Interview: Treat “We’re a hard rock band with melodies”

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

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

When Swedish melodic hard rock band Treat recently did its fourth Japan tour, Roppongi Rocks’ Stefan Nilsson met Anders “Gary” Wikström and Pontus Egberg backstage for a chat ahead of their Tokyo gig. 

Having made it big in the mid-1980s as part of a wave of Swedish melodic hard rock bands, the 90s proved tougher for Treat’s kind of music. They disbanded in 1993 but reformed in 2006 and have now released three studio albums since the reunion: “Coup de Grace” (2010), “Ghost of Graceland” (2016) and “Tunguska” (2018). The current line-up – Anders “Gary” Wikström (guitar), Robert “Robban” Ernlund (vocals), Jamie Borger (drums), Patrick Appelgren (keyboards) and Pontus Egberg (bass) – is the same as they had in the late 1980s apart from King Diamond bassist Egberg who joined in 2016.

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

The new album, “Tunguska”, which was released in September (by King Records in Japan and Frontiers Music internationally), has received rave reviews and has also sold well. Did you feel that you had created a great album that you expected to do well? “I think that we all agree that when the album was finished and we heard the end result, we were very satisfied with the way it turned out,“ says Pontus Egberg. “It feels great. Then, of course, you never know how it will be received by people out there and if they feel the same as you.” Anders Wikström continues: “We had plenty of time. The album was finished already in the spring and we had time to listen to it during the summer, to get a feeling for it and to reflect on the result. Nowadays it is a bit hard to predict how an album might do. But for the first time with the last three albums, we succeeded in releasing a few singles ahead of the album release. The longer lead-time enabled us to make people more aware of the album. We didn’t have to rush things. We worked with a good time frame. It was quite smart.”

Treat’s sound keeps evolving. With a foundation in 1980s melodic hard rock, the band has done some AOR-sounding music and then landed in a somewhat more mature music style now. Has it been a planned evolution or it just because you’re getting old? “Haha!! What do you mean!?” laughs Pontus. “It’s a combination,” says Anders. “We’ve created a trademark sound that we can’t change. It’s how we play and sing. We have a lot of ingredients that will always be there: big choruses and the keyboards-and-guitar mix is a major part of the sound as we no longer have two guitars as we did in the beginning. That comes with both possibilities and limitations. We get influenced by everything we listen to in one way or another. There are new bands that didn’t exist when we made the earlier albums. It’s been eight years since we made ‘Coup de Grace’ and a lot has happened since then. And before that was even longer since we made an album. There are a lot of new bands that I have listened to from England and the US that didn’t exist in the 80s. It’s been an interesting way to evolve rock music. It has an impact on things. Many bands are doing it well and it’s not all about ‘rock is dead’. It isn’t! It’s just changing its shape a bit.” Pontus adds: “It’s not exactly a conscious decision that we should sound a certain way. It’s more of a natural development of what we have been doing. It’s obviously based on melodic hard rock, now and in the 80s. But it comes in different shapes. It’s a natural development.”

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

Anders explains: “The fans that have followed us for a long time, they accept the sound we have today. If they feel it fits well with what we have done in the past, then we are very happy. Even newer fans that might be younger, they quickly also warm to our old songs as we get them to look up stuff from back in time.”

Your Italian label, Frontiers Music, has become known for being home to many AOR and other melodic rock bands. Do you feel that you now have to create music that fits in with what is expected of a Frontiers band? “No, we’ve never thought about it in that way,” says Pontus. Anders continues: “They were chasing us. We’re a melodic band and thus we probably fit quite well into their roster. We don’t belong to the extremely sugary AOR, I hope. We are basically a hard rock band. We come from those influences. We are a hard rock band with melodies. That makes us a bit more classic, I believe, because we’re a classic band today. We were around when spandex was hot! At least it was cool to walk around in spandex trousers when we started out!” 

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

“They chased us because we happen to be a band that fits in on their label, rather than us trying to fit in with what they do,” says Pontus. Anders continues: “We have a lot of artistic freedom when we work, which is nice. We don’t have to play them all the new songs before we record them. They are confident in us delivering something good.”

What about the production on the new album: did you work in a different way his time around? “Basically, no,” says Anders. “The difference is that we were, in my opinion, in better shape when we recorded this album than we were when did the previous album. We’d been touring quite a bit and were thus warmed up. We came straight from gigging. There’s an energy there and harmony. Starting to work on new songs immediately means you bring with you that energy. I think you can hear that clearly on the album. There’s a joy of playing and a playfulness in our playing.” Pontus adds: “Before ‘Ghost of Graceland’ the band had a period of relative inactivity. Since ‘Ghost of Graceland’ was released it has been rather busy with touring. Thus, the starting point for the new album was a bit different.”

Lyrically Treat’s songs are also evolving from “let’s party” to more serious lyrical themes. “Growing up, perhaps?” comments Pontus. Anders, who is behind most of the band’s lyrics, explains: “Life got in the way! Haha! That’s roughly what it is about. We have different references today than we had when we were 20. Different ways of thinking. And now we are less scared of writing about certain things. We’re really only touching on things lightly on the surface in order for it to fit into our music. It is very important in music for the songwriter to reach the listener. You won’t do that unless you can stand behind the words. Robban has to be able to stand behind the words he’s singing. He has to feel that he is delivering something he understands. I can’t sit around and write too weird stuff. It has to be understood.”

Does Robban sometimes change some of the lyrics? “He always has an opinion,” says Anders. “He changes things. He has even rewritten a few things this time, something I encourage him to do. In the beginning, when we started the band, he wrote a lot more lyrics compared to today. He moved away from doing that. It has to do with inspiration. I have to start with writing music first before I can work on lyrics. I have to focus so hard on only that. The two things are done at separate times. Then I sit down and do it. But I always get it done. I don’t get stuck with writer’s block or something. It gets done but I have to separate it from the music. I write a lot of music together with other musicians, co-writing songs in five-hour writing sessions where the song is expected to be finished at the end of it. I don’t have to do that with Treat. A song can be really bad if it has to be completed in five hours. We have to sit and work on some of the details of a song. That verse wasn’t that good, then we will rewrite it. That’s the freedom associated with being your own artist rather than having to work towards a specific deadline all the time.

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

Pontus has been in the band a few years now and it seems he has given the band a healthy vitamin injection. “I think it is about Pontus’ personal commitment. It’s all about what role one wants to play. We agreed that Pontus should have a bigger role in many band things as we need everyone’s involvement. We are a band that are our own managers today. That means we have to think about everything all the time. The more people we have in the band that are clued up, the better the outcome. You’re a great bassist and you sing well too,” says Anders while looking approvingly at Pontus. “You have never really gotten credit for that in other bands. It’s really important for our sound, that everybody sings and do back-up vocals. It’s an important ingredient.” Pontus adds: “I hope and believe that I have succeeded in bringing my style of playing into the band and with that adding a level to the composition.”

Pontus also brings some serious dance moves to the stage. “Haha! I have always done that,” says Pontus. “It is some kind of subconscious, yet still very deliberate, thing to have fun and try to generate energy for the audience. It’s very important. Apart from doing my job by playing, establishing the energy exchange between the stage and the audience is very important.”

You have a massive back catalogue and a busy set list. Have you ever considered to not play your old hits from the 80s and focus on the newer material? “I don’t think we are quite there yet. There are a few songs from that era that we cannot take away. It wouldn’t be fair to ourselves to take out ‘Get You on the Run’, ‘Conspiracy’ and ‘World of Promises’. It won’t happen. Then people would start wondering if something had hit us on the head. But we’re working a lot now and the more our repertoire grows, the harder it becomes to fit in all the songs in a 90-minute show,” says Anders. “It’s starting to become a problem as we have so much great material to choose from,” explains Pontus. “You have to ‘kill your darlings’ a bit. Now I think we have a set that combines the best gems from the old stuff with the best of the newer material.” 

It’s only been a year and a half since Treat last toured Japan, but they offer their Japanese fans a rather different show this time. “The set list this time is quite different from the one we had last time we were here,“ says Anders. “We’re not doing any album medleys. We did it with ‘Dreamhunter’ because it was the 30th anniversary in 2017. That was fun to do but we’ve now put that away.” 

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

This is your fourth Japan tour. You were here in 1990, 2015, 2017 and now 2018. I like the trend of more frequent visits. “Somebody told me when we were here that there are artists that always come back to Japan that keep their fans here loyal. Jeff Beck and artists like that are always coming back. And Eric Martin from Mr. Big. They have their audience. I think it is all about showing our Japanese fans that we care. When we came here in 2015, we thought they had forgotten about us and they thought we had forgotten them. That we didn’t care anymore. When we then got the chance to come back it was obvious that this is very important. We just hadn’t been invited to do it,” explains Anders. Pontus continues: ”We love playing in Japan! As long as we get the opportunity to do it and it works, we are very happy to come back.”

