had a stamp on there that is was evil. It was far from that. So, timing is everything.”

Paul Shortino in his hotel room in Tokyo in June 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

When the band’s major break never happened, the record label dropped the band and Rough Cutt’s members went on to play with Dio, Ozzy Osbourne and Quiet Riot. “The last time Rough Cutt were here in 1986, we were touring and Quiet Riot were touring right behind us. They were touring Japan at the same time.” When Rough Cutt came home to the States following the Japan tour, Warner decided to drop the band and that is what opened up the possibility for Shortino to replace Kevin DuBrow in Quiet Riot.

“We went into the studio and started recording new songs to shop for a new label,” explains Shortino how Rough Cutt tried to deal with the situation. “I got to meet all the guys in Quiet Riot when we did the ‘Stars’ thing. We became very close during that and getting to know each other. For me it was like a dream come true to be in a room with Ted Nugent, Carmine Appice… Even now I’ve done a few projects with Carmine, but at the time, I idolised all of these guys. We got to know each other and then I was approached when we got back to the States because they had discrepancies with Kevin here in Japan. So when I got home, someone gave me a call and asked me if I would be interested in checking out Quiet Riot. Kevin’s voice was so much different than mine. He had big shoes to fill and he was a taller guy as well! Haha!! I checked it out.” Although he was in the studio with Rough Cutt at the time, he joined Quiet Riot and spent a year working on material with them for the “QR” album.

Spencer Proffer produced the 1988 “QR” album and he brought out the best in Shortino. “When I got to meet Spencer, I really enjoyed what he brought out of me. He was the first producer that really focused on vocals.” Shortino had previously recorded with producers Tom Allom and Jack Douglas during his time in Rough Cutt. “Tom Allom and Jack were really more focused on the production of the Rough Cutt stuff.”

The manager Wendy Dio was the one who suggested that Shortino should replace Kevin DuBrow in Quiet Riot. In 1987, Shortino joined Quiet Riot which then consisted of Frankie Banali, Carlos Cavazo and Chuck Wright. Wright left shortly thereafter and was replaced by Sean McNabbJimmy Waldo (Alcatrazz, New England) also joined.

Paul Shortino on stage in Tokyo in June 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

“Wendy thought it would be a great move for me. However, it seemed like it was more business than it was…. They had a lot of stuff that was going on. I respect them to the utmost and I don’t have anything bad to say about any of that because it was a great experience for me. The one thing that I did miss was the companionship of Rough Cutt. We were a band. We went through hell and high water together. We were really tight friends and since I left that band, I’ve never experienced that feeling with any other projects. Even in the Quiet Riot thing, as we worked for a year on material at Jimmy Waldo’s house after I had said to Rough Cutt I’m gonna join Quiet Riot. It was like a year of us doing pre-production. Then we came and did Japan Aid. What was interesting about that show, we were working on new stuff, so I didn’t have any idea of the old stuff. Last minute, and Sean McNabb just got in the band, so I had all these lyrics for the songs on the stage and they put them in the wrong order. It was quite an experience. It was the first show that we did with Sean McNabb and myself and Frankie and Carlos. And James Brown was headlining that particular event. It was quite an experience! We went back home and then we worked on the record a little longer. I think we came out with a really good record.”

Rough Cutt is back at it

While Rough Cutt might not have made it back then, they are now giving it another go. “We’ve actually touched base again. We’ve written some songs. It kind of went full circle,” says Shortino. “It took a long time for us to come back. I did a King Kobra record with Carmine and all the original members except for Mark of course. After we did that record, Frontiers approached Rough Cutt to do a record. It wasn’t the right time so we didn’t do it. I did another record with King Kobra.” Shortino also has released albums with The Rhythm Junkies, Badd Boyz and Jeff Northrup (“An incredible songwriter he is. I was only supposed to do a few songs and we connected and I ended up doing the whole record with him.”)

Paul Shortino in his hotel room in Tokyo in June 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Rough Cutt is back with its classic mid-80s line-up and still with Wendy Dio as its manager. ”We’ve been writing songs and Wendy and the band want to do something. We’re thinking about calling the album ‘Unfinished Business’ because we did not finish what we started. It’s something that I think we all agree upon, that this is unfinished business. She was managing Rough Cutt, and of course her husband Ronnie. Ronnie was already established so she was able to take him on a solo project to a new height and level of his career and at the same time, she was trying to break Rough Cutt as a new act. So, it’s unfinished business for her. And because I stepped away from the band and now we have kind of connected again. It’s really neat to work together again but on a different level. I live in Vegas, they live in California. Now that we have studios and technology, we can send ideas to each other. It’s much easier to write songs than sitting in a studio. You know, everybody’s banging away stuff and you’re recording it on a Walkman or something. Then you go home and decipher it. Now it’s a little more focus to writing songs. We’ve written some really great songs. Right now, she’s actually been talking to a few labels and it’s a possibility that we will be coming out with another album. Next year. And we’re doing the Monsters of Rock cruise in February. That will be our first gig. We’re hoping to have something to go.”

Paul Shortino on stage in Tokyo in June 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

The Japanese Paul Shortino Band

For Shortino’s Japan gigs in 2016 and 2017, he has performed with a fantastic all-Japanese backing band band led by Jun Senoue (Crush 40) on guitar and keyboards and consisting of guitar wizard Nozomu Wakai (Destinia, Ronnie Romero, Mari Hamada), Shoyo (Cross Vein, Jupiter, Hizaki Grace Project, The Powernude) on bass, Louis Sesto (Blindman) on drums and Shigeki Fujii (Slangrade) on vocals. “What’s really cool about working with the guys here in Japan, it’s taking me back to be able to do some stuff through my whole career. They are very talented and very humble guys. I’m honoured to be on stage with them as well. Mr. Fujii, he will be singing ‘Stars’ with me. I actually asked him to come out and sing some of the lines. I just don’t want him to be in the background. He’s such a good singer. It’s enough room on the stage to share. I’m honoured that he is involved. Louis and Jun, I did a thing with Jun when I left Quiet Riot. I did a thing called ‘Sonic Adventure’ and did the ‘E.G.G.M.A.N.’ That’s how I met Jun. I didn’t know this until I was here last year, that they were at the Sun Plaza and they saw me with Quiet Riot. Those two guys. It was their dream to all of us play together. Which was something they shared with me the last time I was here. It’s like a dream come true to come back to this country, because this is far away for a lot of people. I’m really honoured to be back here,” explains Shortino. “And I’ve been talking to the guys here in Japan that I would love to do an EP. I would love to record with them. That’s something that we’re discussing. Nothing is solid yet.”

Appice drum bros and King Kobra

Ever since Shortino performed with drummer brothers Carmine Appice (Ozzy Osbourne, King Kobra,Ted Nugent, Vanilla Fudge, CactusBlue Murder, Rod Stewart) and Vinny Appice (Black Sabbath, Dio, Heaven & Hell), their careers have crossed paths here and there. Carmine plays with Shortino in King Kobra and the brothers also have a new album coming out which Shortino is involved with. Since Shortino joined King Kobra in 2010, they have released two studio albums and done some touring. “We have a live album coming out. We only just did a few dates last year. We might be doing another record. I just did some songs for Carmine and Vinny, they have a record coming out together. I have a studio and Joel Hoekstra from Whitesnake sent me a song. A few songs I wrote with them. We recorded a song for the album and it was recorded for Ronnie. It’s called ‘Monsters and Heroes’. It was supposed to go out for a compilation album for Ronnie’s cancer fund Stand Up and Shout. I took some of Ronnie’s famous lyrics with my lyrics and told a story about Ronnie. The first line was ‘Sing me a song, you’re the singer. You’re the man on the mountain who rocked the world with his songs’. Now that song is going on their album. The song is finally coming out and I’m really glad.” The Appice brothers’ album “Sinister” is scheduled for release on 27th October via SPV/Steamhammer.

Paul Shortino on stage in Tokyo in June 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Raiding the Rock Vault

While Shortino has been busy in recent years with various bands and projects, his main gig has been with the successful Las Vegas show Raiding the Rock Vault. “I also want to try bringing ‘Rock Vault’ over here. To bring some of the classic rock guys that are in the show over here and bring the show over here. Maybe a week, or ten days, in Tokyo and Osaka and Nagoya, so people can see it. It’s an amazing show, it really is. It’s the history of rock from the 60s to 1989 and then grunge took over. There are 38 songs in the show. There is a lot of costume changes, because we kind of want to be with the time period. It started out really focused on that and it’s changed. The show was two and a half hours when it started. No shows in Vegas go that long. They go 90 minutes, because corporates are thinking about how much they are losing when people are watching a show. So, we went and cut it down. Now it’s down to 90 minutes. There was acting before, now there is just dancing and music.” The show has been housed at a few different hotels in Vegas and is currently at the Hard Rock.

Paul Shortino in his hotel room in Tokyo in June 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

“We have Robin McAuley from MSG and Survivor, and Mark Boals, who was with Yngwie and have done stuff with Dokken, and myself, and then also a new young lad who is working with Vinny and Vivian Campbell and the late Jimmy Bain, Andrew Freeman. They have a project called Last In Line. They have a great record. Great singer as well. We have a few girls that come in. We had Stephanie Calvert from Starship, now we have Cian Coey who’s been working with Dweezil Zappa and also Meat Loaf. She’s a power house. And a local girl who comes in, Lily Arce, and she does other Vegas shows. We’re the only rock show with real rock stars. Paul Dexter, who did a lot of stuff for Ronnie, the ‘Sacred Heart’ stuff, all of that stuff. He’s designed the set.”


Part of Rock Vault’s success, in addition to that it features real rock stars, is that it is an all-ages show. “So, young people they’re learning about classic rock. It is something that is cool for the new generation because there is so much history in that time period. The music today is not like it was yesterday, you know? I mean, I like some of the stuff that is out there and some of the new bands, but it’s not like the old days.”

