Interview: At home with Arnel Pineda of Journey

Arnel Pineda

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Roppongi Rocks’ Stefan Nilsson checked in with Journey vocalist Arnel Pineda at his home in the Philippines for a chat about getting discovered via Youtube, stepping into big shoes, creativity during the lockdown, the new band line-up and a forthcoming Journey EP. The Filipino singer joined Journey, one of the best and most successful classic American rock bands ever, in 2007 after being invited to audition for the band by its founder Neal Schon.

Are you still dividing your time between the Philippines and the US? “I was until pandemic happened. I got really lucky landing in the Philippines to join my family a week before the lockdown happened due to the pandemic.”

You had a busy career in the Philippines and Hong Kong prior to joining Journey in 2007. How did you end up auditioning for Journey and getting the job? “It’s these videos singing with my band I recorded that my friend Noel Gomez, having asked permission from me, that he took and uploaded to Youtube back in early 2007. Neal Schon found them, watched them, somehow got convinced and he reached out to offer me, if I’m interested, to audition.”

Did you feel a lot of pressure becoming the frontman of a legendary band and having to fill some very big shoes? “Of course! Terrified and fearful, but I think my own musical adventures back in the 1980s until 2005 gave me reasons enough to plunge myself into their world. I am just grateful that for the past 13 years, it’s still working.”

Is there a difference for you as a vocalist performing older Journey material originally sung by Steve Perry and Steve Augeri and performing newer Journey songs which you recorded? Which do you prefer? “It will always be nostalgic and beautiful to sing the old stuff that they’re known for because of Mr Steve Perry and Mr Steve Augeri, but I think there is a lot of pretty neat stuff from the two albums I’ve recorded with them that should be in the gig when we tour.”

Last year, Journey released the terrific “Escape & Frontiers Live in Japan” album. What do you remember from the recording of that album here in Japan in 2017? “It was all a blur to me because I was so engrossed studying the obscure ones from those albums. They’re actually amazing stuff and gave me a thought though that they should have been played together more often with the ‘dirty dozen’.”

Journey has a partly new line-up with the recent return of Randy Jackson on bass and the additions of drummer Narada Michael Walden and Jason Derlatka on keyboards. Have you had a chance to actually meet and play with your new bandmates in person yet? “Nope. I only had the chance of collaborating virtually with Narada because of this single that Journey’s working on. He’s a very, very wonderful, gifted and talented man indeed. With Randy? Just on Whatsapp, where we have a thread. It’s all hi and hello.”

Has the forced downtime resulted in more recordings or songwriting for you when you can’t tour or perform live? “Yes, indeed. Especially with my solo stuff. I can’t really wait to record them properly and turn those into a complete song to put out there for the fans to hear.”

What’s coming up next for you and Journey? “Hopefully a new EP album and a tour with the new line up of members as soon as there’s a vaccine good and safe enough available out there.”

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Interview: Stuck at home with Jeramie Kling of Venom Inc and Massacre

Jeramie Kling on stage with Venom Inc in Tokyo in 2019. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Jeramie Kling, perhaps best known as a member of Venom Inc and Massacre, checks in with Roppongi Rocks from his Florida home to talk about being more than a drummer, his great new punk album with FORE, his fruitful relationship with Taylor Nordberg and much more.

Jeramie Kling on stage with Venom Inc in Tokyo in 2019. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

You are best known as a drummer, but you also play the guitar, sing, produce, you’re a studio engineer, a live sound engineer and so on. Do you see yourself first and foremost as a drummer? “I suppose this is a great question to lead with! First and foremost, I see myself as a human, driven at times and lazy as hell at other times. I have never liked the idea of identifying with one particular thing, I always felt that was quite limiting… wouldn’t you agree? I remember one Christmas I got drumming-related ornaments for my Christmas tree. I remember thinking ‘I am a fucking snare drum to these people!’ I decided to mix it up right then and there.”

FORE is one of your new projects. It’s a punk band consisting of seasoned metal guys from the US, Canada and Germany. What’s the story of the birth of this terrific punk band? “Thanks so much for the compliment! Well, Taylor Nordberg and I really just play the styles of music that we want to do, period. We were talking last summer about starting a punk band. Taylor went and wrote 13 songs in two days. They sat on shelves until the coronavirus hit. We were just too busy to make it happen. Through the early stages of the pandemic, we did a sweet quarantine project with about 25 other musicians. It was a song a day, written, recorded, mixed, mastered and released. During that project, we found quite capable like-minded musicians. That’s where we first worked with Speesy and Brian Stephenson! I tracked the drums for the punk band and then we asked those fellas if they wanted to rip with us! The rest is magic.”

Jeramie Kling on stage with Venom Inc in Tokyo in 2019. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

You have a FORE album coming out now and also a new Venom Inc album in the making. Has the forced stay-at-home situation unexpectedly given you more time to get more recordings done this year? “Yes and no. I had made time for the Venom Inc record already and I already tracked the drums for the new Massacre that is coming out as well! And the new The Absence.”

You’re involved in a ton of bands and projects – The Absence, Venom Inc, FORE, Massacre, Ribspreader, Goregäng, Smoke & Mirrors, etc. How do you prioritise your commitments? “I do it as it comes. The only band that really has priority is Venom Inc, but I manage to make everything happen regardless of those commitments.”

Jeramie Kling on stage with Venom Inc in Tokyo in 2019. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

You and Taylor Nordberg do many things together in the music industry. How did that professional relationship start and why has it been so fruitful? “Well that’s a really loooooong answer… but the short is we started working together when we both played in Infernaeon. We gelled very well as musicians. I was able to say things in my infantile drummer’s perspective and he could make it musical. So, he moved back to Florida six years ago and we have been plugging away ever since! It’s fruitful because we respect each other and we are quite kind to one another. In ten years of being that dude’s best friend, we have never once fought. At all, not even close. Be kind and courteous is our motto and no ideas are ‘stupid’ or ‘not worth exploring’.”

What are your thoughts on the future of live music now that most gigs and tours have been halted and seriously impacted musicians’ livelihoods? “Well, what I think and what the reality may be could be completely different. I have hope. Hope saved the rebels in Star Wars.”

What’s coming up next for you? “I am currently mixing the new Ribspreader record. Lots of studio stuff coming up too. I am happy to be working. Many colleagues of mine are fully not working.”

Jeramie Kling on stage with Venom Inc in Tokyo in 2019. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

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Interview: At home with Brad Gillis | A chat about Ozzy, Night Ranger and Japanese live albums

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

While stuck at home in the US, Brad Gillis, co-founder and guitarist of Night Ranger, checked in with Roppongi Rocks to talk about his time in Ozzy Osbourne’s band, the importance of MTV back in the day, recording live albums in Japan and what’s coming up for Night Ranger.

You and Jack Blades started playing together in 1978. How do you keep the creative hunger and personal chemistry going with a musical partner for that many years? “When Jack and I got together in the band Rubicon, we hit it off from the start. It was a great short run releasing two records and performing March 18th 1978 at The Cal Jam 2, playing in front of 300,000+ people. It was the highlight of my career! Forming Night Ranger around 1980, we created our sound and had an illustrious touring schedule throughout the 80s. Keeping everyone in check and being good friends led to a healthy creative career. We’re still going strong and starting a new Night Ranger record soon with ideas still flowing.”