After the Japan visit, Treat is touring in Europe. “We will probably do more touring in Europe in the spring and then summer festivals,” says Pontus, who is also still a member of King Diamond. King Diamond has announced some gigs for 2019 and Pontus may have to juggle his schedule to fit it all in. “Yes. Luckily, for the sake of Treat, it has been a rather low level of activity there over the past year which has enabled me to focus on this. It’s been great. I’m sure there will be some clashes in the future that I’ll have to deal with it. But so far it has worked well.”

Recently Anders reunited with Mats Levén, who sang in Treat in the early 90s, in a band called ReVertigo. Was this a one-off project just to do an album or do you have future plans? “The idea is that we will continue to cooperate. But we have pushed it a bit into the future now because Mats’ career has had an abrupt change as he is no longer a member of Candlemass. That part of his future plans has changed. He’s quite busy with other things, such as Trans-Siberian Orchestra, and he’s working on a solo album. That’s what he’ll focus on now. We will pick things up when we feel we have the opportunity.”

The whole band is in good spirits backstage. Soon after the interview is finished, Treat walks on stage and delivers a terrific set of Swedish melodic hard rock to its Japanese fans. I have no doubt that they will be back in Japan soon enough.

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

Interview: Marko Tervonen of Swedish death metal veterans The Crown

Marko Tervonen on stage with The Crown in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Swedish death metal veterans The Crown have released a fab new album and are putting on some terrific live shows this year. Roppongi Rocks caught up with co-founder, rhythm guitarist and songwriter Marko Tervonen when the band recently did its third Japan tour.

Marko Tervonen on stage with The Crown in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Founded in 1990, The Crown was one of the early death metal bands in Sweden. Now, 28 years into the band’s career and with ten studio albums under its belt, The Crown is back in fine form and with what seems like its best-ever line-up. Co-founders Marko Tervonen (rhythm guitar), Magnus Olsfelt (bass) and Johan Lindstrand (vocals) are joined in the band’s current line-up by newer additions Robin Sörqvist (lead guitarist since 2013) and drummer Henrik Axelsson, who joined in 2014. The new album “Cobra Speed Venom”, released earlier this year, is one of the band’s best and live they are absolutely killing it.

Marko Tervonen of The Crown in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

“We are a veteran band that’s been rejuvenated with the new album,” says Marko Tervonen when we meet backstage in Tokyo during the band’s recent Japan tour. This is the third time the band is touring Japan. “It’s great. Everything is upside down in this country. It is great fun being here. This is our third visit. The first time I was just walking around with my mouth open in amazement. I didn’t understand anything. The last visit was very intense. Just Osaka and Tokyo and then back home. We hardly had time to pack down our gear after the show before we were back home. This time we’re doing four gigs and start seeing the everyday reality underneath the surface. It’s a wonder we make it work. Financially it is harder for us to tour in Europe. But here in Japan, it works, on the other side of the planet! It’s great!” 

The new album is a big step up from the prior couple of albums. Did you approach “Cobra Speed Venom” in a different way? “The previous two albums we worked on in a different way. That is why they ended up being different. I shouldn’t complain about the previous two albums. Well, yes, OK, I will. There are various reasons why they ended up being the way they are. The previous album was a nightmare in many respects. I filled in as drummer. That alone is insane! Sure, I muddled through, but not at the level where it should be when it comes to intensity and so on. It sounded a bit too much like an old man playing. With this new album we realised that we should do things the way we used to back in the days. First of all, we decided to rehearse. ‘Doomsday King’ was done without any rehearsals. I learnt the riffs in the studio when we were about to record. That obviously means that you get a certain end result. This time we rehearsed all the album. I produced the earlier two albums. What that means in reality, because it sounds flashy, is that I sit alone in the studio trying to finalise things while all the others are out having fun. Thus, we decided to use an external studio this time. I didn’t want to produce or be responsible for the production at all this time. I just want to play guitar and do things like we used to. This time we did like we did all those year ago and went into the studio and acted like a band. There are many things in that process that shouldn’t be underestimated, such as those 2:00am ideas that pop up. Things like that.” 

Marko Tervonen on stage with The Crown in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Was it a planned move to go back to the old classic The Crown sound? “I hear what you’re saying and I agree. It turned out that way. But we didn’t have a meeting where we decided the direction. This is the first album where we have Henrik involved from the start. He is really fast. The first song we wrote was probably ‘Iron Crown’ which became the first single. Already with that song it was like, shit, this is the level we want to be at. We also had Robin involved properly and not just for the solos. We became a band acting like a band. That’s when we are at our best. Then the song ideas just started to happen and we formed all the parts into an album. Somewhere there we realised that, shit, this will be great.” 

You now have your greatest line-up ever with three original members and a couple of newer additions. “I agree. I absolutely do not want to criticise our earlier brothers. Everything and everybody have been there for a reason, it’s as easy as that. Robin is such a musically-gifted guitarist. I am so grateful because I am not a solo guitarist. I am first and foremost a songwriter in this band. That is my role. Henrik is younger than the rest of us and he is drumming in a different way. And he’s using modern expressions that I don’t even understand. Gravity blast? I don’t even know what it is! It all forms into a very strong unit. Robin is a long-time friend. He’s the cousin of my ex-wife. I have also known Henrik for a long time. It all works very well.”

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

Your version of death metal sounds like it has a fair bit of thrash metal influences in the mix. “Yes. I think that after ‘Hell is Here’, sometime after ‘Deathrace’ we started to include those parts in the music. The whole heritage of old-school thrash and death metal – we can’t avoid it. It’s in our backbones. It is still what inspires us the most. It is music that was around in the 90s that has the biggest impact on us. It is still what shapes us and is still at the centre when we talk about music. We are very open with what ideas we steal…or borrow! If we go back to 1997 and the second album ‘Eternal Death’, that was very much inspired by Nordic melodic death/black metal music, such as Dissection. It was really inspiring. It was on the verge of being black metal. We don’t shy away from developing and taking in different influences. If we’re rehearsing and we think it sounds good, then it is good. It’s nothing to think about too much.”

Marko Tervonen of The Crown in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

The Swedish death metal scene, while very influential and successful, consists of a small group of people. Two former The Crown vocalists are now members of At The Gates and the new album has been produced by Fredrik Nordström who is best known for his work with At The Gates. Have you ever considered a joint At The Gates and The Crown tour?At The Gates are now very busy with bigger things. But The Crown, Witchery and The Haunted are not too far apart. That would be a really cool tour package! A few of the people would have to pull double duty in that case, but what the hell! It would be cool as fuck.”

Marko Tervonen on stage with The Crown in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

You are now back on the Metal Blade label. Does it feel like you’re back home where you belong? “Exactly! When I look back at this with hindsight, I see how many pieces of the puzzle fell into place: back to using Fredrik Nordström, back in Studio Fredman and back with Metal Blade while still managing to create something fresh and new. Our deal with Century Media came to an end. Our first thought was: perhaps Metal Blade would be interested? We decided to enter Studio Fredman to record four songs and then play them to the label. I felt that we had a lot to prove. The last two albums could have been so much better. They showed us in a very strange way. With me drumming it didn’t come across as very serious. Now we wanted to do it the old-school way and play a few songs for them and see what they think. They went for it straight away. There was no discussion. We have a long history with Metal Blade and many of the people are still working there. Andreas who is in charge of the European operations is a major fan of ours. When he heard the new songs, he knew immediately that this was great, some of our strongest material. Via USA we then got a world-wide deal with Metal Blade, which is really cool.”

What’s next for The Crown? “In December we will do a week-long European tour. We haven’t done that in a very long time for various reasons. That will be a great. Then, after December, we will start working on new material. It’s mad, but we already have 13 new songs. We just need to start rehearsing and work on them. Magnus wrote 13 new songs. It’s sick! I am way behind. I have to start writing so that we can get a balanced album. Because our latest album gio such great response, we’re psyched. Often with us things take a long time. Back in the day we used to rehearse three days a week. Now it is fantastic if we manage to do once a week. That’s the way it is.” 

If you want to get royally crowned, buy “Cobra Speed Venom” and don’t forget to catch the band live.

Marko Tervonen on stage with The Crown in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Interview: Lechery – genuine heavy metal from Sweden

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

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

When Swedish heavy metal band Lechery recently did their first Japan tour, Roppongi Rocks sat down with the band backstage in Tokyo before the first gig for a talk about how proper heavy metal should be done. “We are genuine. When I sing heavy metal, I mean it,” says frontman Martin Bengtsson.