Paul Shortino on stage in Tokyo in June 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

64 and still got it

Shortino is now 64 years old but, unlike some other singers of his generation, he still has a golden voice. “I’m so grateful to God and the universe for giving me my voice. I don’t have some of the range that I used to, but my voice is better than it’s ever been. I listen to some of the old Rough Cutt stuff, even Quiet Riot stuff, and I sing it differently now. You become more seasoned. Instead of showing off everything you can do… When we started to put this set together, listening to some of the stuff I did back then, ‘How in the heck am I gonna sing that now?’ Haha!! So there are some things that I don’t do the same, only because I would have done it differently because I’m older now and I’m more seasoned. Some of the stuff I did was overkill. You just kind of get in the studio and ‘I want everybody to hear what I can do’, you know? I don’t play over the solo in “The Night Cries Out (For You)” even with Rough Cutt. I let the guitar player have it. You learn through time.”

Love and gratitude

Love and gratitude are nowadays at the centre of Shortino’s daily life. It is very obvious that he is so grateful for being able to live the life he lives. He’s a world-class performer who loves doing what he does. “We take so much for granted as people on the planet that we get lost in our own little world. The more grateful I am for things, my health gets better. My voice gets better because I am so grateful that I can still sing, that I have been given a gift. I’m really grateful for that. I’m sorry, I’m a little emotional. It means a lot to me to share this. The world needs to know how love can change everything. Because there is so much hate in the world right now. It breaks my heart to see. Mankind could do better for others,” says a teary-eyed Shortino. “I don’t believe in religion. I was raised a Catholic, but I don’t believe in religion. I think that religion is something that wants to control people, political things. I believe in spirituality. It’s been a great journey for me. I am getting a second chance at life, in my career, everything in life. It’s been a magical journey. I feel for all my other rock guys, who are struggling with addiction. I pray for all of them, because they could find true happiness. Maybe I am supposed to share the things that have changed my life that could maybe change others’, you know? A movement of love and gratitude. I live by that every day.”

Ladies and gentlemen: Paul Shortino! The real deal. Great voice, great guy.

Paul Shortino in his hotel room in Tokyo in June 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

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

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

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interview | Krisiun drummer Max Kolesne | “Speed and brutality is something natural for us”

Max Kolesne of Krisiun backstage in Tokyo, Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

When Brazilian extreme metal band Krisiun recently returned to Japan, Roppongi Rocks’ Stefan Nilsson sat down with drummer Max Kolesne for a backstage chat before their Tokyo show.

Formed in Brazil in 1990, Krisiun released its debut album, “Black Force Domain”, in 1995 and has been a hard touring band for the past couple of decades. They are currently touring in support of their latest album, 2015’s fabulous “Forged in Fury”. Krisiun consists of three brothers: Alex Camargo on vocals and bass, Moyses Kolesne on guitar and Max Kolesne on drums.

“It’s a pleasure and honour to be back. It’s our third time. We were here in 2002 and then 2014, three years ago now,” says Max Kolesne as we sit down in the band’s dressing room before their Tokyo gig.

You are three brothers in the band. Have you ever faced any issues in the band where being family has complicated things? “I think it is a really good thing. We’re not just brothers, but we are best friends. Every time we might have some argument, some stupid fights here and there, it just takes a few minutes to be friends again. We never really fight against each other. We also say the truth to each other, right in the face. We are best friends so we never have this issue to get to the point where someone would say: ‘Man, I wanna leave’ or whatever. We always stay together, very united. Especially nowadays when we’re older, more mature. We enjoy more to be on the road and just spending time together.”

Max Kolesne of Krisiun backstage in Tokyo, Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Krisiun seems to be touring all the time. 27 years after the band started, they are touring as much as ever. “Yeah. Real touring started in ’97. We started the band in the beginning of the ‘90s, but it took some time for us to start touring a lot, like in Europe, the States and South America. 1997 was the first tour we did in Europe. From that point on we’ve been touring every year.”

In order to cope with the tough schedule and to get time to produce studio albums as well, Krisiun takes time off from the road once in a while. “When it’s time to start writing music and get focused, we take some time apart from touring. We have two more tours in Europe, after this one. Two summer tours, one in June, the other one in July. Then we‘re gonna have a break from touring just to get focused on new songs, start writing songs for the next album. We always do it like that. Of course, even during touring we have ideas, especially Moyses is always writing riffs and recording riffs. But when we get to this point, we have to get together and put the stuff together, start building the bones of the songs. That’s when we take some time from touring.”

Krisiun on stage in Tokyo, Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Your style of death metal is very fast. Do you feel that when you write new music you have to fit in with the past and what is expected of you? Or do you just write good music? “It’s more about writing good music. Every time is different. When we were writing the latest one, ‘Forged in Fury’, we just followed our feelings. We wanted to do something, let’s say, not so fast. More like a natural writing process. Playing songs and having a good time. Playing songs that make you feel like banging your head and enjoying the music. Speed and brutality is something natural for us. It’s always gonna be there. Every album is going to be a little bit different. Like ‘The Great Execution’ I’d say it’s more like…more epic than ‘Forged in Fury’. ‘Forged in Fury’ is maybe more old school, more diverse, a little slower. There are more slower parts, more diversity. For the next one we are already thinking about it being faster and more brutal. It’s just natural. We just follow the flow, the natural flow. We are already thinking like this: the next one is going to be more explosive, more brutal, faster.”

Max Kolesne of Krisiun on stage in Tokyo, Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Krisiun is a riff-heavy band – but you’ve only had one guitarist for most of your career. Did you ever consider replacing Altemir Souza (who left the band in 1992) and Mauricio Nogueira (who left in 1994)? “No, I think we are good like this, man. Especially if you listen to ‘Forged in Fury’, the bass guitar is really loud in the mix, so I don’t feel like we’re missing one guitar. The chemistry between us three is great. We’ve been playing together for so long it would be weird to have somebody else in the band right now at this point. I think we should just stay like this.”

I understand that you are currently working on the follow-up to your latest album, 2015’s “Forged in Fury”. When will the next album be released? “It’s hard to say right now. But we’re not gonna take too long to finish the writing process. Maybe in the beginning of the next year, maybe after March. For sure it is going to be before June or July.”

Will it be produced by Morbid Angel legend Erik Rutan (Belphegor, Cannibal Corpse, Goatwhore) again? “We don’t know yet. We’re still thinking about it. He’s the first option, I guess, but we still have to think more.”

Max Kolesne of Krisiun backstage in Tokyo, Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Just before coming to Japan, you were stopped by the authorities from performing at a sold-out show in Bangladesh. You were also detained at the airport and denied entry. Has this kind of extraordinary thing happened to Krisiun in other places in the world? “Not like that, man. I think that the worst experience we have ever had was in Bangladesh. I feel sorry for those guys, the metalheads that live there. They have to live under the shadow of all this extremism, religious bullshit, whatever. I feel sorry for those guys. We talked to some of the metalheads, like the promoter and the other guys. People like us. They like the same kind of music, they like to have fun, they like to have friends. They are open-minded people. But unfortunately, in their country, I think 80 percent of the people living there, they are not open minded like they are, like we are. It’s kind of complicated. Hopefully, one day all this shit is going to change, but it’s hard because people are going more crazy nowadays. They wanna conquer the world. It’s really fucked up at this point. We’ve never had a problem like that. One time we had one show cancelled in the States, just right by the border of Mexico. The city was Corpus Christi in Texas. A lot of religious people and politicians, people there were like: ‘This is not gonna happen!’ It was us and Angelcorpse in, I don’t remember, 2002 or 2003. Unfortunately we had to cancel the show because of religion and politics again.”

This has been your third successful visit to Japan. Will you be back soon? “I hope so. If it was our choice, we would come here at least every two years, at least. It’s kind of hard to bring us from Brazil all the way to here. It’s very expensive so we always have to set up some kind of tour, try to book shows maybe in Australia or more shows in Asia, Right now, on this tour it is the first time we play in countries like Indonesia and Singapore, which was really good and really nice people and the crowds and the promoters. Everything went really smooth and nice. Probably for next time, it’s gonna be like this tour. We are gonna set up some kind of tour of Asia. It’s gonna be easier for promoters to bring us all the way from Brazil.”

Krisiun always seems to be part of very cool tour packages. How do you decide on what bands you tour with? Is it coincidences or do plan carefully who you tour with? “Luckily, especially in Europe and North America, we have a good agent. They have good bands in their agencies too, that’s how it goes. We have to have a good package to tour, especially in North America and Europe, because so many bands, so many tours are happening at the same time. If you go alone, by yourself, it’s kind of hard. Not just for us, but for all bands. Even bigger bands, they need a strong package. For us, touring with NervoChaos is such a pleasure. We are friends for so long, for more than 20 years. It’s a good time. We always have a good time and laughing and talk shit all the time.”

Interview: Edu Lane of NervoChaos talks about censorship and metal’s fight for freedom

Edu Lane of NervoChaos backstage in Tokyo in May 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Censorship reared its ugly head in Bangladesh recently when extreme metal bands NervoChaos and Krisiun from Brazil were stopped from performing at an already sold-out show. When the bands shortly thereafter turned up in Japan, Roppongi Rocks’ Stefan Nilsson sat down with NervoChaos’ bandleader Edu Lane backstage before their gig in Tokyo.

Founded in Sao Paulo, Brazil in 1996, Brazilian extreme metal band NervoChaos recently recorded its latest and seventh studio album in Como, Italy at the Alpha Omega Studio. “Nyctophilia” was released in April and the band is now on a massive world tour to back up the album.