In the early days of Night Ranger, how important was MTV in breaking the band and the support you got by having your music videos played on the channel? “MTV was such a great avenue for Night Ranger. We had just finished a video for ‘Don’t Tell Me You Love Me’ and hoped the new MTV channel would embrace us. With a 24/7 on air format, MTV didn’t have enough video content to fill all day, so they played our video 25 times a day! It was great for us as it plastered our faces all over MTV and people would recognise us when touring the world. Too bad MTV has changed but we still do videos every record release and send through all social media outlets.”

Night Ranger has released several live albums recorded in Japan. What is it about Japan and Japanese fans that make Night Ranger and many other bands record live albums here? “We have made Japan a regular stopping point when releasing a new record. The fans have embraced us and all shows have been sold out. We’ve noticed the fans still love classic rock. After us listening to Cheap Trick’s ‘Live at Budokan’, we always envisioned recording a live show in Japan. I think we’ve done three or four live recordings in Japan, all with good success. We’ve played over 50 shows in Japan and can’t wait to head back over soon.”

In 1982, you did the “Diary of a Madman” tour as guitarist in Ozzy Osbourne’s band. It was an emotional time with Randy Rhoads’ sudden death, the coming and going of Bernie Tormé and Ozzy drinking heavily at the time. What are your memories from that tour? “I have so many great memories touring with Ozzy and some not-so-good times. It was a tough situation for me dealing with the band’s emotions of losing the great Randy Rhoads and the tough fans I had to win over. I remember messing up on one song the first show. Sharon reminded me the second show saying ‘Bradley, you’re doing a great job but tonight. DON’T SCREW UP!’ After two weeks on the road, we performed a live broadcast in Memphis, Tennessee that was aired throughout the country. This was a turning point in my touring with Ozzy. I played well that night and the fans started to embrace me till the end of my tour.”

Your only album with Ozzy was “Speak of the Devil”, a double live album recorded in New York City in September 1982 and consisting of only Black Sabbath songs. It became a cult classic and a big fan favorite, but the circumstances of how the album came about were far from ideal. What are your memories from that recording? ”I remember Ozzy had to complete one more album for the record company and he decided to do a live record. The band went to New York to rehearse older Black Sabbath hits for our two night stint at The Ritz. We spent five days and after did our shows. It was very tough as there were no band overdubs on ‘Speak of the Devil’ and we had just learned the material. Luckily they had two nights at The Ritz to pick out the best performance. I remember coming up with a great stereo guitar sound for those gigs. I still get great compliments on ‘Speak of the Devil’ and still sign those albums at Night Ranger meet-and-greets.”

As a musician do you play differently in different situations: as a solo artist, as a Night Ranger band member or when you’ve been part of backing bands for other artists? “I approach my solos the same way with any artist. I was lucky enough to install one of the original Floyd Rose tremolos back in the late 1970s. I started to define my style back then. Many hours at home practicing different ideas using the Floyd led me to record different sounds that can be heard on ‘Don’t Tell Me You love Me’. I remember banging on my guitar one day and getting this cricket, warble sound. Also, I started bring harmonic notes up to a crazy vibrato wiggle. With so many great guitar players in the world, I wanted people to recognise my style from one listen.”

What do you remember from the charity project Hear n’ Aid in the mid-80s? How was it possible to get things done without fistfights with so many rock stars coming together on one song, “Stars”? “Everyone got along great at that gig. It was so much fun for me to be part of a great charity and hanging out with all the fantastic musicians. Ronnie James Dio kept it all together and we all had a blast. Another thought was how to stand out on my solo, so I implemented my whammy harmonics on my solo. The big gang sing along for the chorus ‘We’re Stars’ brought me chills. Everyone embraced the whole session with class.”

What are your thoughts on the future of live music now that most gigs and tours have been halted and seriously impacted musicians’ livelihoods? “This has been a tough situation for Night Ranger and all live performers. We were going to have our best year since the 80s with 100 shows booked with a 40-show run with Sammy Hagar, Whitesnake and Night Ranger. I see no real future of getting back to normal until a cure is made. With a home studio, I’ve been staying busy writing TV music for placement and finishing my solo record. I’ve created a music site called www.musicalmansion.com where companies can hear all my different styles. Things are slow but I see the future picking up soon.”

You have some serious pedigree in the rock music business. But you have also done other work, such as music for TV shows and computer games. Is it all good fun or do you prefer playing live music? “Of course I miss performing live but to still be a part of music creation drives me through the days. I’m one of the lucky ones to be able to work from home. I hooked up with ESPN back in 2000 and that started my music placement career. I’ve placed over 400 tracks in 20 years. I’ve always done music for a living and now I’ve created a few music-related TV shows that are getting interest. When things finally open up, I’ll have a treasure trove of content for the masses.”

What’s next for Night Ranger? “We’re starting to pass around new material for our new record on the Frontiers label. Everyone has their own home studios so it’s easy to pass around new songs. Of course, we’d all love to get together in one room to write new material but the situation does not allow this for safety reasons. Hopefully, we’ll have a new record released early 2021 and we can head back to Japan!”

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Interview: At home with Tony Franklin | “We will come through this and things will be even better”

Tony Franklin

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

English bassist Tony Franklin, aka The Fretless Monster, made a name for himself performing with Roy Harper, The Firm, Whitesnake and Blue Murder. He went on to perform with Marty Friedman, Kate Bush, Quiet Riot, David Gilmour and many more. Roppongi Rocks’ Stefan Nilsson checked in with Tony in his Los Angeles home to talk about his past, including his many Japan-related projects, but also what’s coming next: an autobiography, an instrumental album and the formation of a new band.

You first became well-known to a wider audience when you played with Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin), Paul Rodgers (Free, Bad Company) and Chris Slade (AC/DC) in The Firm. Despite working with such established musicians, you stepped up and ensured that your distinctive bass playing wasn’t overshadowed. Was it tricky to be part of such a constellation or did you just get in there and did your thing? “Everything about The Firm was very natural and organic. I simply went in there and played. I’d worked with Jimmy beforehand – with Roy Harper – so we had a working relationship and friendship before The Firm. But I wasn’t asked to be in the band immediately. It was a good few weeks of playing and hanging together before I had any clue that I might be in the band! I decided to do it all on fretless and nobody said anything negative about it, so I just kept going, doing my thing. I think if there was a problem in any way, personally or musically, they would have let me know. It was a real pleasure because I was allowed and even encouraged to be 100% myself.”

What do you remember from working with Marty Friedman on his solo album “True Obsessions” in the mid-90s? “Those were very intense but fun sessions. Marty is very clear about what he wants in his music. I’d never met him before and he pushed me hard, musically, in those sessions. I was able to give him what he needed. It was a real pleasure.”

Tony Franklin

Marty is of course now based here in Japan. You have worked with Japanese artists such as Tadashi Goto and Naomi Tamura and on other Japanese projects. You’re an Englishman in the US, how did you end up working on these Japanese projects? “Because of my history, especially The Firm and Blue Murder – Blue Murder toured Japan in 1989 – I became in demand as a session player in Los Angeles. I played on many Japanese artists’ albums. I did recordings for Kyosuke Himuro and also played live with him in 2009. I toured Japan with Whitesnake in 1997. I also toured with Eikichi Yazawa in 2017. I’ve always loved the Japanese people and culture, so it all just kind of happened naturally.”

