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

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

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Interview: Elize Ryd of Amaranthe

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

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Interview: Uriah Heep | “It’s all about the songs”

Phil Lanzon and Davey Rimmer of Uriah Heep backstage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

During classic British rockers Uriah Heep’s recent Japan tour, Roppongi Rocks’ Stefan Nilsson had a chat with band members Phil Lanzon and Davey Rimmer backstage at Billboard Live in Roppongi, Tokyo.

50 years after its foundation in England in 1969, British rock band Uriah Heep is at the top of its game: still very actively touring the world and with a splendid new album, “Living the Dream”, released in 2018. The terrific current line-up of the band consists of founding guitarist Mick Box, vocalist Bernie Shaw, keyboardist Phil Lanzon, drummer Russell Gilbrook and bassist Davey Rimmer.

Heep’s return to Japan took the form of six special gigs at the two Billboard Live venues in Osaka and Tokyo, with the band performing sets at around 70 minutes each and doing two shows per night in front of a seated audience. “That’s the problem with Heep. It’s like 25 albums, so many songs, so many good songs and trying to keep everyone happy is always a nightmare. We try, but we would have to play for like four hours to keep everyone happy. 25 studio albums and 50 years of rock music, all the different eras of Heep,“ says bassist Davey Rimmer as we sit down backstage between two of the band’s sets at Billboard Live in Roppongi, Tokyo.

Davey Rimmer of Uriah Heep backstage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Rimmer is the newest member of Heep. “Yeah, it’s about six years now. I auditioned for Heep. At the time, Trevor Bolder, the amazing Trevor Bolder – The Spiders from Mars and Uriah Heep – amazing bass player, at the time he wasn’t too well. We found out that he sadly had cancer. As he went for treatment, Heep they just wanted a stand-in, because they had lots of gigs. Initially, I came in as a fill-in. As the months went by, very sadly Trevor passed away. For me, I just wanted to meet him, because I was hoping I would play with the band and then I get to have a jam with him. He’s an amazing player. I met his family, but sadly I never got to actually meet Trevor. That’s the thing with Heep, there are so many great bass players they’ve had. I always try to do justice to the… I don’t want to change them classic lines. I always try to keep close to what they played. It’s an honour for me to play in Trevor’s legacy of great bass playing, great songs. He was a great songwriter. He had everything. He was a great singer. The new album is called ‘Living the Dream’ and, for me, I am! Because I used to play all them songs in bars and my bedroom. I was a big rock fan when I was a kid!” says Rimmer with a big smile, clearly very happy to be a member of the veteran rock band he listened to when he grew up.

Phil Lanzon of Uriah Heep backstage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Keyboardist Phil Lanzon, who has been in the band since 1986, notes the difference between this Japan tour – with relatively short sets at around 70 minutes with a seated audience eating dinner – and the shows the band normally does. “It’s a very, very big difference. It’s very alien to us. We’re playing normally to standing audiences and festivals so you could imagine that there’s a complete contrast. But it’s really good because it’s something different. I really enjoy it and it’s fun!”

With a terrific new album out, do you ever feel like – sod all the old stuff, let’s just play the great new material? “The band is so established and playing the old classic Heep songs… Every time you play that song, somebody different in the audience, it’s a new face hearing that song and their communication to us, that is immediate. That’s the buzz! You play those old songs and you enjoy playing them because the feedback is incredible. That’s the reason for it. So, you can’t dismiss those songs, because everything would fall apart. You have to have a combination,” explains Lanzon and adds: “We did well to get three or four in there” as a reference to the ten-song setlist for the gig they had just finished which featured four new tracks.

Uriah Heep founder Mick Box and Roppongi Rocks’ Stefan Nilsson backstage in Tokyo.

Rimmer continues: “We do try to mix it up, because I know it’s such a catalogue of songs. 25 albums, 50 years. We do try to keep everyone happy. It’s difficult. We’d be playing for four hours to keep everyone happy. But we do wanna play the classic stuff and we wanna play new stuff as well. We try to play it with enthusiasm and power and energy because that’s what we want off the crowd.” Uriah Heep now has a great and what seems like a stable line-up. In Heep’s early years there was turmoil with changing line-ups. “There was turmoil before, yeah,” says Lanzon and continues: “I think so. This is what we enjoy doing. You have to remember this is what we love doing and when you see those faces, that’s it!”