NervoChaos on stage in Tokyo in May 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

They play raw extreme metal and with the addition of Cherry Sickbeat on guitar, the band’s sound has got a slightly punky hardcore edge to it which makes it stand out. “I would say extreme music” says Edu Lane when asked to describe the band’s music. “It gets it all. I don’t like to say death metal or thrash metal because it is kind of limited for what we do. We have some black metal-ish, and death and thrash and hardcore. We do what we like and for the people that we like. We don’t think about this or that crowd. We have just a feeling, just a passion.”

NervoChaos not only saw their sold-out show in Bangladesh cancelled by the authorities, they were also detained at the airport without explanation when they arrived in the country. “We were invited to play Bangladesh. As Brazilians we need visas. So we went to the Bangladesh embassy in Brazil, we got our visas, everything was working fine so far. The promoter was working on promotion. Ticket sales were very good. People were travelling from Nepal, India, from different places to the show. We arrived at the airport around one in the morning. We did the usual immigration deal, you know. I was let in. They stamped my passport and I went to the belt to get the cases.” Then things went from normal to bizarre as all the members of NervoChaos and Krisiun were suddenly stopped and retained in a small room, had their passports taken away and no information provided about what was going on. “Luckily I have a friend, a very good friend of mine who went to school with me. He’s the ambassador of Brazil. I called him,” explains Edu. After some 11 or 12 hours they were eventually released. “Only because I called the ambassador and he called people in the Bangladesh government. The ambassador told me they were going to arrest us and send us to jail. Just because we look different. We couldn’t believe it. We were shocked. We were not provoking or insulting their culture or anything. We thought: we have visas, the kids are there, the promoter is doing a proper job. It’s an amazing thing in 2017 to still have such a country. I feel bad for the kids there. Now they are fighting for their rights, they’re rioting. They are trying to do something which we support. It is freedom,” explains Edu about his feelings about the sad situation.

Edu Lane of NervoChaos backstage in Tokyo in May 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

As a result of the Bangladesh situation, NervoChaos cancelled a few dates on its Asian tour as they worried about more trouble. “We decided that, after the Bangladesh experience, it is better not to risk it. We do it for the passion. We don’t want to fucking die or go to jail because of that. We want to fight for freedom and metal is a big thing worldwide. Hopefully those kids in Bangladesh will get a better treatment and a little bit of freedom.”

Edu continues: “We don’t know what happened. What’s normal for us, seems not normal for them. Long hair, tattoos, black shirts, you know? Not even pentagrams or something like that. I am not sure if they checked the lyrics or even went that deep on the search. I think they just looked at us and said: ‘Nah!’”

NervoChaos has a partly new line-up, with Edu the only remaining original member. Notably Cherry Sickbeat (of Hellsakura fame) has added a dimension to the band with her guitar playing. The new line-up – consisting of Edu and Cherry plus Thiago Anduscias on bass and Lauro Nightrealm on vocals and guitar – seems to have had an impact on the band’s sound. “I think so. We’re trying to evolve as a band, always. I think that new members always bring their own baggage, their own touch, which is good. I try to keep our sound the same but evolving. Not being static, not even moving. I think they brought a new sauce to it. I think it is very good. They’re experienced and I think it is working fine. I hope it lasts!”

With a new line-up and an evolved sound – do you concentrate on the newer songs when you play live or do you still play a lot of the old material? “In the set list we have more songs from the new album, like three or four. But we do play songs from each of the albums we have. We don’t have a long set time, so it’s kind of hard to squeeze everything – we have seven albums now! Tonight we have 40-45 minutes, so I think we can do it properly. Usually we try to play at least one song from each album and focusing on the newer stuff.”

Edu Lane of NervoChaos backstage in Tokyo in May 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

While NervoChaos has been a hard-touring band for two decades, the recent Tokyo gig actually was the band’s first-ever gig in Japan. “Yes, it is the first time. We were supposed to play in Japan two years ago, but we had visa problems, so we couldn’t make it. We did the Asia tour without Japan. But this time we managed properly with the visas and stuff.”

The tour package bringing together Krisiun and NervoChaos has proven a popular one. “It is a good package. For us it is an honour to be touring with them. We did this package in Latin America together with them and that’s how the Asian promoters kind of asked for the package over here. That’s why we’re here. We’re friends for, I don’t know, 25 years. It’s an honour for us to be sharing a stage every night with those guys. I think it is a good combination. They have the more extreme, brutal kind of death metal and we play more the traditional, old-school metal.”

Edu Lane is a busy man. In addition to leading NervoChaos as its drummer and founder for the past two decades, he is also the newly appointed Latin American representative of Alpha Omega, the international music management company which operates in partnership with EMP Label Group, a company led by Megadeth’s David Ellefson. “It’s very new. We were recording the new album in Italy and that’s how I got the invitation to start working with them. I am doing the Latin American territory but I am not limited to it. I just booked a European tour for Ratos de Porão.”

Latin America is a strong market for many metal acts but it is also a territory where it is difficult to do business for artists from other parts of the world. “It’s kind of hard if you go down there with the wrong people. I don’t want to see the bands that I like and that are friends getting screwed, you know?” explains Edu on what he and Alpha Omega bring to the table. The Alpha Omega-EMP tie-up has so far been a successful one. “That’s why I joined them. I like the idea and the concept of Alpha Omega: a big network of experienced people working and trying to help each other.”

Last year, NervoChaos celebrated its 20th anniversary with a limited edition box and followed that with the latest studio album in April this year. What’s next for the band? “Lots of touring hopefully. After this we’re gonna do a big Brazilian tour, around 65 dates. From there we’ll go to Europe, probably around 60 to 70 dates in Europe. Then it’s gonna be the end of the year already. Next year we plan to a lot as well. I think two years is a good amount of time to tour and to promote an album. We want to release a studio album every two years.”

Edu Lane of NervoChaos backstage in Tokyo in May 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Relentless touring around the world is at the centre of NervoChaos’ business model. “That’s the only way to survive for us. Because if we don’t do enough shows, we have to go back to regular jobs. Then it is a nightmare, doing double shifts and stuff. So we try to play as much as we can so that we can live out of the band and fully concentrate on our music and dedicate us to our passion.”

Following our chat, NervoChaos puts on a great show for its Japanese fans. As I leave the gig, Edu stops me and says “Keep the flame burning!” Indeed. He’s a man full of passion for metal and its fans. Certain authorities may throw some speed bumps on the road once in a while, but they can’t stop NervoChaos and its fans.

Interview: Paul Shortino talks about his upcoming Japan shows

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Paul Shortino returns to Japan with a show packed with Rough Cutt, Quiet Riot and King Kobra material.

He made a name for himself with Jake E. Lee in Rough Cutt. He also sang with the Hear ‘n Aid project alongside Ronnie James Dio and Rob Halford before he fronted Quiet Riot and later King Kobra. Roppongi Rocks’ Stefan Nilsson had a chat with American vocalist Paul Shortino ahead of his two Japan gigs on 21st-22nd June.

What can the Japanese fans expect from your upcoming Paul Shortino Band shows in Japan? “The fans can expect a high energy show with lots of fun and great musicianship. I’m so honoured to perform with such talented and humble musicians. Great line-up with Jun Senoue on guitar and keys, Nozomu Wakai on guitar, Shoyo on bass, Louis Sesto on drums and Shigeki Fujii on background vocals.”

Will it be a set list that spans your entire career? “The set list will be songs from the two Rough Cutt records, the Quiet Riot record I recorded and some songs from earlier Quiet Riot to pay tribute to Kevin DuBrow. We will also be doing songs from King Kobra and ‘Back On Track’. I will perform a duet with Shigeki Fujii, doing “Stars” from Hear ‘n Aid, a tribute to Ronnie James Dio.”

The Paul Shortino Band consists of Japanese musicians. How did this band come together? “My wife Carmen was contacted for me to do a symposium and live performance in Nagoya. Jun put the band together. I had worked with Jun Senoue on the Sega game ‘Sonic Adventure’ and recorded the song ‘Dr. Eggman’. I believe Louis Sesto had a lot to do with this. This band is so amazing. We are planning to do some recording and future shows.”

In the 80s, you fronted a Quiet Riot line-up that while it didn’t have any original members, it featured some serious pedigree and skill in Frankie Banali, Sean McNabb, Carlos Cavazo and Jimmy Waldo. What do you most remember from your time with Quiet Riot? “That was a great band. It’s too bad we didn’t do another record. We spent a year working together on the ‘QR’ record. We all got really close working everyday together. We toured South America and Japan and then the band came to a halt. I only wish we would have toured more and would have done another record. However, the band got derailed somewhere along the way and we parted ways.”

You have performed in Japan before, including with Quiet Riot in 1989. What’s your best memory from Japan? “In 1989 Quiet Riot did a promotional tour with Grover Jackson and Charvel guitars. Then we performed in Osaka and Nagoya and three days at the Sun Plaza in Tokyo, where we filmed the shows that later came out on a DVD. That whole experience in Japan was amazing! Seeing Japan outside of touring and performing. Playing to the fans, then experiencing Mount Fuji was beyond words. Big love for the Japanese people and culture.”

You’ve played with several major acts during your career and also had a prominent role in the Hear ‘n Aid project. What’s your career highlight so far? “I feel super blessed to be able to do what I love to do all my life. I know nothing else, except the song in my heart. So, really every aspect of my career has been a true blessing and highlight. I will say that I was very honoured to be a part of ‘Stars’ with everyone involved and the late great Ronnie James Dio. ‘Spinal Tap’ was pretty cool and followed me throughout my career. Haha!”

You appear in the cult move “This Is Spinal Tap!” How did you end up acting in this movie? “Well the way this came about, Rough Cutt was performing, Jake E. Lee was in the band, at the Troubadour, located in Hollywood. The band ran an ad in a local newspaper that we were performing at the Troubadour. The casting crew for ‘This Is Spinal Tap!’ saw the ad and asked Jake, Dave and myself to meet with Rob Reiner. I showed up first dressed in my white leather. Mr. Reiner and wardrobe said ‘We have Duke Fame. No need to interview anyone else!’”