Sweden’s Lechery is a terrific heavy metal band that is fronted by Martin Bengtsson, formerly bass player in Swedish death metal bands Arch Enemy and Armageddon. Timeless might be a way to describe Lechery’s take on heavy metal which combines great twin guitars with shout-along choruses and plenty of energy. The band debuted with the album “Violator” in 2008 and its most recent album, “We Are All Born Evil”, was released earlier this year. In Japan, the band is backed by record label Spiritual Beast.

Martin Bengtsson on stage with Lechery in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Lechery currently consists of Martin Bengtsson on vocals and guitar, Fredrik Nordstrandh on guitar, Martin Karlsson on bass and Kristian Wallman on drums. It is a solid band built around Bengtsson’s strong metal songs and his fitting vocal style.

Lechery’s musical style is quite different from the melodic death metal of Arch Enemy and Armageddon. It is more classic heavy metal with nods to the 1980s but without sounding too retro. Is Lechery perhaps a deliberate step away from death metal? “It was more like going from heavy metal to death metal and then back to heavy metal. Death metal is not something that I particularly like,” explains Martin Bengtsson as we sit down backstage after the soundcheck. “We write the kind of music that we enjoy ourselves. That’s our starting point,” says drummer Kristian Wallman. Guitarist Fredrik Nordstrandh continues: “We don’t deliberately try to sound a specific way. It is just us being genuine. This is how it is. Martin writes most of the songs and this is how he writes and when we play these songs together, this is the way it sounds.” Bengtsson adds: “I have played together with Fredrik for a long time. A song that we played together 20 years ago, can easily be used on one of our records today because nothing has happened. We don’t fake it to try to catch some current trend. Some other bands do that.” Nordstrandh continues: “We have played in the same way, when we play together, since way back. It is difficult to change that. It wouldn’t feel genuine to change things. I wouldn’t be comfortable with it.”

Fredrik Nordstrandh on stage with Lechery in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Part of your signature sound is the fantastic shout-along choruses you have on many of your songs. Do you always bear in mind when you compose that it needs to be catchy and melodic, or can you also create heavier material? “I write music that allows the audience to participate,” says Bengtsson. “It shouldn’t be too complicated. When I go to a concert it’s more fun if I can take part. But, with, say, ten songs or whatever it is on an album and you shout ‘heavy metal’ in all the songs – then, perhaps, it becomes less interesting. You have to do it here and there, not all the time. There’s a relatively wide area of things that we can do. If you play certain musical styles within heavy metal, you can only do that. But for us, we can include a clean guitar and stuff. That’s how it remains fun.” Nordstrandh takes over: “What do we think is good? What is it that we like? You want to entertain yourself. If I listen to a band I want to be entertained. That happens when I can sing along to some interesting chorus or listen to a good melody or a great riff. It doesn’t necessarily have to be extravagantly technical.”

Bengtsson steps in with a classic Lechery statement: “We are genuine. When I sing heavy metal, I mean it. Many artists get dressed up and sing about it, but it’s noticeable if it’s not for real. I often say that I can walk out on stage in my underwear and still be harder than the pretenders. You notice it. It’s from the heart.” He looks me in the eye as if to really emphasise that he is dead serious. “It shines through if it isn’t for real. If you don’t actually mean it,” adds Nordstrandh before Bengtsson shouts: “And it should be fun!”

Martin Karlsson and Martin Bengtsson on stage with Lechery in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

In Lechery, Martin Bengtsson is the creative motor when it comes to songwriting. “Yes, but we have to do it together in the end or else there is nothing,” explains Bengtsson. “Martin writes all the foundations to the songs, then the rest of us step in and add some spice. We have to do it together,” adds Nordstrandh.

Your latest album, “We Are All Born Evil”, has been received very well by critics across the board. Did the great reviews come as a surprise to you? “We felt that it was a really great album from the beginning,” says  Nordstrandh. “But we were somewhat surprised by the fantastic response we got in the album reviews in the press.” Bengtsson continues: “It’s a bit hard to take it in. I like playing heavy metal and it is only a bonus if others also like what we do. If no one had liked it, we’d still be standing here and playing.”

Kristian Wallman on stage with Lechery in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Unlike many other metal bands, Lechery has had a very stable line-up. Drummer Kristian Wallman, who joined in 2011, is the only new member since the band was founded in 2004. “Some bands play together for half a year, then when they don’t get a record deal they call it quits,” says Bengtsson. “We just play together and have fun doing it. I think that over time it works. We play what we play and if we do it long enough, hopefully at some point we become good at it. Many bands keep jumping between different musical styles in order to find something – but that doesn’t work. I can’t just write a nu-metal song, at least not immediately. One has to practice the craft.” Nordstrandh adds: “Things didn’t happen overnight for us. We fought hard for quite a long time. Before ‘Violator’ was released, we were at it for quite a few years. It’s been a long road.”

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

Kristian Wallman explains how he came into the band: “Bassist Martin Karlsson and I have known each other for many years. We have played together since the dawn of time. I felt very welcomed and well taken care of.” Bengtsson adds: “The personal chemistry works very well,” before Wallman continues: “It’s imperative that the personal chemistry works in order to have fun and hang out.” Bengtsson quickly adds: “And to be bored together as well!” with a reference to the fact that life on the road is not always rosy. Nordstrandh continues: “There are no big fights or scandals, but we don’t always have the same opinion. At times there are people that are upset.”

Martin Bengtsson on stage with Lechery in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Lechery is an exquisite band name. Where did this come from? “There was a documentary about Alexander the Great where there was a lot of sinful lechery going on,” explains Bengtsson. “Lechery is an old word for lust. There were a lot of grapes and bed-hopping going on then. It sounded great. Nowadays we are also extending the concept to album covers and such. It’s fun to tease people. Iron Maiden and Metallica were names that were already taken. Now it’s too late to change.”

While Bengtsson’s earlier bands Arch Enemy and Armageddon have a history in Japan, this tour is Lechery’s first in Japan. What expectations do you have on Japan? “I have no big expectations,” says Martin Karlsson. “I am just very happy to be able to be here. I think we as a band can fit in well here. We hope that we can come back.” Nordstrandh continues: “We are very grateful for the opportunity to come here. We’ve been working hard for this. We’ve been in touch with the record label Spiritual Beast since the first album was released. We’ve tried, but it’s not easy. It is very costly to do a Japan tour for a Swedish band. It takes time to build up a fan base and connections. So, it feels great being here!”

What’s next for Lechery? “We’ll do a European tour in September. We’ll bring Solitude to Sweden. They will tour with us in Sweden, Germany and such. After that, we’re due to start working on a new album. That’s the plan,” says Wallman before it is time for the band to get ready for its first-ever Japan gig.

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

Interview: Nicky Renard of Nightstage – the teenager at the heart of a classic American rock band

By Roppongi Rocks

Recently, Los Angeles-based band Nightstage released its debut album “Sunset Industry”, an album recorded in Nashville which is full of classic-sounding American rock music. Nightstage’s core duo, father-and-daughter team Max Foxx and Nicky Renard, is backed up by a band of seasoned music industry veterans from the American rock scene. Roppongi Rocks checked in with 16-year-old co-founder, songwriter and lead guitarist Nicky Renard in Los Angeles to talk about her role in the band, the debut album and what’s next for Nightstage. 

You have co-written Nightstage’s debut album. What inspired you when you created this music? “A lot of things. What I mostly set out to do was write music which takes people to a different place in their mind, sort of like an escape. And I guess Nightstage’s rhetoric is to simply write music which we like ourselves and hope that other people have a similar taste. Really, the creative process varies from song to song. With ‘Illusion’s Way’, for instance, I actually had parts of the lyrics and I knew what I wanted the song to be about before I had the music. I composed the music with the lyrics in mind. Usually, though, I’m just experimenting around the guitar when the song hits me, or I guess I should say a part of a song hits me. If something sticks out and sounds particularly good, I’ll record it, just my guitar track. Sometimes I’ll immediately get to work on making a song out of it. Other times, I just keep the riff as it is and share it later with my dad, Max, to see if he comes up with something interesting. If my dad comes to me with a song or a riff, that’s a different story. Then I have to listen to what he’s playing and try and come up with something that fits the song, yet sticks out as having a complementing but separate melody. If what I’m playing isn’t different enough, meaning it only acts as ‘filler noise’, then it wouldn’t even have to be there at all, in my opinion. Lyric writing also has a different process for me. With composing, the music hits me randomly. Lyrics usually come to be by listening to the music over and over again. I try to block everything out and listen to what the song is making me think. I interweave memories, dreams, and thoughts and attempt to put all of that as best I can into a limited number of words.”