What are your thoughts on the future of live music now that most gigs and tours have been halted and seriously impacted musicians’ livelihoods? “It has been a very challenging time for sure, but I have always been an optimist, so I believe we will come through this and things will be even better. Hopefully, it has made us appreciate each other and made us realise how important live music is. During this time, I’ve been exploring new opportunities and possibilities, finishing off a bass instrumental album, writing my memoirs, collaborating with different musicians. I’m getting ready to do some live-stream performances which I’ve never done before. I believe in staying positive and making the best of the situation.”

You have some serious pedigree in the rock music business. But you have also done other work, such as scores for TV shows and producing sample loops and such. Is it all good fun or do you prefer playing live music? “I’ve always loved doing different things creatively. I’m always writing and creating. I was fortunate to grow up listening to and playing many different styles of music – classical, big band, Broadway musicals, pop and of course rock & roll! So, I welcome doing different creative things. It can be challenging but good fun too!”

What do you have going on right now music-wise? “Before the lockdown, I was close to securing a deal for a new band of mine. I’d like to pick that up again. I’ll share the details when it’s time. I’d like to wrap up the bass album, possibly do some shows with that. I’m recording some songs for possible licensing and publishing opportunities. I’m keeping my eye on a few other projects also!”

Tony Franklin

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Interview: At home with Shane Embury

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Shane Embury is perhaps best known as the bassist in Napalm Death. But he is also involved in many other bands and projects across multiple genres, such as Lock Up, Bent Sea, Brujeria, Venomous Concept, Tronos and much more. Most recently he released dark ambient music under the name Dark Sky Burial. Roppongi Rocks’ Stefan Nilsson checked in with Shane to see what he’s up to now that he’s not able to tour and stuck at home at Napalm House in Birmingham, England.

In normal times, you are very busy with tours and gigs with Napalm Death and your other bands and projects. What are you spending time on now when you can’t perform live gigs in the short term and you are spending more time at home in Birmingham? “We were lucky that Napalm Death finished our latest Campaign for Musical Destruction Tour all intact and that was on March 9th. No one got sick so that was a bonus too. We have been at home and feelings are up and down I guess as situations change from day-to-day! Our tour was successful on many fronts but we had many tours and shows cancelled and I really don’t know what’s in store towards the end of the year. I am an optimist so I hope things will get better to some degree but in what way? I have been home in Birmingham with my family and also working on music at my home studio – a new Lock Up album amongst other things.”

Tell us about your Dark Sky Burial project. How would you describe this terrific atmospheric music? “I have always wanted to cross over into dark ambient – soundtrack inspired music! I love loops and sounds and always have. I did attempt this direction way back in 1994 but was sidetracked with Napalm’s live schedule. Now seems, finally, the right time for me to explore these sonic emotions. I guess I am at a point where I am changing and am uncertain of a few things as we all can be – Dark Sky Burial is very therapeutic for me and I use the stress or depression of the day to inspire.”

Napalm Death’s Shane Embury on stage in Tokyo in 2019. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Dark Sky Burial is very different from most of the other things you’re involved with. Where did the idea to create this kind of music come from? “I have always loved horror movies – minor chord structures – growing up on 1970s UK TV and their early sound innovation must have been a keen influence as I always recorded TV shows on my tape recorder. My friends thought I was weird at school. This first album is only the starting point for me. I have strong visions for the future of how I want it to develop. I have a lot to learn still it’s almost like a joint journey.”

You’re most famous as bassist in Napalm Death. But in recent projects such as Dark Sky Burial and Tronos, you’re demonstrating a much more all-round multi-instrumentalist approach. In Tronos you’re even singing lead. Were you getting bored “just” playing bass and decided that you would do most things yourself on some of the other projects? “Well, I originally started out as a drummer before joining Napalm on bass. Over the years I have got into playing guitar and, I think, with the birth of my daughter I got into singing to her and that certainly helped when Russ and I decided iI should lay the groundwork for Tronos. As the years churn on I become more confident and more enthusiastic. Music was my first love and it’s always been there through the dark times. There’s so much more music in me.”

Shane Embury and Barney of Napalm Death backstage in Tokyo with Roppongi Rocks boss Stefan Nilsson in 2019. Photo: Aaron Hill, Eyehategod

Are you worried about the future of touring musicians, crew members, venue operators, etc? Do you think that things can go back to normal touring or will things never be the same after the coronavirus? “I don’t think things will ever be quite the same and I don’t think this will be the last pandemic we witness! I have my theories and my wife always tells me what good do they do if they scare our children but, well, these are dark times! Russ Russell had a chat with me at the beginning of this and said that good and bad things will emerge in our cultures from this and I believe that to be true. It’s hard now – in a year’s time, we will look back but in what way? Music has always been there and it will evolve and, hopefully, we can move forward but things will be different.”

What do you have planned music-wise once you can get out of the house? “I have heard there are some Napalm shows on the horizon towards the end of the year, but I don’t know! I personally want to go on tour as soon as I can. This is who I am and that’s just the way it is, but I feel it’s going to be a while. On the recording front, we have a new Venomous Concept album coming out on Season of Mist at some point soon. And of course the new Napalm Death album. I am working on a new Lock Up album as we speak. Also, I recorded a second Blood from the Soul album with Jake Bannon of Converge, Dirk Verbeuren of Megadeth and Jesper Liveröd of Nasum, which will be out this year I hope. And a new Dark Sky Burial album soon also. Life’s too short to fuck about.”

Shane Embury of Napalm Death on stage in Tokyo in 2019. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

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Interview: At home with Kiyoshi

Kiyoshi on stage in Tokyo in March 2018. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

In these times with no gigs to go to, Roppongi Rocks’ Stefan Nilsson checked in with fab Japanese artist Kiyoshi, perhaps best known as the fierce bassist in Marty Friedman’s band, to see what she’s up to. 

Kiyoshi with Roppongi Rocks boss Stefan Nilsson in Tokyo in 2018.

In normal times, you are very busy with tours and gigs with Marty Friedman, as a solo artist and with your other bands and projects. What are you spending time on now when you can’t perform live gigs in the short term? “It’s not much different than usual. To most people, we musicians may seem busy only when we’re doing tours and performing live gigs. But it’s just one part of our musical activities, it’s not everything. Of course, I miss the stage so much though. My main work is to make my own musical creations, so I’m actually busier off-stage than on-stage. I’ve been writing songs, learning about equipment and software for music and trying out new ideas for designs and videos. There’s a lot to do.” 

Some artists are doing virtual performances or Q&As for their fans. Are you doing something like that while you’re stuck at home? “Yes, a little bit. I posted a couple of long blogs and uploaded videos for my fans to enjoy. I also participated in the virtual jam, but it’s no match for the fun of the real jam.”

Are you worried about the future of touring musicians, crew members, live house/venue operators? Do you think that things can go back to normal touring or will things never be the same after the coronavirus? “I’m very worried, especially about the tour crew and the people working at the venue. Musicians can’t have live shows without them. We definitely need their help. I’m always deeply grateful for their support. It would be very sad if we lost our place to perform after this pandemic had passed. I think the world will never be the same as it was before. It will take a very long time to be able to do normal touring again, I guess.”

You have released several great solo albums in recent years. Are you already working on new solo material? “Yeah, of course! Composing all the time. But I’m not in a hurry to release it. I’m concerned that I may not be able to record in the studio smoothly with the same scheduling as before. It’s a good time to look for new and better ways to do things.”