After Japan, what’s next for you? Are you now mainly busy with the Raiding the Rock Vault show in Las Vegas? “Raiding the Rock Vault is an amazing show! I love doing it and will continue to perform in it five nights a week! I am also working with my Rough Cutt band mates, rekindling our relationship, writing songs and hoping to release another CD next year. I am hoping the Paul Shortino Band will be putting out some material of our own in the near future too, and touring with Paul Shortino Band would be fantastic! The difference with Paul Shortino Band is that I get to perform all of the parts of my musical career. It’s a win for my fans and myself. Big love and see you in Japan very soon!“

Paul Shortino Band will perform in Osaka on 21st June and Tokyo on 22nd June.



Interview: Dirk Verbeuren reflects on his first year in Megadeth

Dirk Verbeuren of Megadeth backstage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Megadeth are better than ever and new drummer Dirk Verbeuren has certainly been a great addition for the band. Roppongi Rocks’ Stefan Nilsson met up with Dirk backstage at a recent Megadeth/Anthrax show in Tokyo to talk about the former Soilwork drummer’s first year in Megadeth.

Megadeth has had quite a few terrific drummers in the band’s long career. In 2016, they recruited then Soilwork member Dirk Verbeuren as its new drummer to complement the fantastic line-up of Dave Mustaine, David Ellefson and Kiko Loureiro. Originally it was a fill-in gig as live drummer on part of the “Dystopia” world tour. But after a few months, Dirk was offered a permanent place in the band. A year after Dirk joining Megadeth it is obvious that the Belgian-born and US-based drummer gels very well with the band and has lifted them a level or two.

“It’s been a lot of fun! It’s been, obviously, an unexpected change but a great experience. Like many people who are in this kind of music, I grew up listening to Megadeth, so now to be a part of Megadeth is still kind of unreal at times! Sometimes I’m on stage and I am like: ‘This is really happening!’ Hahaha!” says a very happy Dirk Verbeuren as we meet backstage in Tokyo before Megadeth and Anthrax rock the sold-out venue.

Dirk Verbeuren of Megadeth backstage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Megadeth’s fans seem to have warmly welcomed Dirk without any of the drama that many other metal bands face when they replace some members. “They’ve definitely been very kind to me, they’ve embraced me. The shoes to fill are big, you know what I mean? People like Gar Samuelson, Nick Menza… Even all the other drummers that played in the band, like Jimmy DeGrasso, Shawn Drover, Chris Adler from Lamb of God who recommended me to the band. Those are all top notch people, so it’s… Yeah, I’m doing my best! Haha!”

Stepping into a legendary band with a vast back catalogue of fantastic songs originally played by some rather fabulous musicians can’t be the easiest task. Do you try to copy the original drumming on the classic Megadeth songs or add your own style to the songs when you perform?

“Well, here’s the thing: the goal for me and what the band expects from me, is to be as true to the songs as I can. It’s a song by song case. Sometimes even a section by section case where I try to figure out what I can do, maybe what I would do, maybe what I can do differently. In other parts I am sticking to the original, pure and simple. A lot of the flair comes from the way one person plays compared to the next. And I play the way I play. I can’t sound like… Even though my groove is kind of similar to Nick Menza’s in a way. I grew up listening to a lot of his stuff too, so it probably kind of influenced me in that sense. In the end, I can’t sound like him. Only he can sound like him. Same with Gar and same with all the other guys. I don’t focus too much, I don’t think too much about that, I just try to honour the songs.”

When the offer came to join Megadeth came out of nowhere, was it an obvious thing to accept? “At the beginning it was supposed to be just a fill-in gig. That’s how I was approached. It only overlapped with, at the time I think it was five or six Soilwork shows that I was missing. I talked to the guys: ‘Are you guys OK with me doing this?’ I’m just filling in.’ ‘Yeah, cool, no problem! Of course you should go and do that’. Then as I was on the road, it turned into ‘Hey, do you wanna join?’ So by that time I had already had some time to sit and think about it. What would I do if they asked me? Because you never know. By that time I had had some thoughts, some conversations with my wife and stuff. Then I was like “Yeah! Haha!”

Soilwork mainman Björn “Speed” Strid early on expected that Megadeth would ask Dirk to stay permanently and told Dirk: “When I heard you play with them at Sweden Rock, I knew he was going to ask you to stay.”

Dirk Verbeuren of Megadeth backstage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Dirk was a long-term drummer with Soilwork and leaving that band was not easy but he remains on good terms with his former bandmates, not least because he pointed them in the direction of finding his replacement. “The Soilwork guys have been super supportive about it. That’s cool. No bad blood whatsoever. Bastian Thusgaard recently became full-time, so I’m very happy that all worked out. He’s a great kid, great drummer, very motivated, hardworking. I discovered him because he put on some Soilwork covers online where I was very impressed with his playing. When this happened, I thought of him. I showed the guys a few videos and they were like: ‘Yeah, man. Put us in touch with that guy!’”

In a way it is similar to how Chris Adler recommended Dirk to Megadeth when it became clear he wasn’t going to be able to do that much touring with Megadeth because of his Lamb of God commitments. “Very similar. Also, Kiko as well. I had met him some years ago. I actually saw an Angra show in ’96. At the time I didn’t know him personally. Then he came to see a Soilwork show some years ago in Finland where he was living at the time. We talked a little bit and stuff. So he also, when names came up and stuff, he was like: ‘Dirk is great!’ Yeah, I was warmly recommended. It worked out good,” says a very pleased Dirk.

In my opinion you’re the best extreme metal drummer in the business. Obviously you have the talent and capability to be he drummer in Megadeth, but was there ever any doubt in your mind about your ability to do this with such a big band? Do you feel any pressure in this new role? “Well, thank you very much. That’s very kind of you. Yeah, the first two shows, definitely. There was a lot of stuff going on in your mind. But in the end all you can do is rely on your experience and if something happens, sometimes crazy stuff happens, you trust the fact that you’ll make the right call. Sometimes you have to make a really quick decision: what do I do here? And so far I’ve done pretty good. In the end it’s rock’n’roll, it’s all about having fun and that is still the way I approach it. Actually, it’s even more now than in the past. It’s kind of like I realise how lucky I am to be here doing this, playing music that I like in front of lots of people who are coming to see it. I mean, there really is nothing to worry about, right? It’s not like we’re trying to solve hunger in the world or something. We’re playing music for people to have a good time.”

With a great, and what seems like a stable, line-up of Megadeth, this band can really do something fantastic with the next album. Do you expect to be part of the songwriting from now on? “I don’t know. Obviously I haven’t been in that spot, so I haven’t experienced that. We’ll see how it goes. I’m definitely open to anything. I’ve started recording some ideas, you know, just having stuff in my phone. I look forward to spending time with the guys working on ideas. Obviously a lot of it is centred round Dave. He’s been the main songwriter for the whole time pretty much. Kind of from there we’ll see how it goes. It’s good that I have this period of time, unlike Chris who came in and it was pretty much straight to recording. I think that’s difficult, because you have certain ways of doing things and then all of a sudden there is this band with this whole past. That’s quick adaption. That can be tricky. Whereas with me, I’m probably going to spend at least two years, if not more, playing the songs live. That gives me some time to see the different areas of the band, see the different styles. For example, Gar has a very different style than Jimmy, than Nick, than Shawn and Chris and all the different people. And Chuck! I forgot Chuck Behler earlier. Great drummer too. Actually, I met him. He came to one of our shows last year, on the US tour. Super cool guy. That gives me a chance to take that information in and all these different grooves. Then when it is time to create something, I will definitely tap into that. Because it is a very different way of playing for me than, obviously, Soilwork or any other stuff I’ve done.”

Roppongi Rocks’ Stefan Nilsson and Dirk Verbeuren of Megadeth backstage in Tokyo.

Megadeth has an interesting history of the band’s drum techs stepping up to become the band’s drummer. Clearly you thus have ensured that you now have a rubbish drum tech who is not threatening your position behind the kit, correct? “Haha! Well, I have Tony Laureano, so he’s not exactly a rubbish guy. He was Dimmu Borgir and he has played with Nile. I was actually on tour with Tony back in 2002 when my old band Scarve opened for Nile on a European tour. Tony was drumming then in Nile and I was very impressed with his playing. We’ve been kind of friends ever since. I can’t say we were in touch all the time, but we would email ever now and then and I would see him at festivals. I saw him once with Dimmu. He loves teching. He’s a great drummer and he still plays. He still has several projects that are in the works. But he just loves doing this, being on that side. Hey, it’s cool. He’s an awesome guy. Great tech.” (Prior to Dirk joining Megadeth, Tony did a few shows as fill-in drummer for Megadeth, including their headline gig at the Japanese festival Loud Park in October 2015.)

So, what drummers have influenced you? Are you listening to drummer from different genres than metal? “Yeah, I listen to a lot of different things, but I do listen to a lot of metal. I don’t know that I feel that I am the best metal drummer. I like that you think that, it’s very kind, but you know I get a lot of inspiration from metal guys. Like I love Mario from Gojira, I love James from Vader, Tony was a big influence of mine for many years, especially around the Nile years. He was doing a lot of crazy stuff. Sean Reinert. I definitely listen to other styles of music as well. It’s very diverse. If you look at my phone, there’s everything from jazz to electronic to industrial to pop music to rock music, old-school punk. All kinds, even classical music. Sometimes when you come out of a tour or show or something, you just want something completely opposite. Kiko has been showing me a lot of Brazilian cool stuff. He’s a great acoustic player too. Sometimes he’ll sit after the show and just play beautiful things and I just sit there listening to him for an hour because it is so nice and a totally different vibe. The same with drummers. I like to keep things interesting. If you always listen to the same thing, especially as I get older, after a while… I need something else now. So I switch from Napalm Death to Squarepusher to Miles Davis within a few hours.”