When I listen to your music, classic rock acts such as The Eagles, Journey, Tom Petty, New England and Bad Company come to mind. How would you describe Nightstage’s music? “In the band, we call our genre ‘heavy soft rock’, which at this point I’ve started describing as soft rock plugged into a Marshall amp if you get the idea. No, what it really is is soft rock which we turn into heavy rock by adding heavy guitar riffs, groovy basslines, massive drum fills and at times mysterious vocals. I guess everybody has a different interpretation of what our music sounds like. I’ve heard many different descriptions of what our music sounds like and not many people agree with each other.”

You are a young musician and songwriter and in Nightstage you’re surrounded by seasoned veterans who have played with Lynyrd Skynyrd, Neil Young and Tom Petty. Do you ever feel overwhelmed or do you see them as just fellow musicians in a band? “Well, it does put some pressure on me to perform well, but at the same time having such seasoned musicians in the band gives me a great sense of support. There’s nothing better than knowing you have a good, solid band with you on stage. I think we all support each other to put on a great show.”

You are a self-taught guitarist. What made you pick up the guitar in the first place? “It really started when I was thirteen and a half. A lot of changes had happened in my life at that time, but at the same time, it felt like everything sort of was at a standstill. I guess that something just drew me to the guitar at that point. I had been listening to a lot more music at the time. Then, when I started playing more guitar, I realised that playing guitar was what my passion was. I don’t think I would ever have ended up playing another instrument than the guitar. I don’t think the option of playing another instrument was ever something I had in my mind. I remember being nine or so and stumbling across one of my dad’s videos, Deep Purple performing at the California Jam. My mind was blown, seeing Ritchie Blackmore up on that big stage. I thought that being a guitarist had to be the coolest thing you could be.”

You co-founded the band with your father, Max Foxx. Was it obvious for you both to do this together from the start? “In some ways, yes, and in some ways, no. It wasn’t ever that we thought ‘both of us play instruments, let’s start a band together’. It came a little more gradually. It started with the two of us just jamming out together and then we got to work on some material we had composed. Just as a fun thing. After a while, though, we decided to work to release a single and that was when it started for real. By the time we had recorded the single, ‘Grovy Lane’, we had a bunch of ideas for more songs, so we made the decision to start working on forming a real band and recording a full album.”

After a lot of hard work with your debut album, it was released a few months ago. Were you nervous about how it would be received by the world? “Actually, not as much as you could imagine. So much had been happening before the release, such as our last-minute re-mixing of the album and rehearsing for our album launch show, that I barely had time to think about how it would be received. It was exciting, obviously, but I always kind of imagined that if I dig the album, other people will probably also like it.”

The album’s out and you’re doing some gigs in the US. What’s next for Nightstage? “We’ve already started working on a new album which we’re aiming to release later this year. Apart from that, we’re planning a US tour and some shows abroad toward the end of the year or early next year.”

Nightstage’s debut album “Sunset Industry” is out now.

Interview: Frax of Venus Mountains | Japan tour in August

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Italian hard rockers Venus Mountains, who released their latest album “Black Snake” earlier this year, have announced a five-date Japan tour. Roppongi Rocks’ Stefan Nilsson checked in with vocalist and guitarist Stefano “Frax” Pezzotti ahead of the band’s first-ever Japan tour.

Italian hard rockers Venus Mountains have been around for nearly a decade. They have released an EP and two full-length albums and toured in Europe and the US. Now they are ready to win over the Japanese fans.

Over the years you have toured a lot in Europe and also played in the US. Why have you decided to come and tour in Japan this summer? “We decided to come to Japan because we love it from the very bottom of our souls and after the US tour in 2015 we would like to promote the new album in other parts of the world this time.”

What are your expectations from your Japan tour? “We hope to have good shows and we would like to play every night at our best.”

What can you tell us about the members of the current line-up of the band? “The members are still 75% of the original line-up of 2009 when we were born. We have only changed our lead guitarist in 2015 to the current one, Mick Violence.” In addition to Mick and Frax, the Venus Mountains line-up is completed by bassist Marco “Sexx Doxx” Dossi and drummer Morris Archetti.

Your style of music is a sort of blues-based hard rock with some great melodic touches. At times you sound a bit like sleaze rock and acts like Mötley Crüe or Skid Row. How do you prefer to describe your music? “Yeah, we like Mötley and Skid too. We opened a gig for Skid Row last month in Italy. Each of us has different musical influences. This is the secret in our sound, a mix of heavy classic, hard rock and blues, a cocktail of one-third Motörhead, one-third Mötley Crüe and one-third AC/DC.”

Your lyrical themes seem to mostly be classic rock song issues such as rock’n’roll, partying and ladies. “Mostly we talk about these things, especially ladies. But sometimes we write about war, protest or about our landing from the planet Venus,” explains Frax with a reference to the band’s official narrative of having being formed on the planet Venus in 2009 before they arrived on Earth.

What musical influences do you have? “A lot of bands: Motörhead, AC/DC, Metallica, Iron Maiden, KISS and many other bands from 1970 to 1990.”

Is there a big difference between Venus Mountains in the studio and when the band performs live on stage? “We try to do our best to have the same style and sound in the studio and also on stage. Of course, live we try to do crazy things, the special ingredient of the Venus live show.”

Your latest album, “Black Snake”, was released earlier this year. How does this differ from your earlier work? How has the band and the production evolved? “The songs are not really different from the previous album. We obviously talk about other things in other ways and we have paid more attention to details. We took a lot of time for this album but we are happy with the final result. We hope that those who listen to it feels the same.”

You’re working with Volcano Records in your native Italy. Are they working for you globally or do you also work with other local and regional labels in other countries to get your music accessible to fans worldwide? “At the moment we are working with Volcano Records and they are helping us a lot both in Italy and in Europe. Now we hope to find our space here in Japan too and we are happy to be able to bring our music here.”

You can catch Venus Mountains live on stage in Japan at these gigs:

  • Tuesday 14th August: Den Atsu, Tokyo
  • Wednesday 15th August: Crescendo, Tokyo
  • Thursday 16th August: Pepperland, Okayama
  • Friday 17th August: Mojo, Kyoto
  • Saturday 18th August: Panhead Groove, Osaka

Interview: Jonas Stålhammar of At The Gates

Jonas Stålhammar of At The Gates in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Legendary Gothenburg Sound death metal band At The Gates has a new guitarist. When the band recently kicked off their world tour in Japan, Roppongi Rocks met with Jonas Stålhammar for a chat about how he joined the band, its musical direction and how he prioritises between the five bands he currently plays with.

The future of melodic death metal band At The Gates, one of the pioneers of the Gothenburg Sound in the early 1990s, was suddenly in doubt as co-founder, songwriter and guitarist Anders Björler left the band last year. Would they call it quits as a band or find a replacement? The choice became easy as the perfect replacement was standing right next to them. Jonas Stålhammar already played with At The Gates’ vocalist Tomas “Tompa” Lindberg and drummer Adrian Erlandsson in another band, The Lurking Fear. Additionally, he currently plays in Bombs of Hades, God Macabre and Crippled Black Phoenix and is a former lead singer for The Crown (a band which also Tompa was a member of at an earlier stage). So, Tompa and Adrian, together with bassist Jonas Björler and rhythm guitarists Martin Larsson, decided to ask Stålhammar to join At The Gates in 2017.

Was it an obvious and immediate yes from you when the question came? “Yes, yes, absolutely! There wasn’t any discussion. It’s four old mates that I have known for 30 years. And to get to play in a band like At The Gates, that is obviously something I want to do,” says Jonas Stålhammar as we sit down at the band’s hotel in Shibuya a few hours before they kick off their new world tour with a terrific gig in Tokyo.

Jonas Stålhammar of At The Gates on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

It is Stålhammar’s second visit to Japan. Last year, God Macabre played for its Japanese fans at Asakusa Deathfest. “Yes, it’s my second visit. Tokyo is a completely fantastic place. You never get tired of it! We were very overwhelmed by how enthusiastic people were to see us. It was really special,” explains Stålhammar his first Japan visit with God Macabre in October 2017.

You were already playing with Tompa and Adrian in The Lurking Fear. Is it different to play with them in At The Gates? “The Lurking Fear started really as an excuse to hang out and create music. Both Adrian and Tompa were a bit restless after the last At The Gates tour. Plus they didn’t know what Anders wanted to do. Thus they wanted to fill the time by playing music. That’s really how The Lurking Fear started. Five friends who wanted to play together. But we’re really serious about The Lurking Fear. Lurking is a new band. Sure, we started a bit higher up than many other new bands, but at the same time, it’s still a new band. I had never played with any of them before.”