Marty Friedman and Kiyoshi on stage in Harajuku, Tokyo in 2018. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

As a solo artist, you have focused on you playing bass and singing and only backing that up with a drummer. It is amazing what you have been able to do without any guitarist. Where did this idea come from? “It’s very natural for me. The only instruments I can play are the bass and piano so I’ve always made songs by humming along with playing them. Making rhythm tracks and over-dubbing some basses on it, that’s enough to make the sound gorgeous. What I want in my music is very simple, I don’t need too many sounds. There are a lot of cool two-piece bands in the world – like The White Stripes, Death From Above 1979, Blood Red Shoes and Royal Blood – that inspire me. Guitar is cool and would be nice if I could play it, but I’m not interested in practising guitar. I don’t know why…”

In your career so far, you have covered many different musical styles and excelled at all of them. What kind of music do you prefer to listen to for inspiration? “I listen to so many kinds of music. Something old/new, intense/quiet, famous/minor, whatever. Lately, I’ve been listening to overseas indie artists a lot. Their unique ideas are very interesting. I prefer works that feel the power of DIY to works that are over-produced by someone else.”

Which bass players have had the biggest influence on you as a musician? “It’s hard to pick one person, but Les Claypool! He is my God. He is very original. The lead in the music he makes is always the bass. I’m very influenced by him as a bassist-vocalist and songwriter. When I was a beginner, I wanted to get the chord stroke skills he used to do, so I practised it over and over again. His music is a different style than mine, but you can find a lot of his influences in my music.”

You are one of my absolute favourite bass players. You have such a fierce and powerful way of playing. When you play in another artist’s band like you do with Marty Friedman, do you sometimes have to hold back in order not to take over too much or do you always approach your playing and performances the same way? “Thank you for saying that. Fortunately, all the musicians I work with say to me, ‘Don’t hold yourself back. Just be yourself.’ So I don’t hold back to anyone on any stage and I can perform like a beast whenever I want to. But I don’t really want to stand out on stage at all times. It may seem surprising… The bass is the “base”. I’m a bass player, so the most important job is to support the base of the songs. There is a little difference between me as a solo artist and just as a bass player. Bassist Kiyoshi is a player and solo artist Kiyoshi is like a player-manager. It’s very hard to be in front of the mic the whole time and have to control the bass line and the melody at the same time, but it’s super fun. Seeing the audience swing to my music is the greatest happiness. Either way, the initiative is always in music. I believe that music will teach me everything I need to do.”

Kiyoshi

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Interview: Crazy Lixx | “We try to position ourselves 30 years back in time”

Crazy Lixx in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

When melodic hard rock band Crazy Lixx from Sweden recently came to Japan to perform, Roppongi Rocks’ Stefan Nilsson met the band in Tokyo to talk about its music, the importance of bringing fresh blood into the band, the impact of working with Pretty Maids’ Chris Laney and much more.

Swedish melodic hard rockers Crazy Lixx, founded in 2002, has had a following in Japan ever since they released their debut album in 2007. But they never toured Japan until 2019. Co-founders Danny Rexon on vocals and Joél Cirera on drums are joined in the current line-up of the band by Jens Anderson on bass and the two guitarists Chrisse Olsson and Jens Lundgren.

Crazy Lixx in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Coming to play in Japan has been a dream for the band that now finally has become a reality. “Requests started to come after ‘New Religion’. I think we sold more of that album in Japan than in the rest of the world! That’s nine years ago, so it’s been a long time coming,” explains frontman Danny Rexon. Drummer Joél Cirera continues: “We’ve been on our way to Japan before, but a tsunami came between us and Japan when we were in advanced discussions.”

Crazy Lixx’s signature mix of melodic yet riff-happy metal is part of a proud Swedish tradition that the Japanese fans love which was very obvious during the band’s first-ever Japan tour. It’s feelgood party rock with hints of glam and sleaze metal, AOR and melodic hard rock. “It’s a mix of where we all come from and what we listen to. This is the sound that we want, kind of end of the 80s, the big productions,” says guitarist Jens Lundgren as we meet at King Records, the band’s Japanese record label. “We try to position ourselves 30 years back in time, and it’s ’89 we’re at now,” explains Rexon. Lundgren continues: “I don’t think any of us is inspired by sleaze. That’s almost a little dirty word. I think it’s more melodic hard rock. More Bon Jovi, Aerosmith and Whitesnake rather than Pretty Boy Floyd!” Rexon adds: “I do like the somewhat negative term ‘hair metal’. Many of those bands around 1989-91 produced a lot of great stuff. That’s where we’re trying to be sound-wise.”

Crazy Lixx is closely associated with “Uffe” Larsson, better known as Chris Laney, the Swedish keyboard player and guitarist in the Danish band Pretty Maids, who is also a producer and engineer at the centre of the recent melodic hard rock wave in Sweden. Danny Rexon explains the importance of Laney for the Crazy Lixx sound: “One of the first sounds I reacted to was the Zan Clan album which Chris Laney produced. It wasn’t until we came into contact with him that I feel we started to create something that sounded decent. We had done a few demos before that. Was it in 2005 that he mixed the ‘Heroes are Forever’ single? That was recorded somewhere else and then we sent it to him. It was around the same time that he started to produce Crashdiet. That’s when we felt – that’s the sound we want! It’s the same sound that he has used with Zinny Zan and such. There was a revival of sorts. I think he has been really important when it comes to the sound of the Swedish bands that appeared around that time.” Cirera continues: “He lifts us. He takes whatever is there and lifts it. He produced our first two albums together with Danny. We used to work with him over a longer time period. Going up to Stockholm to record in Polar Studios and staying there for two-three weeks to get the albums done. But lately, with smaller budgets than before, we’ve had him involved to do the mixing. But even so, we notice how much he still contributes to our sound, even if it’s now done in cooperation with Danny as the producer of the album.”

Crazy Lixx in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Rexon continues: “I think to myself: ‘What does Uffe want from me?’ I remember when we were recording background vocals on the first album. I thought he was joking when he said: ‘Sound like a drunk!’. If you want it to sound like a choir of drunk football hooligans, which it does in a lot of hair metal, then it has to be like that. I’d never thought about that. It was more like, let’s record as many takes as possible until it sounds right. No! If you sing clean and proper every time then it won’t work. You have to add something more deliberate. There are many of those small tricks of the trade that I still use. He’s definitely, as a producer in the beginning and now still as someone doing the mixing, a mentor.”

In the early days, the band, which was co-founded by guitarist Vic Zino who would later leave them for Hardcore Superstar, spent a few years honing its craft by gigging as much as possible in its native Sweden. Cirera, Rexon and Zino had played together in various local bands before they founded Crazy Lixx. “Us three played together long before that,” says Cirera. “Danny got an idea: ‘Fuck this! Now I want to play the kind of music I liked when I was young.’ An important reference point at that time was Skid Row, especially the ’Slave to the Grind’ album. Then after two-three years, we realised that there were other bands also doing the same thing. Crashdiet were definitely pioneers. They were the first band to release an album properly,” explains Cirera how a new generation of bands in Sweden emerged around that time.

Bassist Jens Anderson, who joined in 2012, continues: “I wasn’t part of the band in the beginning, but I listened to them as a fan. From my point of view, I noticed that Crazy Lixx played a lot of gigs. They travelled around in a van in Sweden and played gigs. They were on the road playing gigs all the time. That’s how they got really tight and good. From a very early stage, Crazy Lixx was one of the local bands that sounded better than the others.” Cirera takes over: “We’ve done the dog years! All the boys have done it in the bands they’ve played in previously, but we’ve been working really hard with Crazy Lixx. Sometimes we drove 2,000 km in three days to do three gigs for gas money with ten people in the audience who would then hopefully tell their friends.”