The band will mark reaching the 50-year mark since the band formed in England in 1969. One special show in Europe with three former band members joining the current line-up has already been announced and there will be more good stuff for the fans. Lanzon explains: “It’s an event we’re doing in the latter half of this year, with other members of the band. It’s a special one-off event. We’re planning on various touring in 2020 for the big 50 years launch if you like. There will be festivals, there will be tours, all celebrating the 50 years throughout next year. It hasn’t been planned yet, but we’re working on it.” And perhaps a 19th live album? “Maybe!” says Lanzon. Rimmer adds: “We did ‘Live at Koko’, about five years ago. So, we’re probably due for a new one!”

The band’s great recent material works very well live. “It does,” agrees Lanzon. “It does, because, we kind of look at… When we are writing new albums, we tend to look at what’s gone before as a blueprint for the next album. Not to copy, but to have the same energy, the same melodic kind of structure, lyrical structure and to make sure we can see it fit in with the old songs. It’s not like we’re deliberately making it like the old songs, we have that in mind. So, when you’re building something like that, and the song is working as a song, separate, then you know it’s going to work.”

I would describe the classic Heep sound as classic hard rock with a lot of keyboards and vocal harmonies. “That’s basically it, really, It is energy and power from all of the above, mixed together and that’s what you get! Haha!” says Lanzon and continues: “You have to look back to the past, even the late 60s into the early 70s, when all prog music was being born from all the influences that were happening in music. A feeling grew out of that into the rock that we have today. The roots are actually there of the music that various bands like ourselves are fitted into. That’s the genre that we seem to have been drawn to and that’s the way we have gone down.” Rimmer adds: “The massive Hammond, guitar, bass and drums and then you’ve got this powerful melody on top. At the end of the day, it’s all about the songs. The emotion of the lyrics and the song. For me, that’s what Heep is. You’ve got that powerful sound, but it’s all about the songs!” Lanzon continues: “I think you can almost pinpoint an era, again in the late 60s, which was Vanilla Fudge, who had that different power. It was the organ, the guitar and the vocals like you say. It was just like: Ah, I like the sound of that!”

Uriah Heep may have been going for 50 years, but it doesn’t seem they are about to retire anytime soon.

Phil Lanzon and Davey Rimmer of Uriah Heep backstage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

www.facebook.com/uriahheepofficial

www.uriah-heep.com

Interview: Marco Mendoza | Returning to Tokyo with “Viva La Rock” shows in May

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

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Former Whitesnake and Thin Lizzy bassist Marco Mendoza is rather busy with The Dead Daisies. But he still makes time for his exciting solo project, “Viva La Rock”, which he will bring to Japan in May.

Having been a wingman to David Coverdale, Scott Gorham, John Sykes and Ted Nugent, in his “Viva La Rock” solo project, bassist Marco Mendoza takes centre stage. When he recently was here in Tokyo for a performance with Nozomu Wakai’s Destinia, Roppongi Rocks had a cappuccino with him in Shinjuku to talk about his solo project which will tour Japan in May. We’re meeting a day after Marco’s “Metal Souls Live” performance with Nozomu Wakai’s Destinia, which also featured Ronnie Romero (Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow) and Tommy Aldridge (Whitesnake, Ozzy Osbourne, Thin Lizzy, Gary Moore, Ted Nugent). “We had a blast and I think the audience loved it, man! They really dug it. They sang all the songs!” It is obvious that Marco enjoys playing with the up-and-coming Japanese guitarist Nozomu Wakai. “He’s hungry and he’s very talented. I’m always into tapping into that energy. Being a little older myself…”

Marco Mendoza made a name for himself as a reliable bassist for Thin Lizzy, Whitesnake, Blue Murder and Ted Nugent. In recent years, The Dead Daisies has been his main gig, but he still has time for side projects. He has been performing in Japan with many bands and artists over the years. In May he will return as a solo artist and do two special club gigs in Tokyo.