A brand new At The Gates album, “To Drink From The Night Itself”, was released in May. It’s the first album without the creative force Anders Björler. Anders’ brother Jonas had to take the helm when the new material was created while Tompa has written the lyrics. “Jonas has always written at least 40% of all songs, together with Anders. Earlier it has mainly been those two who have exchanged ideas with each other. Now Tompa has stepped in, mainly when it comes to the arrangements. That’s where Tompa has done most. Jonas has written the music, but Tompa has had an extremely large part in arranging the music. It’s been the two of them that have exchanged ideas for everything.”

Jonas Stålhammar of At The Gates in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

What has been your contribution to the new album? “In principle, almost the entire album had already been written. It wasn’t like I wasn’t allowed to come with ideas. I chose not to. I felt it was too early. I want to warm up first and play in At The Gates first before I start to come with ideas. That will be for the next album.”

The gig later on that evening is the band’s first on a new world tour. With a brand new album out, it is also the live premiere for new songs. “This gig will be special as we will play another four songs from the new album, earlier we’ve only played one. So, it’s four songs that we have never played live before.”

How do you feel about playing At The Gates classics created by others versus playing the new songs that you’ve helped to create and record? “I love to play the old songs. It’s been a big challenge for me. My style of playing is quite similar to Anders’, especially when it comes to solos. We’ve always thought about this in the same way: more melodic stuff rather than shredding and show-off solos. In that way, it fits in very nicely. But I have never played thrash. I have had to practice that whole thing in order to get the hang of that way of playing music. But I have nothing against it. I like it.”

Jonas Stålhammar of At The Gates on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

On the new album, there are passages in some of the songs on the album, such as parts of “Daggers of Black Haze” and “The Mirror Black”, where we get some different kinds of influences and music mixed in with the normal anger. “Jonas is really into adding a bit more progressive rock, especially in the arrangements. To make it a bit more epic. I am really into it as well.” So, you’re doing an Opeth? “Ha! It won’t be that extreme! It will be a little bit more of that, but there won’t be any 12-minute songs. I very much doubt that. Haha!! We’ll see when the next album’s released.”

“To Drink From The Night Itself” has been produced by Russ Russell (Napalm Death, The Haunted, Dimmu Borgir) and features some gloriously punishing tracks. Did he make it even heavier with his production? “Yes, absolutely. Jonas and Tompa really wanted to work with him. During the ‘At War With Reality’ sessions, the band let a number of people do some test mixes to see which ones they should choose. I think Russ was the second best choice then. It was there and then the idea that we should work with him on the next album came about. Plus that The Haunted did their last album with him. And Tompa has worked with him in Lock Up. He was the sound engineer for Lock Up live.”

As is often the case, the Japanese edition of the new album comes with some fabulous bonus tracks. This time a six-track bonus CD. “Yes. Some of that material is also part of the special box edition, the songs with guest vocalists. That was a really fun idea to give the songs a completely different character. They are three very characteristic voices. All three are very different,” explains Stålhammar the guest appearances of vocalists Rob Miller (Amebix, Tau Cross), Per Boder (God Macabre) and Mikael Nox Pettersson (Craft, Nidhöggr, Omnizide). Another well-known guest on the album is King Diamond guitarist Andy LaRocque who did the guitar solo on “In Nameless Sleep”.

Jonas Stålhammar and Tompa Lindberg of At The Gates on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

He continues: “Japanese record releases have had bonus material as long as I can remember. I am a record collector and thus I have bought a lot of Japan releases over the years. They always do something different with the releases there which make them attractive.”

At The Gates’ members play in many different bands and projects, how do you all prioritise your commitments? “At The Gates comes first, almost automatically. Of my five bands, At The Gates and Crippled Black Phoenix are the bands that tour. The other three bands are The Lurking Fear, Bombs of Hades and God Macabre. God Macabre, for example, we don’t actively seek gigs. We do gigs that are offered. We just do it to have fun and to spend time together. Bombs is also not doing that much due to some members’ personal circumstances. We’ve never been a hard touring band. With Lurking it’s similar with family commitments. Thus you have to see what’s possible to do. With Crippled, there are some direct clashes. There’s one tour and one festival this year where they have to take in someone else because there is a clash. That’s a band that I don’t want to quit playing with and thus we always try to make it work as best possible.”

Jonas Stålhammar of At The Gates on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Sometimes Stålhammar can avoid clashes by pulling double duty with two bands during festivals. “With God Macabre and Bombs I’ve done some festival gigs. This summer both Lurking and At The Gates will do three festivals together.”

New guitarist, new album out and a new world tour that has kicked off. What’s coming up for the band? “We have 14 festivals this summer and then there will be two longer tours outside of Europe this autumn. Then, next year, we will tour Europe and some other stuff. We will do those festivals we’re not doing this year.”

Later that evening in Tokyo Stålhammar is on stage with At The Gates and proves why he is a perfect fit for the band.

Jonas Stålhammar of At The Gates in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Interview: Derrick Green and Eloy Casagrande of Sepultura

Derrick Green and Eloy Casagrande of Sepultura in Tokyo. Photo: Caroline Misokane, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

When Brazilian metal giants Sepultura returned to Japan after a 17-year absence, Roppongi Rocks’ Stefan Nilsson sat down with the band’s Derrick Green and Eloy Casagrande for a great conversation about creativity and quite a few laughs along the way.

Derrick Green of Sepultura in Tokyo. Photo: Caroline Misokane, Roppongi Rocks

Sepultura, formed in Brazil in 1984, debuted in 1986 with the full-length album “Morbid Visions”. Sepultura’s current lineup – American vocalist Derrick Green, guitarist  Andreas Kisser, bassist Paulo Jr. and drummer Eloy Casagrande – released the band’s latest album “Machine Messiah” in 2017 on Nuclear Blast internationally and Ward Records in Japan.

Welcome to Japan. It’s been a long time since Sepultura played here in Japan. “It feels great to be back,” says vocalist Derrick Green. “It’s been 17 years since we’ve been here. Way too long! We’re looking forward to the show. Actually, we have a lot of material we want to play. We’re touring on the album ‘Machine Messiah’. Fantastic album! We wanna see everyone there. We’re gonna be playing classic songs as well, so definitely something not to be missed.” Drummer Eloy Casagrande continues: “Oh, yeah. Exactly! It’s my first time here playing with Sepultura and I can’t wait to feel all the energy from the Japanese fans. I’ve heard it is amazing so I can’t wait for that.”

Derrick Green, Stefan Nilsson and Eloy Casagrande in Tokyo. Photo: Caroline Misokane, Roppongi Rocks

You have both helped to create great new music with the band. But when it comes to old songs that were written prior to you joining the band, do you try to make them your own when it comes to drumming and singing or just stay true to the originals? “I think it is a little bit of both,” says Derrick. “For us, we grew up listening to it, being fans of the band. So, there are elements that we wanna hear in those songs that I think a lot of fans want to hear. At the same time, it’s impossible not to make it your own, because you’re putting your stamp on it, your energy. You’re touring the world doing those songs. And you truly believe in those songs, because, as a fan, you believe in those songs. But being in the band, it’s even something more. It really is! You get down to having your own impact on it and how it comes off. It’s a big responsibility and a lot of fun, I have to say. It’s great because it never really gets old. Even doing those old songs over and over and over again. It’s always different though. Each crowd is different. Each scenario is different. Everything is a little bit different, so you’re going after that energy that made you fall in love with music each time you’re on stage.”

Eloy Casagrande of Sepultura in Tokyo. Photo: Caroline Misokane, Roppongi Rocks

“I have the same impression,” adds Eloy. “I hear from a lot of friends that are musicians that play metal music – they say they want to play the same thing every night. They want it to be perfect every night. I don’t agree with that. Every day you are a different person, you are a different musician, so you have to play it differently in my opinion. If I play every show the same, it gets boring. You need to do it differently. You are always involved with the music.”

Derrick – you are an American who moved to Brazil in the 90s to join Sepultura. New country, new language, joining an already established band. Was it a tough task? “It was mind-blowing! I didn’t know what to expect, but at the same time, I’ve been playing in bands and doing music and wanted and desired to play in a band that’s together, that has an opportunity to play in front of a lot of people and to communicate. So, I didn’t want to let that go. OK! This is the time! So, I have to really step up and really happy that the band were open enough to give me the ability to do what I want and also give positive feedback, to grow with them. Because I knew it would take some time for a lot of fans to be accepting of everything. But also for us as a group to get to know each other as bandmates and friends. They had that development for so many years before. I wasn’t expecting it to happen overnight, I wasn’t naïve to that fact. But I was willing to do that process because my whole life up until then has been kind of working for something like that, but I didn’t know it would be Sepultura.”