“Young people today ask: how can we do it?” says Rexon. “I don’t think that this way of doing it works any more. We did it and it worked relatively well. We thought we had a bit of a slow start as we didn’t release an album until 2007. We had members come and go. Get into a van, hit the road and play gigs! What?! Nowadays there are hardly any venues to play. I think we were among the last bands that could kind of force it in this way.” Jens Lundgren, who joined in 2016, says: “The songs you released as demos were very good. Some of the demos also sounded really good, perhaps even better than what many today compile and release as a five-track EP. A good song will always be a good song. At some stage, people will get to hear it. I think it has a lot to do with the fact that you had great songs already back then in the beginning.”

Danny Rexon of Crazy Lixx in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

While Rexon and Cirera have been there from the start, Crazy Lixx has seen a number of members come and go over the year and yet the band has managed to keep its musical identity and sound. “The foundation has always been with Danny,” says Cirera. “It was Danny who started the project. It was his vision. Danny has been the main songwriter through all the years and thus the Crazy Lixx core has remained.” Rexon continues: “I’ve always looked up to bands that have managed to keep most of the line-up intact. That’s how you want it to be. But there are so many factors outside of your control impacting this. Many people look at the old bands and say ‘Aerosmith – they’ve been together for a long time!’ Yes, but there’s been a financial incentive in a completely different way. We have to force ourselves to get through this. The financial resources for this are very small. Do we have the strength to do it? We’ve only really fired one member. The others have left for various reasons on their own initiative.”

“One advantage now”, says Lundgren, “is that perhaps my and Chrisse’s musical tastes are in line with Danny’s. The predecessor guitarists did perhaps push quite a bit to do more 70s rock on a certain album, more riff-based and it was perhaps not that well received by the fans. We don’t push for anything else. We want the same.” Rexon takes over: “There the songwriting changed. We felt rather quickly when they came on board that we had confidence in them. We are a bit closer to each other.” Cirera adds: “Every change in the line-up has led to something. When Vic left, we completely understood him. Hardcore Superstar! He got a chance to skip the van and get on a tour bus instead. And perhaps even make a living from it as well. We understood his decision fully. But because of that, we brought in Adde who was a really good guitarist and we did ‘New Religion’ where everything worked very well and the album was well-received. Then Jens joined the band and took us up a notch. It has led to something and with these two guys coming in”, says Cirera pointing at Lundgren and Olsson, “we’ve noticed that we have a completely different kind of union. We have felt that over the past three years we have a whole different way of hanging out and a different kind of communication. We’re happier to rehearse and the skill level is as high, if not higher, than previously. When Adde and Edd left the band, we sat down and wondered if we should continue or not. Jens had been a stand-in for some of our earlier guitarists.” Anderson continues: “Yeah, you weren’t too keen on starting to hold auditions for new members. Me, as the youngster in the band, just thought that this can’t be the end!”

You play feelgood, party rock. It’s music as entertainment, but you never cross the line like, say, Steel Panther does. How do you ensure you don’t become too comical? “For us, humour is very important,” says Anderson. “We’re always having fun together. We mess around with each other but we do care a lot about the music being extremely well-made. But it’s not about us taking ourselves too seriously. Just take a look at our music videos! They’re always a bit funny. We’re trying to do something cool because that’s how we are. The music that we listen to – many of those artists, if you look behind the scenes, they’re just fun guys that happen to have long hair and are great musicians.”

Do you feel that you have to stay within certain parameters when you write new music? To live up to the expectation of what you’re supposed to sound like? “The record label never gets involved!” says Rexon. “We are held very loosely by them. We just give them the final product and they release it. I guess they might have had some opinion in case we were extremely… Soon we will start playing grunge! No, it’s more us who are a bit strict with ourselves. When we really think that we are pushing the musical boundaries, in reality, we aren’t. Our music is quite narrow. However, on the new album, I think we have broadened ourselves a bit. There are a few songs that are more pop than anything we’ve done before and there are more keyboards than previously.” Lundgren adds: “An album with all the songs exactly the same falls flat. You need some dynamics – in both directions, some a bit tougher stuff as well as some softer stuff.”

The band’s latest studio album, “Forever Wild”, was released as recently as May 2019, but the band is already thinking about the next album. “We are very slow when it comes to recording albums,“ explains Rexon. “It takes more or less a year for us. For the most recent album, when we started to record the first few songs, we didn’t even have all the songs written. Therefore, we need to start thinking about things now. If we want to have an album out in 2021, then now is the time.”

In 2020, Crazy Lixx will continue its world tour in support of the “Forever Wild” album with gigs in Australia and Europe.

Crazy Lixx in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

 

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Interview: Tommy Thayer of KISS “I’m still really enjoying the ride”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

The final KISS tour of Japan will kick off this weekend. KISS lead guitarist Tommy Thayer called Stefan Nilsson at Roppongi Rocks headquarters for a chat ahead of the much-anticipated tour. “We’re geared up and ready to go. Japan is going to be amazing!”

Legendary American band KISS, America’s number one gold record award-winning group of all time, is currently in the middle of a multi-year farewell world tour. Co-founders Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons are joined by long-time members Eric Singer and Tommy Thayer on this tour that will mark the end of a 48-year journey for the band.

Your involvement with KISS long pre-dates you becoming a permanent member of the band. I guess your first connection with KISS was when Black N’ Blue opened for KISS in 1985. Gene then produced a couple of your albums. How did you land that support slot on the “Asylum” tour? “Haha! That’s a great question. We have to go back in time to 1985. Black N’ Blue had just finished our second record called ‘Without Love’. We did it up in Vancouver, British Columbia with Bruce Fairbairn producing. And funny enough it was Bob Rock, who became an important producer himself, he was actually engineering and mixing the record at the time. We made a great record. I remember, not long after that, our manager Warren Entner had called me and he said ‘Hey, Tommy. I’ve got some great news! Guess what? You are going to be opening for KISS on their ‘Asylum’ tour!’ starting a couple of months from then. I put the phone down and I couldn’t believe it that we were actually going to be opening for KISS on tour because KISS had been one of my favourite bands growing up and had a big influence on me obviously and was really important to me. I almost had to pinch myself, that I wasn’t dreaming, that our band was actually going on tour opening for KISS! That’s how it all started and that’s how I got to know those guys. We started the tour in Little Rock, Arkansas in November 1985. We probably did 24-25 shows in November-December 1985. That’s really where I got to know Gene and Paul and at the time Bruce Kulick was the guitar player and Eric Carr was the drummer.”