Dirk Verbeuren of Megadeth backstage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

You have always had multiple projects and bands on the go throughout your career. Now that you’re in Megadeth, do you have time for side projects and teaching drums and such? “The focus is Megadeth obviously, but I have been teaching quite a bit when I am not on tour. I have a few students locally and a few Skype students and I really like that part because I love when younger drummers ask questions and wanna learn stuff. I kind of make myself useful in a different way than entertaining people, passing on some stuff I’ve learned. I’ve been doing this pretty much since I was 18-19 years old, so it’s been a while. And, yeah, some side projects. Pretty under the radar stuff, like Bent Sea. It’s purely for fun. No ambition whatsoever, just making noise. I’m just kind of doing my own thing whenever I feel like it. There’s no schedule or business plan, it’s just the old-school way.”

One of the talented and hardworking musicians that Dirk frequently plays with is Shane Embury of Napalm Death and Brujeria fame, who is also in Bent Sea with Dirk. He is in so many bands and projects that he recently ended up performing three sets in a row with three different bands every night. “That’s Shane for you. Great guy. Super humble. Loves music, loves making music with people. We have several things in the works together. But my focus is on Megadeth. It’s obviously where I put everything in right now.”

Following a very successful Asian tour, more touring is coming up for Megadeth. “We first go to the US with Meshuggah. Really good friends of mine. Great band. Tomas Haake is another big drum influence of mine. We’re going out with them for a month in the US and from that we pretty much go straight into the European dates. Then back to the US for the Scorpions tour. It’s a pretty packed year this year.”

Roppongi Rocks’ Stefan Nilsson and Dirk Verbeuren of Megadeth backstage in Tokyo.

The much talked about Scorpions/Megadeth tour will bring Dirk together with another fab drummer, Sweden’s Mikkey Dee, the former Motörhead, Don Dokken and King Diamond drummer who joined Scorpions last year. “I love watching that guy play. It’s energising to see. He’s still on fire, man. He plays maybe better than he did before.”

Megadeth opening for Scorpions was a tour package that was rather unexpected. “Scorpions at the time was one of the biggest hard rock bands before thrash really existed. It’s not often Megadeth will open for somebody. It’s kind of like an interesting bill. I think it’s going to be really cool. Big venues. It should be a really interesting tour.”

It is time for Dirk to warm up for the first of two sold-out Tokyo shows with Megadeth. As he walks on stage a couple of hours later, he is a beast behind the drum kit proving that he was the right pick for the job.

Interview: Mark Jansen on how Epica’s sound has evolved

Mark Jansen of Epica in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

It took Dutch symphonic metal masters Epica some 15 years to get to Japan, but when they did show up they got a warm welcome by their Japanese fans. Roppongi Rocks’ Stefan Nilsson met with Epica mastermind Mark Jansen before their sold out show in Tokyo.

Simone Simons and Mark Jansen on stage with Epica in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Mark Jansen founded a new symphonic metal band when he left After Forever in 2002 over “musical and personal differences”. As we sit down backstage before Epica’s Tokyo gig Mark explains: “In After Forever there were two captains on the ship. All the time we had different opinions. It was taking a lot of energy. Yeah, I like to be a bit more in control. I am not a control freak but I need to have some control of things to feel happy.”

The new band Mark assembled was originally called Sahara Dust, but as they entered the studio to record they stumbled upon a much better name, Epica, which was the name of a Kamelot album. “We were recording in the same studio where they were recording the album ‘Epica’. We saw the cover. We were called Sahara Dust at the time. The name we weren’t completely satisfied about and we couldn’t find a better name. Then we saw that album cover of ‘Epica’. We already liked the music of Kamelot a lot. We sent them an email: ‘Are you OK with that?’ and they were fine. Not right away but after a while. They said themselves already that Epica would be a great name for a band. But I think it fits really well to us. I think not many bands who have a band name that fits their music so well as we do,” says Mark while looking very satisfied.

Mark Jansen on stage with Epica in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Epica debuted in 2003 with “The Phantom Agony” and rapidly won a loyal fan base globally, including in Japan. In 2016 they released their seventh album, the fabulous “The Holographic Principle”. So why did it take the band some 15 years to come and play for their Japanese fans? “Several reasons. Every time when we tried to come over, the promoters said ‘Look at your CD sales. It’s not high enough in Japan to bring you over. Probably we’re not gonna sell enough tickets’ and that kind of story. We kept trying and then two years ago there was finally one promoter who wanted to get us, but then our management said we should not go yet because if we worked with that promoter we could not play Loud Park, for example. You have these kind of things. Then we said, next opportunity, we go. We can’t wait forever to go to Japan,” says Mark who is very pleased that they managed to come to Japan for a three-city tour and that the band’s first ever Tokyo gig is sold out. “Sold out! To be able to do three shows is already amazing. I’ve never been so relaxed on a tour in a country like here. Strictly on time, everything is well organised. It’s sometimes different in other countries.”

Mark Jansen of Epica in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Epica has arrived at a signature sound which means that nowadays it is rather easy to spot an Epica song. But with such success also comes expectations when new music is created and some artists feel that they become constrained to create music that fits into what is expected of them. “Usually I just start and then whatever feels right, I do it. I learnt to not think inside the box, but to just do whatever feels good. In the end, there is always something happening that makes it sound Epica. Even if you have a piece of music that in the beginning doesn’t fit well, something happens and it always fit in the end. And if it really doesn’t fit I use it for another project. So, whatever I write fits somewhere,” explains Mark his creative process.

Mark Jansen on stage with Epica in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

One part of the Epica sound that sets it apart from some of the other symphonic metal bands, is that they use death metal-like growling or grunting in addition to clean singing. “It’s a funny story how it happened. When I started to listen to metal music, I ran into an album of Amorphis. I was listening to it and as soon as the guy started singing: ‘Oh, fuck! It’s grunts, I hate it!’ Still, I bought the album because the music was so amazing and I slowly got into it. Then with my first band, we started as a melodic band with a grunter as a singer because we couldn’t find a clean vocalist. We were also looking for a background singer. Floor Jansen came to do an audition. We heard, instantly, this is not a background singer. This is somebody who has to be the front. But the grunter didn’t like the idea, so there was some competition going on… He left. Then we decided to do some of the grunts ourselves in After Forever. I kept doing it with Epica ever since. That’s how it started,” explains Mark about how Amorphis has helped shaping the Epica sound and continues: “With the new singer they were back on track. Now I love them again!”

Mark Jansen on stage with Epica in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Mark is clearly the mastermind behind Epica’s music and he pays attention to all the details. On recent albums the Epica guitarist is not even playing guitar on the tracks because he’s too busy with other things. The band’s other guitarist Isaac Delahaye handles all guitars in the studio. “I prefer to focus on the lyrics. That is already so much work. It would take me twice as long as Isaac to record it, so I prefer him doing it, rather than me working my ass off doing all these riffs. When he is done with the songs, I have two-three months’ time to study all his riffs for the tour. In the studio, if I have to work on the lyrics and to study these licks and to record them, I would go nuts!”

On the last couple of albums, Epica has used Joost van den Broek as a producer. Like Mark, Joost too has a past in After Forever, although they didn’t play in the band at the same time. “So I knew the guy and ever since we started working together, we became friends,” says mark about the close relationship. Joost is very involved in Epica’s creative process. “Definitely more than a technician. During the recording process and demo phase, he’s like a seventh band member. He’s travelling with his equipment separately to everybody’s home studios. He asks: ‘What have you got? What did you write? Let me listen to it. Let us work on it.’ Then, when he has the overview of all the music written… Is it enough material or even too much? Then we bring it together and start working on each other’s tracks. Because in the beginning we like to work on our own. There are a lot of opinions in Epica, a lot of strong opinions. When you feel like you cannot bring it any further, then we start working on it together. Then it is also easier to accept criticism.”

Mark Jansen of Epica in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

With a firmly established signature sound, is the Epica sound still evolving? “I started writing music for the next album about two months ago. But it is too early yet to know what direction will evolve. Because I don’t know the music yet of any of the other guys. I know that some other guys have recorded some ideas. So, everybody is already doing something, but it is too early to know where it will go to. But we always try to make things better. There is always something on an album that we think ‘Let’s try it in a different way next time’. That is also how you keep the stuff fresh. When I listen to all the past albums…at that time it was the best we could do then. If we would make it now, we would do it differently. But it wouldn’t necessarily be better. These albums have to be like they are, they have to stay like they are. That’s also why I am still very happy with them.”

With seven studio albums below their belt there is plenty of music to choose from for their gigs. Set lists can’t be easy to compile at this stage. “It depends on where we play. For a show in Japan, we try a little bit of an alternative set list then what we do in Europe. The first was doing well, the second show we were changing some things and now in Tokyo I think we found the right balance between the new album and other songs.” In Tokyo the band performs “Unleashed”, a track no longer featured at most gigs, but a favourite among Japanese fans. “It’s one of the songs people love here. So we decided to put it in the set. So tonight has a very balanced set to keep everybody happy.”

Mark Jansen on stage with Epica in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

In all of his bands and projects, including Epica, After Forever and MaYaN, Mark has been fortunate enough to be able to work with some very fine vocalists. Current Nightwish vocalist Floor Jansen is one of them. She sang in After Forever and also brought in Mark for some cooperation in ReVamp. “She also sings with my other band MaYaN. In the beginning she did even some touring but when she got asked to do Nightwish of course she ‘flew away’! And that was completely understandable, because that was the big chance and I would have done exactly the same. But she sang on some songs with MaYaN and it sounds fantastic. Then she said ‘I want you to sing on my band’s album, ReVamp’. So I did as well. Also with ReVamp, she has no time for that any more for the same reason. Nightwish takes all the time and that is also completely understandable. But it was really fun. It’s always nice to work with her. I’m pretty sure in the future, maybe it can take quite some years, I am sure in the future there will be some collaboration.’