Legend has it you had some stiff competition for the frontman position in Sepultura from people like Chuck Billy of Testament. “I think that was one thing that really stuck out. I wasn’t trying to do what the last singer had done. I was really doing my own thing. I think I even had some almost-singing parts on the demo that I sent to them. That was something that they felt they could evolve with so they could be different. One person at the label thought I would be a great match for them because I wasn’t trying to imitate somebody that was there before, which would never work. You can’t do that. Fans would know and I would feel that too. It would just be false and fake.”

Derrick Green of Sepultura in Tokyo. Photo: Caroline Misokane, Roppongi Rocks

Eloy – you were only 20 when you joined the band in 2011. Was it tough to join a legendary band at such a young age? “Yeah. In the beginning, it was very difficult. I had a lot of pressure on my back! To replace those guys – Igor Cavalera and Jean Dolabella, they are incredible musicians, incredible drummers. I was a big fan of Sepultura before I joined the band. It’s impossible to play metal and especially to live in Brazil and not be a fan of Sepultura! So, I was a huge fan of them and when I was invited to the audition, I was totally in shock! To be in the band, it felt amazing and feels amazing until today. This style of music is what I like to play. In the beginning, it was really difficult with the fans, those more ‘true’ fans. Through the years, with the shows and the new albums, I think that I now have 100% respect and support from the fans. That’s really good to have. I also put myself in the position of the guys. They put trust in – almost – a kid. I was like: ‘Hey, guys! Are you sure what you’re doing?’ It’s a normal concern. You always have a little self-doubt.”

How would you describe Sepultura’s current sound? It has evolved and includes so many different influences. You are often touring with thrash metal bands, but I’d say that you are much more than just thrash metal. “I think you’re right,” says Derrick. “It’s hard to really put a label on it. I definitely would like to push forward toward other types of bands…” Eloy suddenly shouts “Country music!” before a laughing Derrick continues: “Something we’ve never done before. Something that is really open as I think that we are. I definitely don’t see us as only a thrash metal band. But I think that’s the beauty of it. I’m glad that we’ve had that ability to branch out and to not be stuck in one mould, which would be horrible! I don’t like when bands get stuck in that mould. Some bands like to be in that, you know, kind of define themselves through that.”

Eloy Casagrande of Sepultura in Tokyo. Photo: Caroline Misokane, Roppongi Rocks

Do you feel any restrictions when you write new music? That you have to fit in with what’s expected of Sepultura? “No. I don’t think so at all,” says Derrick. “Especially with this last album. For example, the first song being ‘Machine Messiah’, being a song that has singing on it. We’ve never done that before. To put that out there, I don’t think we had any idea of the reaction. But you know what? This is how we feel. This is how we’re gonna do it. I think that people have to respect that and they do. You can’t go on in fear. It’s something that we love to do, so why be fearful of trying new things? Of course, it can go back in your face, but still, it’s a fight, I think, to do this style of music. It’s something you have to stand up for and really stand behind or not do it at all.” Eloy continues “Yeah, it’s hard. You have to do what your feeling at the time when you’re doing it. Many bands are always searching for what they were in the past or what they wanna be. We’re just living. We just do what we wanna do. If people are gonna like it or not, that’s not our problem.”

Let’s talk about your creative process. How does the band write music? Together or separately? “I think a lot of things come from Andreas and Eloy at first,“ says Derrick. “Andreas has riffs and Eloy has beats that he’s doing at home and then coming to the studio and going over those ideas. Me sitting there and hearing it, thinking of vocal melody. Sometimes Andreas will send me stuff. Really, throwing things out in the studio. They’re playing something and I start screaming, there’s no lyrics or anything, but trying to think of patterns. Actually, a lot of great things come from that, because it’s just a moment. It’s like: ‘Wow! What was that?’ or it is like ‘Oh, that was horrible!’ Haha!! We can go both ways, but there are so many good things coming out of that. It’s really putting yourself out there, which is hard for a lot of people to do. They have to understand that it really is opening up, being vulnerable. I think it’s a great process that really works well. I think it is growing with us. I wanna go with vocal ideas and just come up with that without hearing any drums or guitar. Or vice versa. It’s really great to switch off but this last album and the album before was primarily starting with beats with Eloy and Andreas’ riffs, then putting it together and then me coming on top of that. And then Paulo coming into the mix and it’s slowly building songs. A lot of it has to do with communicating about what the topic of what’s gonna be written about. That adds to the feel of it too. This is ridiculous what’s going on in Brazil right now when we were writing. The politics and the split between different people. How it’s hard to talk to people. Having that energy and expressing that in the music. Little elements of that too that is added to the creating of a song.”

Derrick Green and Eloy Casagrande of Sepultura in Tokyo. Photo: Caroline Misokane, Roppongi Rocks

In Sepultura’s lyrics one can find some big topics and issues. Existential issues. Do you always think about writing about important themes or is it less planned and just happens? “A lot of it is from reading a lot of different books or seeing certain documentaries or movies and discussing it,” explains Derrick. “Communicating with Andreas, I think the whole concept of ‘Machine Messiah’ came about. We were talking about technology and he was like: ‘Technology is evil, it’s separating us, and robots’. I was like ‘Ah!’ Trust me, you don’t want to be living in the Stone Age.’ There’s a lot of technological advances that’s helped humanity. With technology, humanity can be even better. At the same time, humanity has to look within itself before reaching out into other fields. There’s a lot of repair that needs to be done within ourselves. Certain things came about, like ‘I am the Enemy’. Usually, we are the worst enemy of ourselves and it’s hard to admit that. It’s hard to look at yourself and go: ‘I’m the one that’s fucking shit up!’ Even though there’s always people pointing fingers. But it all starts with: Wait a minute! Let me look at myself first and see what am I doing? That’s like an idea of a song coming about  Trying to find that balance between technology and humanity, is really where it’s at. Hopefully we can get there. A lot of times it is manipulated by military means. You have this great technology and smart minds creating things that kill each other or the planet. I think we can put that energy in another way. Technology can be great: feeding the planet, feeding people, fresh water. There is a balance.”

Your latest album “Machine Messiah” is one of the band’s best ever. It was recorded and produced by Jens Bogren (Opeth, At The Gates, Dimmu Borgir, Soilwork, Kreator, Paradise Lost, Amon Amarth) in Sweden  How big of an impact did he have on the outcome? “Pretty big impact!” says Derrick. “I think it was a mixture of both. We were at a stage where we gave him the demos and a lot of it had already been written before he got hold of it. But his influence was really crucial. He just wasn’t giving us like fillers or things. It was things that really brought the songs to a higher level. He really listened to it, he really felt that this is going to work for the song, completely confident and we believed him. ‘OK, let’s go with it because he knows what he’s talking about.’ He’s a very technical person, I liked this about his past production. Very clean. The sound is so heavy and clear. I felt this would be a change from the last album that we did. I was speaking with Eloy and I was: ‘Man! These producers from Sweden are just so awesome!’ The sound that they are coming out with is so fresh and new. We really should go in that direction on this new album. All that raw energy we had on the last album and creating that into a different sound with somebody on the other side of the world and different views…”

The album was recorded in Sweden. “Yes, it was, in Örebro and Stockholm,” says Derrick. Eloy continues: “He’s a really nice guy. He’s a perfectionist. Everything, each note. Something I really liked as well, he let us do what we want to do. He was never going to change the musicians that we are. Some producers really try to… ‘Oh, I don’t like the feel, I don’t like the way you’re singing that!’ No, he was always trying to achieve the perfection but in your way, the way you are as a musician. I didn’t change any drum parts, which is something I thought was really cool.” Derrick adds: “The input that he gave me was really crucial  As a native English speaker, his pronunciation of certain words and things like that was fascinating. ‘Push this through. It should maybe be said in this way’. It was great to get really deep with him because he was 100% there all the time. And at a time when he wasn’t, it was: ‘Family time. Shutting down shop. I gotta go home!’ Then he would come back and it’s work time in the morning, which we didn’t like. ‘We were like: ‘What? We’re starting at nine in the morning?’ It was a great recording experience.”

Derrick Green of Sepultura in Tokyo. Photo: Caroline Misokane, Roppongi Rocks

It seems that songs from the new album dominate the set list on this tour. Is it hard to find a balance between the new exciting material and the old classics? “It seems to have worked out pretty well,” says Derrick. “A lot of people love hearing the new stuff. It’s like a new exciting Sepultura set, instead of “Ah, I kinda knew what they’re gonna play’. I think it’s challenging for us to always play new songs. It’s really difficult at first because we’re putting so much in the studio, we have that moment where we: ‘Oh, holy shit! We did it. It’s done!’ OK, we gotta see how this is going to work in the set list. But it’s been working brilliantly. I think it has these moods in the set. It’s great to play that many songs.”