“Hot in the Shade” in 1989 was the first KISS album you were involved with. You co-wrote two songs and I understand you also played on the recordings of those songs. You also were involved with three more KISS studio albums – “Revenge”, “Carnival of Souls” and “Psycho Circus” – before you actually joined the band. Did this make it easier to then officially become the band’s lead guitarist? “Yeah! I think it definitely did. By the time I became the official guitar player of KISS in early 2003, I had had all this experience with the band for years before that even happened. So it was a very natural, comfortable thing for me to become a band member when it actually happened. You’re right. After I got to know Paul and Gene and the band on that opening slot on the ‘Asylum’ tour, we asked Gene Simmons to produce our third record which became ‘Nasty Nasty’, which he did, and then he acted in our fourth record also. The relationship just really evolved from there and I got to know Gene a lot better. The thing that was attractive to me was how conscientious he was about producing and how dedicated he was to do a great job. He would fly back and forth on days off from the KISS tour to come and rehearse and do pre-production with us in Los Angeles. This happened a lot, so I was rather impressed with his dedication. After Black N’ Blue ran its course, in the early 90s… Actually, rewind a little bit to the late 80s, when Black N’ Blue ran its course, he asked me to come and write some songs with him for that KISS album that they were preparing for. That became the ‘Hot in the Shade’ record. We ended up co-writing two songs, one was called ‘The Street Giveth and the Street Taketh Away’ and the other one was called ‘Betrayed’. Then of course, when they did ‘Revenge’ in the early 90s, I was really part of the team at that point. Not in the band, but I was working behind the scenes for the band. Part-time to begin with and then full-time not long after that. I was around. When it came to doing background vocals on the ‘Revenge’ album, they asked me to come in and sing with them because they needed some more singers for the background and they knew I could sing well. So I did. Although, when they did ‘Carnival of Souls’, I was in the studio as well helping out. So, you’re right, I had a lot of experience with them already and it made it a lot easier to actually become a band member when it actually happened. Also, a lot of people ask me ‘Did you have to audition to become the lead guitarist of KISS?’ and that sort of thing. It really wasn’t like that at all. It was more just a natural transition. Paul and Gene pulled me aside one day and said ‘Tommy, you should start growing your hair long again. We’re gonna need you on stage!’”

You’re a good fit for the band – you’ve added something and kept the band alive. “I appreciate that. Well, I think I’ve been part of it, that’s for sure.”

Your first show performing on stage with KISS was in Jamaica in 2002. What do you remember from that gig? “Correct. Early 2002. At that point, I really wasn’t officially in the band though. This was a transitional point where Ace was on his way out and they were having problems. It came to a point where he wasn’t even going to show up for a couple of shows, supposedly. So, they asked me to come in and play. That was my first gig, this private show down in Jamaica. Trelawny, Jamaica, February 2002. It was really just a fill-in, I wasn’t officially in the band then. It was an important thing, an important gig obviously for me because it was the first time I was really on stage playing in KISS. That was a mindboggling experience, to put it lightly.”

The end of touring for KISS will be in July 2021. It’s some 19 months away, but there’s a date set. “Yeah! Haha!!”

How do you feel about the end of the final KISS tour getting nearer? “Well, it’s interesting. We’re about a year into the ‘End of the Road’ world tour now. It’s been a phenomenal experience already. It’s the biggest tour KISS has ever done. The production, the show, the stage… Everything is over the top as you have probably seen or heard. So, we’re not even half-way there yet. I’m still really enjoying the ride and getting used to the fact that this is the last tour. We’ve just been having a ball doing it. But, sure, now that we have announced that final date, it does add a little more context to the whole tour, where people see that, OK, there’s where we know it’s going to end and then this is how much time we have left. Now there’s a little bit of a countdown. And we have an official clock. If you go to kissonline.com, there’s the countdown clock showing how many days and hours until the very last show, which is kind of a fun thing, but it adds a perspective and a context to the whole thing. It feels more real, even though, conceptually we knew that, but now we know specifically when that is going to happen. It adds a little more emotion to it now. It’s something we’re proud of and we’re celebrating getting to the last show. But it is also going to be sad.”

You are still a young man, you’re 59: do you already have plans for what you will do after KISS? “You’re right. I am the young guy in the band. Haha! I’m not even out of my 50s yet, so I feel I’ve still got things to do in my life, particularly in music. When KISS ceases to tour anymore, I can see myself continuing in the music business, maybe even doing projects with KISS. Obviously, not touring like they’re doing now, but maybe being involved in some other way like I have been for 25 years now. There’s a lot of opportunities, a lot of possibilities and I don’t know specifically what they are yet. Time will tell.”

What’s your best memory from your many years with KISS so far? “Well, it’s been a lot of them. You know, I remember standing on stage with my guitar playing ‘Black Diamond’ at Madison Square Garden a few years ago. It suddenly dawned on me how amazing this was, to be there and what a lucky, fortunate person I am. I mean, every kid in the world dreams of being the lead guitarist of KISS. And here I am, the one who’s doing it. It doesn’t get any better than that! I grew up with KISS, air-guitaring KISS albums in my parents’ living room before I barely played guitar. It’s an amazing ride and I have been able to live that dream that every kid dreams of.”

Gene Simmons, Eric Singer, Paul Stanley and Tommy Thayer of KISS with Roppongi Rocks boss Stefan Nilsson in Tokyo in 2015.

Paul Stanley has been ill recently and you were forced to cancel your Australian tour. Has he recovered and is now able to do the Japan tour? “Japan is happening! He’s had some throat infection and some things where he literally couldn’t talk and that’s a problem obviously. I know how sad we all are that we had to cancel the Australian dates. We’ve never done that before. I’ve never experienced that. As you know, Gene and Eric and I still went to Australia a few days ago to do this special promotion that we really wanted to make good on, playing for the sharks. Along the way, I met a lot of fans down there, even in the short period that we were there. I told them how badly we feel and it’s just something we’ll make up for. It’s just so rare that something like that happens. But we’re geared up and ready to go. Japan is going to be amazing! We are really looking forward to it.”

The last time you were here in Japan, you had a Japan-specific hit single (”Yumeno Ukiyoni Saitemina”) where you teamed up with the Japanese band Momoiro Clover Z. They also joined you on stage at Tokyo Dome for the encore. Do you have anything special planned for this time? “Well, the special thing is it’s going to be the last time we play in Tokyo. I think that’s going to be the unique aspect of it. This show, like I said, and I’m sure you’ve heard or seen photos and videos, but the show is phenomenal and the stage is bigger and badder than anything we’ve ever done. I know that everyone always says that, but it truly is. It’s an exceptional show and something we have been very proud of. We’ve put a lot of preparation and rehearsal into making sure this is special. That’s the show that we are going to bring to Tokyo. It’s going to be over the top and something that all our Japanese fans are gonna love!”

Excellent. Thank you for talking to us. We look forward to seeing you on stage here in Japan! “Stefan, thank you very much. It’s a pleasure talking to you today too.”

KISS will tour Japan from 8th-19th December with shows in Sendai, Tokyo, Morioka, Osaka and Nagoya. Full tour details here: https://endoftheroad.udo.jp/

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Interview: Danko Jones “We already know what kind of band we are. We’re not delusional!”

Danko Jones backstage in Sydney. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

When Danko Jones and his punky Canadian rock trio recently toured Australia, Roppongi Rocks boss Stefan Nilsson met him backstage at Crowbar in Sydney prior to the third and final gig on their Aussie tour. They had a chat about writing music, how conservative some rock fans are, collaborating with Marty Friedman, Danko’s interest in Japan and Sweden and much more.

Canadian trio Danko Jones – consisting of John Calabrese on bass, Rich Knox on drums and Danko Jones himself on guitar and vocals – is without a doubt one of the best rocks acts out there. They write great songs, release splendid albums, produce fab music videos and put on one hell of a rock show. The band released “A Rock Supreme”, its ninth full-length studio album, earlier this year and has been touring it ever since.