Mark Jansen of Epica in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

German power singer Henning Basse (Gus G, Firewind, Gamma Ray) is also someone Mark has worked with in MaYaN. “He’s an amazing singer. He’s a singer of world class. With his qualities he could be singing in any huge band who needs a big singer. But for some reason it didn’t happen yet. So, he’s still in relatively small bands with all respect. I think if Firewind or MaYaN or Gus G is becoming big in the next couple of years, then he goes fully for them then. But at this moment he’s not yet fully attached to one band because they are all too small to make a living from. I’ve been saying that for years already because when I heard him sing for the first time, it was with Sons of Seasons, I thought ‘This singer is really world-class’. I’ve had the honour to work with so many great singers, like Floor Jansen. It took some years but now she’s the singer of Nightwish. And when I heard Simone Simons for the first time, I knew that was going to be good. In MaYaN we work also with Laura Macrì, who is also my girlfriend. When I heard her voice I also knew that this was top, top quality. I’m in such a lucky position to have worked with all these great singers.”

“There are two things that are extremely important: the singer and the drummer. When there is a shitty drummer the whole band sounds like shit. And when the singer is shit, everybody hears it right away. When there’s like one of the other musicians is not 100%, it still blends into the music. But the drummer and singer they have to be top quality. We’re also in a lucky position with Ariën van Weesenbeek, who is also a machine! Now that we became a big band ourselves…otherwise some band would have taken him, stolen him from us, I’m sure,” says Mark proudly of the drummer of both Epica and MaYaN. /

Interview: Graham Bonnet and Conrado Pesinato | A future built on the past for Graham Bonnet Band

Graham Bonnet and Conrado Pesinato in Tokyo in March 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

When Graham Bonnet Band recently returned to tour Japan, Roppongi Rocks’ Stefan Nilsson sat down with Graham Bonnet and guitarist Conrado Pesinato in Tokyo to chat about using the past to create a future.

Conrado Pesinato and Graham Bonnet on stage in Tokyo in March 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Graham Bonnet Band has released a terrific album called “The Book” and has finally got a stable line-up which enables them to tour properly around the world. Veteran vocalist Graham Bonnet has a very loyal fan base in Japan built up with bands such as Rainbow, MSG and Alcatrazz. He has been playing gigs in Japan for many years and now he is back just half a year since his last visit. Then he was here as a guest of Michael Schenker, now he’s here on a headline tour with his own band. The band’s debut album has done very well in Japan as is evident from the packed venues that the band is performing for. “It’s always great to be back here because the audiences are so great. The fans are amazing. They are very loyal. We always look forward to it being a good show because they are so enthusiastic about seeing the band” says Graham Bonnet and Conrado Pesinato adds: “Best crowd in the world!”

Graham Bonnet on stage in Tokyo in March 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Having performed in Japan with Michael Schenker both in 2015 and 2016 has not exactly hurt Graham Bonnet and the interest in the Graham Bonnet Band. Schenker is a major star In Japan and his fans are an obvious target for Bonnet’s music. “No doubt! He has a big following here and we lashed onto that and why not? I was in the band for at least a week… Haha!! So, it was a little reunion but not quite. But it was fantastic to do the show with him. We all respect his band and I love his music” says Bonnet with a reference to his very short original stint as MSG vocalist in the early 80s.

Graham Bonnet in Tokyo in March 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By now, Bonnet has a tradition of doing special things for his Japanese fans. For this Japan tour, Bonnet brought something very special indeed. Not only did his current band, Graham Bonnet Band, perform songs from their new album as well as old hits from Bonnet’s career. We also got treated to a special Alcatrazz set featuring the three Alcatrazz founders – Bonnet, Jimmy Waldo and Gary Shea. “It was put together by our manager and the record company, I believe. It was a good idea because Jimmy Waldo is now part of the band, it was like a natural thing. ‘What happened to the other guys in Alcatrazz?’ That’s when Gary came in and we thought ‘Well, what about Yngwie Malmsteen and Steve Vai?’ I don’t think so. I don’t think they will do it. And Jan Uvena, our old drummer, definitely didn’t want to do it. He is completely out of the business. So we have at least two of the guys to do an Alcatrazz set. So, that’s what we’ve done. Half the show is us, our stuff along with a mixture of a bit of Michael Schenker and whatever and obviously Rainbow stuff from my past. Then we do a separate show with Gary and Jimmy, all the Alcatrazz things we wrote together. It’s kind of cool.”

Graham Bonnet has had some of the most legendary guitarists in the world in the bands he’s fronted, names such as Ritchie Blackmore, Michael Schenker, Yngwie Malmsteen, Steve Vai and Chris Impellitteri. His latest lead guitarist Conrado Pesinato has big shoes to fill. “Yeah, I do. I do my best and have fun, that’s kind of how I take it” says Pesinato. “Right now I feel more honoured than anything else. You know, to share the stage with him, playing songs he played with all these great guitar players. And with all the rest of the band, Beth-Ami, Gary and everybody. It’s been very fulfilling. The best thing I get out of it, as far as my personal interest, are the songs that we co-wrote, some of the riffs I wrote, being performed together with riffs those guys wrote. For me that’s kind of the main thing. Playing the old stuff is very challenging and I feel honoured to play, but I get more enjoyment out of playing the new stuff that we all put together.” Having seen Pesinato perform with Bonnet in Japan both in 2015 and 2017, it is clear that he’s up to the task. He not only gets the job done with classic material, he’s also showing his brilliance with the new songs. In the past Pesinato played with Graham Bonnet Band bassist Beth-Ami Heavenstone in the LA band Hardly Dangerous which is how he got asked if he was up for joining Bonnet. “First I was like ‘Yeah, if you guys think I can do it. Yeah, sure, I’ll give it a shot’. Beth-Ami is a good friend. It’s always fun playing with her. She’s a great bass player, she’s got a great feel” says Pesinato.

Conrado Pesinato and Graham Bonnet on stage in Tokyo in March 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

“It was a natural thing” says Bonnet of the choice of Pesinato as the band’s guitarist. “He came in and the three of us got together and started making songs.” The trio got on well from the start but it took them some time before they could find the right drummer for the new band. “Eventually we found a drummer. Drummer number one. We’ve had about ten drummers so far. And finally we’ve found Mark over there” says Bonnet and points to the new drummer Mark Benquechea. “He is the best one. And we are gonna make him stay. We gotta tie him up, beat him up or whatever!” Beth-Ami Heavenstone weighs in on the conversation: “He can never leave!”

Bonnet continues: “He brought the band to life! The first rehearsal we had with him was incredible. It was like he’d been playing with us for years.” Pesinato continues: “I knew him for a couple of years in LA. Playing the same clubs in different bands. He has a killer feel and I know he’s a big Rainbow fan. He loves Cozy and that was the big selling point for me.”

Graham Bonnet and Conrado Pesinato in Tokyo in March 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Clearly the band is delighted with their new drummer, but it seems that he wasn’t too confident about getting the gig when he auditioned. “I think that he was thinking ‘I’m not gonna get this’, because he brought an album with him and he got me to sign it! Haha!! It was ‘Down To Earth’, wasn’t it? So, he got me to sign ‘Down To Earth’ just in case I never saw him again” explains Bonnet. “He’s the guy! Mark, no doubt. He was so bloody good. He blew the other guy away basically. As soon as he started playing one of the songs which every drummer has a bit of a problem with … When he started playing ‘Lost in Hollywood’, that was like the clincher. It was just unbelievable. He’s really the driving force behind a lot of the songs now. Really, really good and I applaud him, I really do. He does a great job every night. We’ve got a great band, that’s all I can say. Having Mark in the band now is so refreshing. It’s really good.”

Graham Bonnet on stage in Tokyo in March 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

The band’s album “The Book” was released about half a year ago and has done really well, winning both critical acclaim and selling well. “Yeah, it feels great” says Pesinato. “I’d say, especially for me, because before I have been touring with him and you see everybody with Alcatrazz records to get signed, all his previous stuff, Rainbow… There’s one here that I made! It feels good. It especially feels good to be part of the heritage and the great catalogue that Graham’s had with this amazing body of work with brilliant musicians. It just feels great to be part of that somehow. It feels pretty good to know that people are liking it. Like the past few shows we have been playing in Japan, to see everybody singing the songs, the new stuff”. Bonnet continues: “Last night they were getting up for the new stuff. You can see them mouthing the words. There’s nothing more gratifying than to see somebody actually singing your song. It’s a great feeling. Conrado put a lot of work into this, we worked for hours and hours and hours. And after I finished working with him, he would go home and work for another 20,000 years putting all the stuff together. We all worked very hard”. Pesinato  worked hard to address the pressure of doing a Graham Bonnet album: “For me it was, even psychologically, recording guitar solos by myself. ‘It’s a good solo but is it good enough to be on a Graham Bonnet record?’”

The end result is great and a perfect follow-on from Bonnet’s legacy. All the tracks are strong, there are no fillers on the album. “I know!” says Bonnet. “That’s what a lot of people say. I got a message from one of my friends the other day. It says: ‘Every track is like a single’. I think they all have that sort of immediacy. You can sing along with them after you’ve heard them once. The big chorus or whatever. And the story, people like the stories, so it’s kind of cool. To see people singing in the audience, every damn verse. The audience knows the words better than I do, I always forget the words!”