On the album, you have a cover of a famous Japanese anime song, “Ultra Seven no Uta”, as a bonus track. What’s the story behind you recording that cover? “I think it came from the past we had growing up with that,” says Derrick. “I know in Brazil it was very big. And in the US it was kind of big as well. It was something that we wanted to really experiment with. It was definitely a challenge. I never sang in Japanese before in my life. But we had somebody that was going to the university there, in the city of Örebro. He’s from Japan and we had him come to the studio, Jens arranged this so we could go through all lyrics and everything. It became the most frustrating song by far. I was like: ‘Nah, this is gonna be easy to do!’ Oh my God! But it was a cool challenge and it was something that we wanted to put on. We always do like a cover and we like to do covers that are really interesting, that people can never guess.”

You now have a 14-album back catalogue. Do you ever feel that there is no point in releasing new albums and to just tour the back catalogue as some bands do nowadays when it is tough selling records? “It’s a lot of fun to write new music,” states Derrick. “There’s always ideas that are coming in our heads. Until that stops, we’ll continue creating music. We are artists and I think it’s important as an artist that we continuously create new work. That’s the whole point of even being a musician! When it’s done, it’s done, kind of. Let’s move on. It’s how you learn. As long as it’s fun and we are really into it and there are things coming.”

This summer, Sepultura will play some summer festivals in Europe, then there will probably be more touring in South America. The touring cycle will wind down at the end of this year before work on a new album is likely to start. Sepultura’s current record label is Nuclear Blast and they hope to stay there. “It’s been great working with them,” says Derrick. “I think it is perfect for us there. They really believe in us. It’s been a while since we had a steady label that’s been backing us 100%. We definitely have that feeling with them.”

Derrick Green and Eloy Casagrande of Sepultura in Tokyo. Photo: Caroline Misokane, Roppongi Rocks

Interview: Jake E of Cyhra | “We’ll enter the studio at the end of the summer”

Jake E in Tokyo in 2014. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Jake E and Cyhra, the band he formed with former In Flames guitarist Jesper Strömblad, kicked off their summer festival season in Europe yesterday. Roppongi Rocks checked in with the former Amaranthe frontman to talk about the work on Cyhra’s next album.

Following the release of your terrific debut album “Letters to Myself” last year, you are now writing new material. Are you already working on a new album? “Thank you for those fantastic words. We’re working on new songs and will enter the studio at the end of the summer. But it probably won’t be released until spring 2019. Nowadays the lead times in this industry are long and you have to plan a year ahead.”

Since you released the album last October, you’ve gained a new member (guitarist Euge Valovirta) and lost one (bassist Peter Iwers). What impact on the band and the songwriting have these changes had? “Euge played on the debut album but it was originally not planned that he was going to be a permanent member. But since he is a fantastic guitarist and also a fantastic human being it was a no-brainer to include him as a permanent member. It is a pity that we lost Peter. He too is a great human being and the best bassist I’ve ever played with. However, time didn’t allow Peter to be 100% involved with Cyhra and thus he chose to step down. There’s absolutely no bad blood between us. We’re still great friends. It is I and Jesper who are the musical motor of the band, although Euge has contributed with many great ideas. It will be interesting to see where this leads. The new songs are a natural continuation of ‘Letters’. It is incredibly creative and fun to write album number two now that we know a bit more about how the fans react to our music when we play live. Cyhra is a fantastic live act and I feel that the new material is, even more, audience friendly”.

Jake E on stage in Tokyo with Amaranthe in 2015. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Are you planning to replace Peter Iwers in the band? “We will continue without a bassist for now. What we’ll do in the long term, we’ll see.”

Your drummer Alex Landenburg is currently drumming with Kamelot where he had to fill in on very short notice. Has Cyhra been forced to make any changes to accommodate Alex doing the Kamelot tour? “It proves what a great drummer he is. He had 48 hours to fly to the US to do a month-long tour. We didn’t want to stand in his way, so we flew in Adde Larsson who filled-in for a gig.” (Editor’s note: Adde Larsson is a Gothenburg-based session drummer who has played with bands such as Engel, M.A.N, Black Candy Store and Urbandux.)

Jake E on stage with Amaranthe in Tokyo in 2016. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

You opened for Kreator and Sabaton on their North American tour. Do you have any plans for more tours or will it be more one-off gigs here and there? “We would like to tour all the time. Right now we’re fighting against the fact that we are a new band and thus it’s a lot of work to get to do the tours. But Sabaton took us with them and for that, we are eternally grateful. It was really fantastic. Yesterday we played at Metalfest in the Czech Republic. It was wonderful to play in front of 12,000 persons again. Then I really felt that we are here to stay!”

For readers in Europe, Cyhra will next be on stage at the mighty Sweden Rock Festival on Wednesday 6th June.

Elize Ryd on the new Amaranthe album: “We’re heavier!”

Elize Ryd backstage in Tokyo in March 2017. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Swedish modern melodic metal band Amaranthe is working on its fifth studio album which will also be the first with new vocalist Nils Molin of Dynazty fame. Roppongi Rocks checked in with Elize Ryd, one of Amaranthe’s three vocalists, for a quick update on the new album.

You have just finished the recordings for the new album in Ribe, Denmark. Are you happy with what you’ve accomplished in the studio this time? “Yes. After two months of writing and two months of recording in Ribe with Jacob Hansen, we’re finally finished. It’s a record for us to write and record an album in four months. That says a lot. We had a lot of ideas and melodies that needed to get out. The completed master will be sent out across the world, including Japan, on Monday. Now the work continues with design, layout, translations of the lyrics and so forth.”

Elize Ryd and Roppongi Rocks’ Stefan Nilsson in Roppongi, Tokyo in 2016. Photo: Selfie by Elize Ryd

How would you describe the new album musically compared to your earlier albums? “Musically we’re heavier! For the sake of our Japanese fans, we have written the fastest song in Amaranthe history, tempo-wise. We have managed to make most of the songs contemporary sounding, which I think is what should be the biggest difference between the albums. You should be able to hear what year an album was written when you listen to it in the future. I think people will be somewhat shocked by the sound we’ve created this time, in a positive way!”

This is the first album with your new vocalist Nils Molin. How has he impacted the new album? “In the beginning, I was reacting to the ‘new’ voice and it felt a bit unusual. But when I listen to it now, his voice feels like a given in this context. We are very satisfied with Nils. He’s done an amazing job. It’s going to be extremely fun to be able to present him to the fans, not only live but also on record.”

Elize Ryd of Amaranthe on stage in Tokyo in 2015. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

On the last album, you had the track “That Song” which stood out and got people talking. Have you got any similar surprises on the new album? “That was the favourite song for the record label and also for many fans. I assume it was special enough that it was impossible for it to not get noticed. Regardless if you choose to worry too much about genres or the fact that my voice is quite similar to Rihanna’s at times, it was a well-written and great song that served its purpose. It needed to get out there. We wanted to show people that we are not ashamed over anything. Obviously there are serious thoughts behind every song that we write. I don’t get shocked by anything anymore. Thus I, unfortunately, have to reply ‘no’ to this question. Haha!! It feels a bit boring, but I can really say that we feel that this is musically our strongest album so far. The songs show a really serious side to the band, but also a friendly and humorous side. We’re using certain words we haven’t used before that may start a debate. We’ll see.”

When will the album be released? “I don’t know if it’s official yet, but it will be released this year, which we’re very happy about. Perhaps around my birthday as usual?”

Elize Ryd of Amaranthe on stage in Tokyo in 2015. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Interview | Schmier of thrash metal veterans Destruction | “We’re not ready to start a blues band yet!”

Schmier of Destruction backstage in Tokyo. Photo: Caroline Misokane, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

When German thrash metal band Destruction returned to Japan to kick off their Asian and Australian tour with a show in Tokyo, Roppongi Rocks’ Stefan Nilsson met with vocalist and bassist Schmier backstage before the gig.

Mike Sifringer (guitar) and Schmier (vocals and bass), who co-founded thrash metal band Destruction in Germany in 1982, recently lost their drummer Vaaver. Thus they turned up with hard-hitting German-based Canadian drummer Randy Black (ex-W.A.S.P., Annihilator, Primal Fear) as a fill-in drummer for this tour. Not a bad substitute.