Danko Jones on stage in Sydney in September 2019. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

When you write music, do you feel any constraints that you need to fit in with what is expected of you or do you feel free to create whatever you want? “I just write. We don’t really think like that. We know what kind of band we are. We’re a rock band. It’s not as if we feel confined. It’s what we are. If I didn’t want to play rock, I wouldn’t play rock music. It’s the reason why we play rock! We like it, so it’s easy to stick within the confines of what a rock band should sound like. If people think we have a sound… We’re still able to expand the sound. A song like ‘Sugar Chocolate’ is totally different than a song like ‘Invisible’. But because it’s us playing it, it’s pretty much through the same filter or funnel, so it just ends up being very consistent regardless of where we take the rock sound. We know what we are, so we’re not trying to find ourselves. I think a lot of bands, even a band like Metallica, kind of, are trying to find themselves, even though I think a lot of people could tell them what they are. We don’t need that. We already know what kind of band we are. We’re not delusional in that sense. We’re not gonna try to do an indie rock record or a rap-rock record or a symphonic record or anything. We pretty much stick to the script in the same tradition as bands like The Ramones and Motörhead and Slayer and AC/DC.”

Earlier this year you released the “Dance, Dance, Dance” music video. It’s a fantastic song with a terrific video of three dancers shot in what seems to be one continuous take. How did that come about? “It was shot in Stockholm by Amir Chamdin. We’ve been friends with Amir for years but never worked together. We kind of met him at a Hellacopters show in Gröna Lund last year and we reconnected with him. When it came time to figure out how to make the video for the song, we asked Amir. He wanted to do it. He loved the song. He had this idea. We always like to juxtapose images and stuff and ideas of what people think is rock. I kind of find people’s idea of rock to be pretty boring and stock. To play with those expectations is amusing to us and refreshing. One of the problems with rock’n’roll is it’s pretty stagnant and conservative. As much as I like the music, I really don’t like that kind of thinking. A lot of people… Maybe it’s just insecurity on their part, you know? They have to wear the uniform, they have to have the look down, the attitude. I kind of laugh at all that. Because, really, rock’n’roll is about freedom. I can pretty much dress and look and sing whatever the hell I want! That still conforms with what rock’n’roll is. I think a lot of people have a problem with that. I think that has to do with the fact that maybe they feel insecure about listening to the music. They don’t know how to dress or how to look. Even though they might be 28 years old, they’re still a 15-year old mentality. When it comes to images like that, I thought it was a great idea. It’s a one-shot. The girls who are in the video, they’re amazing dancers and it’s just all one take. I thought it was pretty impressive. I like the one-shot videos too. That was an idea he had. We liked that idea and then we liked the idea of him putting these three dancers as our video for a rock song. Usually, the music that dancers dance to is dance music. So, it was nice to juxtapose that as well.”

You did a festival here a few years ago, but this is your first headline tour in Australia in 15 years. “It’s not a tour. It’s three dates. We did Soundwave in 2015. Silverback Touring has really helped out us coming here and bringing us over here. They’ve done a great job. We’re happy about it. The first two of the three shows were respectably attended. If that will mean word will spread or give people at Silverback enough confidence to bring us back…”

When will we see you back in Japan? Any such plans? “We played Fuji Rock in ’04. Nobody wants to sign us or bring us over. I always wanted to come ever since we visited there. We’ve just never been able to go back because there’s been no offers, no label, no promoter wants to bring us over. You can’t exactly just knock on a club’s door in Tokyo and go: ‘Can we play tonight?’ That’s the thing a lot of people don’t understand. People ask: ‘Why haven’t you come back and why aren’t you playing here?’ Well, no one in your city wants us there, no promoter. People think that we’re the ones who are looking at a map and just deciding on our own where to go and when we can show up. The world is at our feet! Hehe!”

Danko has collaborated with Tokyo-based Marty Friedman, both live and in the studio. “Marty’s done a great job of promoting us beyond having me sing on the album. He’s someone that I have been listening to since Cacophony. It’s really kind of mind-blowing that I was on the album with him and getting to know him over the years. He’s really a genuine music fan. He just likes music. It’s a lot of fun to work with Marty. Marty’s been on my podcast three times.”

Roppongi Rocks boss Stefan Nilsson with Danko Jones in Sydney.

“We were talking about Japan at dinner tonight. I was saying that the time we played Fuji Rock, being in Tokyo was really one of the only times, past the first few tours, going abroad where I was a real tourist. I never leave the club or I never leave the compound where the gig is happening. Rarely, unless there is a record store two blocks away or a restaurant three blocks away. Tokyo is the only time when I spent the day off actually being a tourist and seeing the sites. I can spend a week there doing the same thing. I love everything Japan.

You have a lot of links with Sweden. You have written a column for Close-Up Magazine, you had a radio show in Sweden, you frequently perform in Sweden and so on. How did that all start? “Rock’n’roll really lives in Sweden. It’s such a vibrant rock scene with Backyard Babies, Hellacopters and then there’s a long list of other great Swedish rock bands. The Hives, Noise Conspiracy, Dead Lord. And I can name you ten other bands… The Night Flight Orchestra! There is a scene for a band like us. Whereas in Canada, it’s not the same. There’s not that long list of rock bands. There’s like four, five, for a country that is 20 times bigger than Sweden. The scene is pretty vibrant there and our management is based out of Sweden. Our booking agent is based out of Malmö. And a lot of the bands we ended up touring with, like Backyard Babies took us out in ’01 across Europe, not in Sweden, across Europe, because we played Malmö City Festival with them. Dregen saw us and two months later we got an offer for the European tour. Then we’ve played shows with The Hives, we’ve toured with Noise Conspiracy, we’ve played shows with The Hellacopters, here and there. For a country with nine, ten million people, there are so many bands that are exported internationally. So, you end up crossing paths with them if you play rock. We were also brought to Europe through a Swedish label called Bad Taste. It was through Sweden that we started touring abroad.”

You wrote and published a book recently and you’ve done some spoken-word performances. Are these non-music creative activities something you do when you have time? Does music always come first? “It’s all really based on music. The book is a collection of essays from various rock magazines, some of them are from Close-Up. I don’t really do anything non-musical. Even if I’m talking, I’m talking about music and I am writing about music. There’s really nothing that doesn’t have anything to do with music. For me personally, I don’t consider myself a musician. I think of myself more as a performer. There is a difference. I don’t know musical theory. Those guys do. They tell me ‘Go to G’. I don’t know. Or what a minor chord is or simple musical theory that a musician would know. I just go by feel. Whatever sounds good to me. I just go like as a fan would, as I always have. That’s what leads me to what I think is good music. It’s just your ears, not musical theory. So, I don’t consider myself a musician. But I do consider myself a performer and that is basically getting up in front of people and entertaining them.”

You’ve got a great album out and you’re touring. What’s next? More touring? “Yeah. It’s pretty much you put out a record and go on tour.”

Danko Jones is currently on a European tour with Volbeat and will do some shows in Canada in December before they will return to Europe in January and then the US in February. Danko Jones has gotta rock and he needs to roll because he’s in a band and he loves it.

Danko Jones on stage in Sydney. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

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Interview – Bloodbound: the Dragon Empire takes on Japan

Fredrik Bergh and Patrik Selleby of Bloodbound backstage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

When Swedish power metal band Bloodbound recently played in Japan for the first time in the band’s 15-year career, Roppongi Rocks’ Stefan Nilsson met the band’s co-founder and keyboardist Fredrik Bergh and vocalist Patrik Selleby for a backstage chat.