Graham Bonnet on stage in Tokyo in March 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

While the band is now doing a fair bit of touring, they have already starting to think about the next album. “I’ve got some more stuff ready” says Bonnet. “It’s in the works already. We both have guitar parts, ideas. I’m sure that Jimmy has some ideas as well. Keyboard ideas. He’s played me a couple of things and I’ve played some stuff to Jimmy. That’s what we do right now. It’s the beginning of the next thing”. Pesinato continues: “Even on this record, it was an interesting process. It was a little, how can I say, unusual? Jimmy kind of jumped in towards the end but he helped a lot with some arrangements and he started some ideas and he co-wrote some stuff.” Creating music is very much a team effort with the whole band contributing to writing, arranging and recording. “It was definitely a joint effort” says Pesinato of the work behind “The Book”.

With a great new album out and an incredible back catalogue going back to the late 60s, it can’t be terribly easy to put together set lists for the gigs. “It’s really difficult. There are so many bloody songs to choose from” says Bonnet. “Obviously we have to do the well-known ones. The Rainbow ones and the Alcatrazz tunes. But there are so many other songs that I have recorded over the years that were singles, on my own. There’s a song called ‘Night Games’ which they know in Japan. A Japanese guy did a version of it here years ago. So, I know we’re safe to put that one. But sometimes it’s difficult because it depends on the territory, what country we’re in. I’ve been lucky, I guess. People have listened. All the songs are not necessarily the same genre. ‘Night Games’ is very poppy and ‘Since You Been Gone’ is poppy. But then there are other songs which are kind of heavy and nasty. Haha!! It’s a good mix. We have 22 songs in this set. So it’s a long thing and everybody I’ve heard from so far, they’ve liked every damn song. Because they sort of know them.” Pesinato adds: “It’s a good problem to have, for sure!”

The band is keeping busy in 2017 with quite a bit of touring and some summer festivals. “We’ve got a lot of gigs coming up” says Bonnet. Pesinato says about what’s next for them: “Start working on a new record! Next year it’s gonna be out. And we have a live DVD coming out even before that. One we recorded in Italy last year.”

The band is signed to Italian label Frontiers Music. “We thought they did a great job promoting this one” says Pesinato. “We are definitely grateful to have them onboard. Really good.” Frontiers is a label well-known for AOR and melodic hard rock. Graham Bonnet Band is a bit different from the typical Frontiers band. “I think ours is a little sort of proggy in parts” says Bonnet. “Or just different. We have a different sound. I think that once we did this album, with these players, we suddenly found out a new sound. It is very modern. When I make up tunes… I have Conrado in the band, who’s a lot younger than me, and Beth-Ami and with Mark. Jimmy’s my age, so me and Jimmy is a bit 1980. We have to be careful. But at the same time, I have a modern way of looking at songs. Conrado helps bring that out a little bit more. The next album I think, it’ll be… If people like this one, I think they are gonna like the next one too. It will be very sort of in a similar vein.”

Graham Bonnet on stage in Tokyo in March 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Bonnet’s music has always had a sound foundation in melodic rock, but at times the latest album is quite heavy and aggressive. A bit of flashback to the MSG album “Assault Attack” which Bonnet did with Michael Schenker in 1982. “Yeah, it’s aggressive but it’s not annoyingly aggressive” agrees Bonnet. “It’s something you can listen to and sing with it, sing-along with. You can listen to the story. There is some hard-hitting stories in there about real life. It’s not made up of dragons and dungeons and whips and chains and stuff. It’s about real things. I have always made up lyrics about real life and experiences that I’ve had. People identify with certain songs and that’s really good. I can’t identify with songs about sex and drugs and rock’n’roll, if you know what I mean. Those sort of silly lyrics. I won’t say who writes silly lyrics. But there are a lot of bands out there if you read the lyrics: Are you kidding me? How old is this person? 12? I like to make up intelligent words along with intelligent arrangements.”

Graham Bonnet on stage in Tokyo in March 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Conrado Pesinato co-produced “The Book”: “I was trying to capture like the vibe of his past catalogue, even referencing… this part is a bit more like MSG, or this part a little more like Alcatrazz. Even referencing that but definitely bring in a more modern approach to it. We try to find a balance and you know, so far we’re successful at it, because it does have the element of the classic Graham Bonnet sound and those beautiful harmonies, the nice melodies. It does recall some Rainbow, it does recall some Alcatrazz, MSG, his solo stuff. But at the same time I think there is definitely a touch of freshness there. I think we have achieved something cool.”

Graham Bonnet on stage in Tokyo in March 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

The album stands up on its own, even if it didn’t have the Bonnet name attached to it. “Great! Thanks, that’s cool. I appreciate that, because it was a bit scary” says Bonnet. “I thought: is anybody gonna go ‘What the hell’s this?’ or are they gonna go ‘This is great’? And luckily the reviews and the comments from people are just amazing. I’m surprised, pleasantly surprised. I think we all are. I’m really happy. Very happy about the whole thing.” Pesinato continues: “Surprised for sure, but in a way – I don’t wanna sound cocky – I remember when we finished the record and we got the first mixes and stuff, we were talking with our manager Giles Lavery: ‘Wow! This is cool!’ I wasn’t sure what people would think, but I was personally – I am very self-critical about stuff that I do and that I’m involved with – I remember hearing the master… Wow! I think we did something cool here. I was personally very pleased with it. And I am glad people were too.”

Graham Bonnet may be a seasoned veteran who debuted in the 1960s, but with Graham Bonnet Band he also has a future. And his guitarist and co-producer Conrado Pesinato will ensure Bonnet stays current and relevant.

Graham Bonnet and Conrado Pesinato in Tokyo in March 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Interview: David Ellefson talks about Megadeth’s upcoming Japan shows

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Thrash metal legends Megadeth will return to play three shows in Japan in May as part of the Asian leg of the “Dystopia” world tour. And they are bringing the mighty Anthrax with them to Japan as special guests. That’s half a Big Four show! Roppongi Rocks’ Stefan Nilsson checked in with Megadeth’s co-founder and bassist David Ellefson during the band’s tour rehearsals to see what’s cooking in the Megadeth kitchen.

What can the Japanese fans expect from Megadeth’s upcoming shows with Anthrax? “It’s a really heavy and diverse set list of music from ‘Dystopia’ as well as the classics. Plus, the fans have not heard Dirk in Japan yet, so they will see Megadeth really firing on all cylinders in a really energetic way.” 

Since you last played Tokyo, in October 2015, you have released a great new album, “Dystopia”. Is it difficult finding a balance of including enough of the great new material versus playing old favourites in your live sets? “Sometimes when you release a new album, you only get a few songs deep into the record with the live show. But, with ‘Dystopia’ we have seven songs in the show already! The fans expect the classics, which we will play, and we have our favorites, too. It’s a very diverse set list.”

You have recruited the fantastic and energetic drummer Dirk Verbeuren from Soilwork as a new member of your rhythm section. Does he fit in well with you and the rest of the band so far? “He’s fantastic! He brings such a great energy and technical expertise to the band. He’s really the best of the best from the grindcore genre so it’s great to have him bring that skill into Megadeth. You really hear a new energy to the band with Dirk.” 

At Loud Park in 2015 we had three of the Big Four thrash metal bands on stage and now you and Anthrax are playing together again. Do you think we will ever see some more Big Four shows? “Let’s hope so! That was such a great moment for all things in thrash metal. I think the fans would love to see that again.”

Following the Asia tour this spring and summer festivals in North America and Europe, you have something very cool happening: the Crazy World tour with Scorpions! What a cool and unexpected combination. How did that come about? “Yes, it is really a cool bill to play with Scorpions. A promoter friend in Arizona brought the idea to us and right away it seemed like a great idea. We have played festivals with them over the years and it’s a really good fit musically between the two bands and our fans. Plus, I think every metal fan loves a Scorpions song! Dave and I have always been fans and they are one of Kiko’s favourites, too. They are a real guitar player’s kind of band. In fact, when Dave and I first met in 1983, we had a friend who was attending the school Musicians Institute in Hollywood and would come over to our place and jam early Scorpions songs. We always studied a lot of the European guitar players, because they had a different influence that worked well in metal…mostly classical inspirations. In a way, those jam sessions were inspiring in the development of the earliest Megadeth compositions, especially the complexity in the solos and riffs. It was a really creative and innovative period that defined some of those earliest songs for ‘Killing Is My Business…’ and even ‘Peace Sells…’. I think the tour is going to see a lot of us reliving some cool memories from over the years.”

What’s next for Megadeth? Have you started work on the next album? “We have some plans for exciting things later this year and into 2018. Stay tuned!”

Megadeth will perform in Osaka on 17th May and in Tokyo on 18th and 19th May. /

Interview: Alcatrazz – No parole for Gary Shea

Gary Shea on stage with Alcatrazz in Tokyo in March 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

With the three founding members of Alcatrazz – Graham Bonnet, Jimmy Waldo and Gary Shea – back on stage together, Roppongi Rocks sat down with Gary Shea to talk about the past, present and future of Alcatrazz.

Last year we interviewed Gary Shea a couple of times around the release of New England’s live album and their Japan tour. Gary might be a 66-year old music industry veteran, but he is young at heart and loves performing for his fans. “I want to play bass. I am not staying home. I’ll stay home when I am 85! We rock! So we’re here!” says Gary as we meet when he once again turns up in Tokyo to perform with Alcatrazz on the recent “Parole Denied 2017” Japan tour.

Alcatrazz released three splendid studio albums in the mid-80s: “No Parole from Rock’n’Roll”, “Disturbing the Peace” and “Dangerous Games”. Apart from the core line-up of vocalist Graham Bonnet, bassist Gary Shea, keyboardist Jimmy Waldo and drummer Jan Uvena, the band was also home to the budding guitarists Yngwie Malmsteen, Steve Vai and Danny Johnson. Bonnet had made a name for himself with Rainbow and Michael Schenker Group, Uvena had played with Alice Cooper while Shea and Waldo had been members of New England and Warrior with Vinnie Vincent. The band had all the ingredients to make it big and they did rather well for a few years, but having a new lead guitarist for each of the three albums disrupted things and eventually they disbanded in 1987.