Roppongi Rocks’ Stefan Nilsson and Schmier of Destruction backstage in Tokyo. Photo: Caroline Misokane, Roppongi Rocks

A day before the Tokyo gig, Destruction did a very exclusive fan event where they performed a full rehearsal show in a studio in Tokyo in front of a small group of dedicated fans who also got to hang out with their favourite band. A meet and greet deluxe! “The VIP thing is something that all promoters do nowadays,” says Schmier as we sit down in a basement backstage in Meguro in central Tokyo shortly before the band is due on stage in front of a sold-out venue. “I understand. It’s good for them to make a little extra money. They have a lot of risk with the shows. But for us and also for the fans sometimes, it is not very satisfying. I think the meet and greet we did yesterday was like a two-hour exclusive with the band in a small room. The fans could express their song wishes and could hear us fuck up and make funny jokes. We did like a meet and greet afterwards with autographs and taking pictures with my bass. It was very intimate. It was also for us quite fun because Japanese people are very well educated so they don’t behave like too crazy… It was very smooth and interesting for us. It’s more difficult to play in front of 20 people than in front of 2,000. Because people are so close to you and they stare at you. It’s a funny experience. We never did this before but I would do this again, any time. It was good value for money for the kids. Basically you get a full set of concert and some extra in a very private atmosphere. And the studios here in Japan are very good, so the sound is amazing in there.”

Schmier of Destruction backstage in Tokyo. Photo: Caroline Misokane, Roppongi Rocks

Destruction’s latest album release was 2017’s “Thrash Anthems II”, a collection of re-recordings of some of the band’s classic songs. “Since the reunion, we always include one bonus track, like an old song that we have re-recorded. Since that time, people have started to ask for more songs like this. Then we did the ‘Thrash Anthems I’. For us as a band, it’s great because we can play the songs the way they are meant to be. Some of the old songs were recorded when we were 17 and young, and don’t sound so well, not so tight. Of course, they have the special spirit of the 80s, but as a band nowadays, of course, we can play those songs much better. We try to catch the original spirit and put the songs into the new century. A lot of the young fans actually like it a lot. Because with the old albums, they cannot relate to them so much sometimes, because you’ve had to have lived in the 80s to understand how it was back in the day. Everybody doesn’t like re-recordings, but we do what we want and it’s our songs. We can do whatever we want. Those people who don’t like it don’t have to buy the album! But in general, we have had a lot of good reactions to ‘Thrash Anthems II’ as well.”

With such a vast back catalogue, putting together set lists that will please everyone can’t be easy. “Of course, the classics have to be there. There are a certain number of songs that we cannot change because it’s what people want. When we kick out a song, we will see on the internet, two days later, people complain. When we play a show and we see that songs get great reactions, we keep them in. When we bring in new or old songs again that don’t have so much reaction, we take them out again. Over the years we’ve had a huge selection of songs that we could play. Sometimes we were asking people ‘What do you want to hear?’ Then we just rotated it. It’s something we can’t do now because of Randy. This is his first show, he had to learn 18 songs or so. That’s a lot of work. We will keep the set list a little bit open. This set now focuses a little bit on ‘Thrash Anthems’ and the classics of course. We always try to find the right mix of old and new. When I go and see the bands I like and they don’t play the classics, I am very sad. I saw Accept and they’re not playing ‘Fast as a Shark’. My life’s ruined! It was a fantastic show but they didn’t play ‘Fast as a Shark’! So, I know how the fans feel.”

Schmier of Destruction backstage in Tokyo. Photo: Caroline Misokane, Roppongi Rocks

Randy Black, not only a fabulous drummer but also a very nice guy, is much more than just a normal fill-in drummer. How did he end up touring with Destruction? “A few years ago, we did this American tour with Sepultura and Randy filled in for Vaaver because he had a baby break. His wife was pregnant and then he wanted to be there for the birth. So, when we came to this moment now that we have to see how we go on with a new drummer, we called Randy and said: ‘Are you free? Are you interested?’ We knew he could play the songs alright and we know the guy since many years. He’s a very professional drummer. We said: ‘Let’s do this together!’ and he’s going to help us out for the summer with the festivals, also Sweden Rock, and maybe also do the September shows in Greece and Eastern Europe, and Latin America. Until then we should know what’s going on. We will also audition two or three more guys that we have in our mind that could fit well. It’s not so easy. We need a guy that’s experienced. There are some great young drummers, but young drummers are too flaky. We need somebody stable. I hate to change drummers every five years or ten. Vaaver was in the band for eight years, but he has chosen to go with his family, which I totally understand. Randy is a great gut. Who knows? Maybe he is going to stay with us. We will see.”

When you write new music for Destruction, do you feel any restrictions? Do you feel that it has to fit in with what’s expected of the band? “When Mike and me put it together it sounds like Destruction anyway. And we’re not ready to start a blues band yet. I think that the definition of Destruction was always crazy riffs with speed and a little punk attitude. I think it just naturally comes out of us when we start writing. Of course, stuff changes a little bit over the years, but basically, we still write songs the same way. We just had a little fine tuning of the way we write and record nowadays. We still record very spontaneously. When we have new songs and ideas, we record them right away. I think we ignore what’s going on in the music world and just do what we like best. I have my other project, Panzer, where I do more heavy metal stuff so I can live in that world too. So, I don’t have to mess it up with Destruction.”

Destruction was formed as a trio, then had two guitarists for a while, before reforming as a trio again when Schmier came back into the band. Did the band ever have any thoughts on adding a second guitarist again? “A second guitarist is like a relationship with two women, you know? It’s quite fun for a little while, but then you start to have problems because everybody wants to write, everybody wants to put stuff in. And for Destruction, it was the end, basically, because I got kicked out of the band. So, two guitarists is something we thought about, should we have a second guitar player, because it is kind of interesting of course to have a second guitar. But on the other side, I have a lot of bad memories about the split of the band back in the day. Also, being a trio is kind of unique nowadays. It doesn’t happen that often anymore that you’re seeing a power trio playing this kind of music. We grew up with Motörhead and Venom and Triumph and Rush and all those bands being a three-piece. When you see us live, I don’t think you’ll really miss a second guitar.”

Schmier of Destruction backstage in Tokyo. Photo: Caroline Misokane, Roppongi Rocks

What drives you now, after all these years, to keep creating and performing music and to continue touring? “I’ve always loved being on the road. I’m in Japan now. I would never have come to Japan otherwise if it hadn’t been my job. I enjoy going to Singapore and Thailand and seeing those countries. Not everybody likes it, that’s why people stop playing music. I’m lucky that I have a tolerant girlfriend and I enjoy this. I really like going on tour. We don’t do so long tours, we do maximum four-five weeks and then we go home to be normal again and get energy. But we love to be on the road. Writing new music is, of course, a very creative process and, I am not a father, but it must be like having a child. A new album is something you work on hard, put a bit of love into it and in the end, it comes out and you’re excited and you’re proud. The whole process of writing an album gives you so much joy also. It’s why I still love this.”

Now you’re touring Asia and Australia, then you have some European touring. What’s coming up after that? Are there plans for a new album? “Yeah, we will start writing after the summer. Then decide, whenever we have the drummer, when to do the album. We talked to the label already that it’s possible to maybe release in the beginning of 2019. That should be possible. We can’t guarantee it right now because the drummer issue has not been solved. But I’m not worried about finding a drummer. There’s a lot of great drummers out there and now we have Randy also. I could totally imagine us playing the album with him. He’s a very tight drummer. It’s also a nice next level for us.”

The band is currently signed with German independent label Nuclear Blast and they are happy there. “I think we signed for life! At least the boss said that once when he was drunk. Haha!!! They’re the best. We’ve been on many different labels before. We left Nuclear Blast actually for several years when Nightwish and all those bands were getting so big on the label that I was like: ‘Oh my God, there’s too much!’ They are selling a couple of hundred thousand albums and you’re a little thrash band. It’s hard to get recognition. But on the outside it’s… I’m glad I came back. We came back after six years and they were like: “Ah, you wanna come back to us?’ Please take us back! They are the best people, also on a human level. They’re really great people and they are dedicated. The boss is a little crazy but he’s not a typical record-label asshole boss. He cares about the bands too and that’s fantastic! It’s a great having a boss like this and I hope he’s not gonna sell the label like everybody else did with Roadrunner and Century Media. They all sold the label to the industry and then the whole charm was gone. Hopefully that is not gonna happen to Nuclear Blast.”

Shortly after our chat, Schmier, Mike and Randy walk on stage and deliver one of the best gigs of the year in Tokyo. Proper German thrash metal delivered by a veteran band that still got it. What a show in front of a sweaty Tokyo crowd loving it. Thrash attack indeed!

Schmier of Destruction backstage in Tokyo. Photo: Caroline Misokane, Roppongi Rocks