Patrik Selleby of Bloodbound on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

We start the interview sitting on the balcony at the venue for the evening’s Bloodbound gig at Evoken Fest. But after a few minutes, the volume of the ongoing soundcheck makes it impossible to hear anything and the three of us decide to continue the discussion in the backstage toilet. It doesn’t exactly smell of roses, but at least it is a bit less noisy.

Bloodbound was founded in 2004 and released its debut studio album “Nosferatu” in 2005. Earlier this year the band released “Rise of the Dragon Empire”, its eighth studio album.

You two are the keyboard player and the lead vocalist in the band. When you’re composing new songs, do you try to add some extra keyboard or vocal parts in the songs as a way of sticking it to the band’s songwriting guitarist and co-founder Tomas Olsson? Do you have fights in the band over this? “It is the songs that are the most important. No one is trying to make themselves or their instrument more prominent. The songs and the melodies are absolutely the most important things,” says Fredrik Bergh. Patrik Selleby continues: “The sound has become what it is naturally. No big discussions. Sure, we can sometimes discuss if the guitars should be louder in the mix, but then it is something that all of us agree on. But there’s never been any fight about what should be more prominent in the mix.” Fredrik adds: “Whatever the songs need. Whatever makes the songs the best.”

Fredrik Bergh and Patrik Selleby of Bloodbound backstage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Fredrik is an experienced songwriter who in addition to writing for Bloodbound also has written for and recorded with artists such as Joe Lynn Turner, Bonfire, Revolution Saints, Phenomena, Anette Olzon, Steve Augeri and many more. Do you approach things differently when you write songs for others? “I have to adjust things to how they sound. I have to be a bit like a chameleon! I have to write things their way. You have an idea of what kind of song it should be. It’s not a coincidence.” Patrik adds: “I don’t write for others, but I write music all the time. A lot of it I realise won’t fit in with Bloodbound. I have a lot of songs piled up high and so we’ll see if I will use them. You quickly realise what fits: ‘This feels like a Bloodbound song!’”

Patrik Selleby of Bloodbound on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Do you feel that you have to write songs that fit within what people expect of Bloodbound or can you create music more freely? “Often you know how we should sound,“ explains Fredrik. “You try to write such songs from the start. And if it doesn’t fit, then you reject it, if it isn’t good enough. You have an idea and then you reach a point where you realise that this doesn’t work and then you discard it. I’ve got a big folder of rubbish at home!” Patrik continues: “I feel that it isn’t that boxed in. We’re not as boxed in as perhaps many other bands are. We felt that we found our sound with the ‘Stormborn’ album. Since then it’s been a given that we have a certain sound. You have written a song perhaps that can be tweaked a bit by adding some keyboards in order to make it a Bloodbound song. We’re exchanging ideas a lot. You have a basic song idea. Perhaps I send it to Fredrik or he sends one to me. What do we think? Can we make a Bloodbound song from this? Then we continue from there.” Fredrik adds: “It’s not really limited as we have a rather wide spectrum. It’s not limited by the vocals. Sometimes when Tomas writes it’s very… Like on ‘Dragons are Forever’. If we had a more limited vocalist it wouldn’t be possible at all. Patrik can manage to sing across a broad range. When it comes to melodies, we do not limit ourselves. A song can take off in any direction.”

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

Since the band was formed in 2004 by Fredrik and guitarist Tomas Olsson, there have been quite a few line-up changes. The current version of the band also features Henrik Olsson on rhythm guitar, Anders Broman on bass and Daniel Sjögren on drums. Have the changing line-ups had an impact on the band’s sound? “We have had more or less the same line-up for the past eight years now. It’s working great. Both on a personal level and how we work together. It was mainly in the early days when it was a bit chaotic before we found Patrik, I’d say,” explains Fredrik. Patrik joined the band in 2010, taking the frontman position previously occupied by Urban Breed (Serious Black, Tad Morose) and Michael Bormann (Jaded Heart, Bonfire).

Bloodbound had already released three studio albums before Patrik took over as lead vocalist, but he doesn’t have a problem performing songs from before his time. “No, I absolutely don’t have anything against that at all. I myself was a fan of Bloodbound before I started to sing with them. I love the old songs too. There’s no pride preventing anything there.” Fredrik adds: “We only play one old song!” before Patrik continues: “Yes, now we do, but we have played more songs during my years in the band. The newer songs, we feel, are better and work really well live. It has nothing to do with which album they’re from. We just try to select the best songs that we have.”

FredrikBergh of Bloodbound on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

When Bloodbound released its first album in 2005, you established an interesting contrast where the band name and some of the visuals used were very dark and somewhat evil, whereas the music is melodic and good-natured power metal. Was it a deliberate contrast? What was the thinking here? “Yes!” says Fredrik. “When we started the band and we were going to take some photos for the first album, we felt that we needed to do something that stands out. We can’t just stand there like every other band. Perhaps we made it too extreme with corpse paint and everything!” Patrik adds: “As a fan, as a power metal fan in general, I thought it was really cool!” Fredrik continues: “It got a lot of people talking” before Patrik adds: “The contrast was amusing as the music was so damn happy and then they stood there in corpse paint!” Fredrik brings up German power metal band Powerwolf as a comparison. “If you look at Powerwolf today – they’re massive – and they do sort of the same thing that we did in the beginning. Thus, I think it was wrong for us to stop that. I think that we should’ve continued with it. But certain people in the band didn’t want to and that’s why we stopped it, around the time of the second album, I’d say. It was a bit weird. Some people said: ‘They can’t have corpse paint because they play power metal!’ There was a lot of talk like: ‘Have you seen this new band?’ We got a lot of great publicity.” Patrik continues: “It was ahead of its time, to do that kind of thing. Then Powerwolf came along and it was the right time. Then nobody thought it was weird.” The two band members seem to have somewhat different recollections of who did what and when. “But they started around the same time as us, I believe,” says Fredrik. “But they didn’t have the face paintings and such then,” answers Patrik. “Didn’t they?” asks Fredrik somewhat surprised. “No,” says Patrik.

“We were a bit dumb, but now we’ve got the dragon mask,” says Fredrik excitedly with a reference to the fact that Patrik is nowadays wearing a dragon mask and a horn while performing on stage. “We have to bring back some of those crazy things!” Patrik elaborates: “We look at it this way: since I started to wear the dragon mask and the horn, people will now remember that. If we play at a festival ‘Oh, yes, that was that guy with the horn!’ Rather than just standing there dressed in jeans and t-shirts. We should stand out in different ways.”

2019 has seen you release a fab new album and you’ve toured internationally, including coming here to Japan for the very first time. What’s next for Bloodbound? “We have a few winter festivals in Europe that we will do before Christmas,” says Patrik. “We have recently changed booking agents and so we are kind of between the two firms now. Thus, we don’t have too many fixed plans right now, but a new album won’t happen until 2021. We’ll probably do some gigs ahead of that and also perhaps summer festivals next year.” Fredrik continues: “We have already some gigs booked, including a major festival next year. We did our own headline tour last spring with Dynazty and Manimal as opening acts and that went very well.”

A few hours after our chat, Bloodbound appears on stage in Japan for the very first time and they delight their Japanese fans with a brilliant but short festival set.

Fredrik Bergh and Patrik Selleby of Bloodbound backstage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

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