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

 

www.facebook.com/crazylixx

www.crazylixx.com

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/

www.kissonline.com/the-end-is-near

www.facebook.com/kiss

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

www.facebook.com/dankojones

www.dankojones.com

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

www.facebook.com/bloodboundmetal

www.bloodbound.se

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

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

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Girlschool backstage in Tokyo with Roppongi Rocks boss Stefan Nilsson.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

www.girlschool.co.uk

www.facebook.com/girlschoolofficial

Interview: The Babes – entertaining underdog rock from Australia

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

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

www.facebook.com/thebabesrock

www.thebabesrock.com

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

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

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

www.facebook.com/luciferofficial

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

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

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

www.facebook.com/grahambonnetmusic

www.alcatrazzofficial.com

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

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

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

www.facebook.com/marcomendozaofficial

www.facebook.com/marcomendozajapan

www.marcomendoza.com

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

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

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

www.facebook.com/kylehughesdrums

www.kylehughesdrummer.co.uk