Alcatrazz in Tokyo in March 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Recently the three founding members – Bonnet, Shea and Waldo – have been performing again as Alcatrazz, this time with guitarist Conrado Pesinato and drummer Mark Benquechea from Graham Bonnet Band. The current Alcatrazz line-up, who has been performing jointly with Graham Bonnet Band, sounds amazing. Perhaps there is not only a glorious past but also a future for Alcatrazz?

How did this special Alcatrazz set with Graham Bonnet Band come about? “Graham’s manager Giles Lavery suggested it. Jimmy has been playing in Graham’s band. Giles and Jimmy worked on another project and then Jimmy got back together with Graham – they live in Los Angeles. He joined the band, playing on the last record and everything. Then they said ‘Let’s get Gary and do some Alcatrazz stuff as well. How about two bands and two shows? That might appeal to a lot people.’ So, here we are! I am really happy about that,” says Gary as we sit down at the record company offices the day before the final gig on the Japan tour. “There were some other renditions of Alcatrazz there for a minute with some other guys. This is a chance to play it correctly! To really nail it!” explains Gary referencing the fact that for a few years Graham Bonnet performed using the Alcatrazz name but with no other original Alcatrazz members involved.

Graham Bonnet and Gary Shea on stage with Alcatrazz in Tokyo in March 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

What about the absent former guitar heroes of Alcatrazz Steve Vai and Yngwie Malmsteen – are they in touch at all? “Jimmy was at Steve’s house last week to work on some tracks. He was helping Conrado get a few things from the vault, some of the songs, to learn the proper bits. And Steve’s more than happy to help him out. We talk to Steve all the time. And Yngwie is no stranger, just he’s doing his thing and, of course, Steve is doing his thing. They’re doing the Axe tour. We’re all in touch. Over the years we’ve tried to put together the band again a few times. It would be great if we could get Steve and Yngwie and play all the stuff together, but that’s never gonna happen with those guys! That would be my dream if we could do that. It would be kind of fun. So, we’re in touch, it’s good vibes. Things got blown out of the water back in the dark ages about us hating each other and all that stuff. That was more the manager’s publicity stunt than it was the actual people. We’re not hating, we had a good time. It’s just that we disagreed, so fine.”

Gary Shea on stage with Alcatrazz in Tokyo in March 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

The reunited Alcatrazz has recently performed some US shows as well as the Japanese tour, but the future is still uncertain. “Nothing’s booked right now” says Gary who clearly seems keen on doing more Alcatrazz shows.

Japan loved Alcatrazz from the start and this is also where the band recorded the live album “Live Sentence” as well as the concert videos “Metallic Live” and “Power Live” – all recorded during the band’s two Japan tours in 1984. Gary has fond memories from Japan. “Obviously playing for the first time on the first tour when Yngwie was in the band. We played at the Sun Plaza. It was amazing. It was my first time in Japan. To see how Japanese people are with music, it’s unlike any other place on Earth. There’s no other country that rocks like Japan. They can talk about Detroit and all that stuff, not even close. People love music here, they listen to music and they have much respect for the artist, the musicians, listening to them play. They really respect the acts they know, the artists that play. That was a great time, an eye-opening experience, a whole culture shock. I love Japan.”

According to several sources, former Iron Maiden drummer Clive Burr was an early member of Alcatrazz. Not the case says Gary who explains that Burr’s involvement lasted for about “two minutes or one day”. “He was just one of the guys who auditioned for us. We had Aynsley Dunbar, we had Bill Lordan from Robin Trower’s band. Who else came? We had Ed Cassidy from Spirit who played for us. That was different. Bill Lordan was in the band for about a month, but he wanted to do a religious retreat in Jerusalem or something and off he went. And Clive came in, he flew in from London and played. It was OK but we just thought it wasn’t the guy, we wanted to keep looking. But somehow somebody said he was in the band and all this stuff. Great publicity, you know. The manager wanted him in the band so he could say ‘Iron Maiden and Alcatrazz’. We had to tell him: ‘Stop!’ That’s where the rumour came from. There was never anything more than one day. Great guy, it just wasn’t the right guy for it at the time.”

Alcatrazz in Tokyo in March 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

The Alcatrazz manager was a guy focused on getting publicity with little regard for building a proper band dynamic. “Oh, yeah! The same manager wanted us to get Laurence Juber from Wings for Alcatrazz. That’s not going to work. You can say, yes Wings is famous and Rainbow’s famous and New England is famous. But Wings? The guy wasn’t the right guy. The first thing he said when we played was: ‘Can you turn it down?’ I said: ‘That’s the wrong answer.’ He knew. Then we had this business guy saying ‘It’s business’. No, it’s not just business. The band has to have the blood and the brotherhood to persevere all the things that go on, go out as a team and work really hard. And go out in public and help you perform it properly, how you want it to be. You’ve gotta have the right guys. Some people don’t realise that. That’s why there are a lot of bands, ex-name bands, especially in LA, there is a million of them, ex-this and ex-that” says Gary in reference to bands based on people’s former achievements rather than what they are capable of doing here and now. Past success doesn’t guarantee a great future. “To make that next project better” says Gary, you need to ensure that “they really are on the same wavelength and they play great and people like them. It’s not easy. It’s not anything you can project, it’s nothing you can predict, it’s very unpredictable so it kind of keeps the blood moving.”

Gary Shea in Tokyo in March 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Following the first Alcatrazz album and tour, Yngwie was out of the band and was replaced with former Frank Zappa guitarist Steve Vai. “We found Steve. Steve’s phenomenal. We auditioned Steve without Yngwie knowing that and wanted to make the change earlier. The record company convinced us that we were gonna do a 40-city Ted Nugent tour of North America and not change guitar players, keep the guy that is on the record, especially as we were a brand new band. So we had to go through four months of arguing. But we had Steve already locked in, so by the time we came back from that tour, Steve had written a whole bunch of songs. We changed to Capitol Records and put together ‘Disturbing the Peace’. I am really proud of that. The first album was great because we had just met each other. Everybody was really hungry and worked really hard at that and did well. On the second record we had a chance to fine-tune even more and have someone like Steve that was really involved in the overall…not just be the guitar player, but overall production and concept and everything. Unfortunately our manager kind of left the scene and promoted Yngwie and went off with Yngwie’s record. He was actually offered an EP because he was in Alcatrazz. We thought ‘Great, more promotion for the band’. They turned that into an album, they forced that. They made it sound like he quit the band, got offered mega million dollar deals by some company in Japan. It didn’t happen. So we had no manager, we lost that record. As that was all going on, we played a few gigs and Steve was asked to join David Lee Roth and make a million dollars overnight, what are you gonna do? Who wouldn’t go and do that? So, we’re still friends, it’s all good. And we’re friends with Yngwie too. Yngwie is a great guy. He’s funny. We disagreed on a few things. He’s kind of self-centred and he doesn’t bend. If he wants something, he can’t change.”

“We felt that we had our style at that point. We were not Rainbow Junior anymore. It wasn’t Michael Schenker or any other band or something. It was Alcatrazz. That’s what we wanted to be. We didn’t want to be a hair metal band or a long list of Sunset Boulevard guys in California that went to high school together. None of us were from LA, but we’re an LA band, but we weren’t an LA band, we were more international.”

Gary Shea on stage with Alcatrazz in Tokyo in March 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Gary Shea was the one who came up with the band name Alcatrazz after they had spent time thinking about what would make sense. “We argued with Yngwie, actually. Hehehe! Yngwie wanted to call the band Excalibur or Crusader, a Knights at the Round Table name. That is so overdone. We don’t want that.” The founders wanted “something that sounded tough but no dripping blood on a sword. It would be nice if some girls liked our music” explains Gary. They eventually looked at different names beginning with the letter A, in order to be at the front of the queue. They figured that In record stores people would go to browse the A section looking for AC/DC and stuff. Once Gary suggested Alcatrazz the band and the manager loved it. They extended the choice of band name into a whole concept around the famous Alcatraz prison in California with titles, lyrics, photo shoots and music videos.

Gary Shea on stage with Alcatrazz in Tokyo in March 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

So, is there a future for Alcatrazz now that the three founders are reunited? “Jimmy and Graham are writing for the Graham Bonnet Band, so they’re busy with that. That is going to take up some time. They are going to spend the next few months and work on that. They have a bunch of festivals lined up in Europe for the summertime. Maybe next fall or next winter we can do this again just for fun and I can be involved again. I can hang out. It’s more about the hang than it is anything else. I’ve had my fun, fun in the sun. I want to keep busy, so it’s good to get me out of Florida, off the beach and play some music” says Gary who clearly enjoys playing with his old Alcatrazz mates again. The two new additions to the band, Conrado Pesinato and Mark Benquechea, have been a good fit. “They’ve learnt the Alcatrazz stuff and the five of us play that together. Great musicians, young guys, eager to play. We’re getting along great. We’re having a good time. Hang out together.”

In addition to Alcatrazz, Gary plays in New England with Jimmy Waldo and is involved in several other projects. He’s also back doing some music with Cooper Shea, which is a continuation of the UK-based band that he played with in the 70s that included David Cooper, Peter French and future Scorpions and Michael Schenker drummer Herman Rarebell.

Alcatrazz in Tokyo in March 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

At the end of our conversation, Gary reveals that when he lived in England in the 70s, he auditioned for the mighty Trapeze, the great British band whose members went on to join bands such as Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, Judas Priest and Whitesnake. He got on the short list but didn’t get the gig, returned to the US and achieved success with New England instead.