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

When Marco performs with “Viva La Rock”, he does it with a powerful trio. The importance to Marco of establishing chemistry between the musicians is very clear and this is true both on stage and in the studio. “There’s chemistry and magic that happens when we play together. This is a part of the business I am not too keen on, the digital thing. Where’s the human factor?” asks Marco Mendoza about the current practice of musicians recording their parts of a song in their home studios rather than get together to create music together. “I was talking to Soren Andersen, who produced. I said, ‘Bro! If I do my next album, I gotta get in the studio with the cats and play.’” Marco also rejects the idea of recording at home. “The attempt at having a studio at home… I did it a couple of times and it just doesn’t work. Because when I get home, I want to be with my wife and my kids. Be a dad, be a husband. To try and work, when my kids were younger, you can’t. When I do work at home, I wait until everybody crashes.”

“When I’m with the bigger projects, if I have a little bit of time, I always keep myself busy, which is where my solo project comes from and other things. I am working with Neal Schon. Neal Schon and Gregg Rolie and Deen Castronovo in the Journey Through Time project. I’m really busy with The Daisies. That’s my first priority and there’s some cool stuff happening there. Very, very cool stuff. Between The Daisies, Neal Schon and my solo project ‘Viva La Rock’, I’m pretty busy.”

Marco Mendoza and Roppongi Rocks’ Stefan Nilsson in Tokyo.

The Dead Daisies have been very active but the band is now on a short breather. “We’ve been touring constantly for the past four-five years. Four albums, one EP, a lot of tours with KISS, Aerosmith, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Bad Company, to name a few. A lot of arena tours, festivals. We just did some things with Guns N’ Roses because of our connection there with Richard and Dizzy and Frank.” (GNR members Richard Fortus, Dizzy Reed and Frank Ferrer were previously playing with The Daisies). “It’s a lot of stuff. Whitesnake! We supported Whitesnake. That was so fun, man! We decided: we’ve done a lot of work, we need to just take a few steps back, make a strategic plan that’s going to elevate the project. I think we’re pretty established now. We’re on the map, we’re on the radar. Our fanbase has grown and we’re getting invited everywhere and so we could very easily keep going. But the idea is to elevate it to the next level, wherever that level is.”

As busy as Marco remains with all his bands and projects, it is obvious he is enjoying doing his solo stuff as well. The solo album “Viva La Rock” was released in 2018 by Mighty Music internationally and Ward Records in Japan. (Read Roppongi Rocks’ album review here.) A follow-up solo album is already being planned. “I have to do my second album at the end of this year!” says Marco with a big smile on his face. Unlike in most of his other musical endeavours, with “Viva La Rock”, Marco takes centre stage. “I think, not to blow smoke up my own butt, but I think the sign of a true artist, a true musician – I don’t like the rock star thing, I consider myself a musician – is to constantly push the creative thing. To constantly test yourself and not be afraid of failure, because those are your best lessons,” says Marco as he sips on his cappuccino.

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

Marco Mendoza will perform with his trio at Club Edge in Roppongi on Friday 17th May and at Shinseikai in Nishiazabu on Saturday 18th May. For more information and tickets: Metal Justice Tokyo Viva La Rock

www.facebook.com/marcomendozaofficial

www.facebook.com/marcomendozajapan

www.marcomendoza.com

 

Interview: Angela Gossow explains why Arch Enemy’s Black Earth project is exclusively for Japan

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

Black Earth is a celebration of the early days of Swedish metal band Arch Enemy. With a Black Earth compilation album about to be released and a new Japan tour around the corner, Angela Gossow explains to Roppongi Rocks’ Stefan Nilsson why this is a Japan-only affair.

In 2015, Arch Enemy brought up former members Johan Liiva (vocals) and Christopher Amott (guitar) onstage during their gig at the Loud Park festival in Japan. It was a reunion of the band’s original line-up that pleased the fans. In 2016, Black Earth, as this Arch Enemy side project was named, did a full tour of Japan (documented on the special live release “20 Years of Dark Insanity”). Then, in 2017, Black Earth appeared as a secret act at that year’s Loud Park festival. Now Black Earth is getting ready for a full tour of Japan once again. Roppongi Rocks checked in with former Arch Enemy vocalist Angela Gossow, current manager of both Arch Enemy and Black Earth, to have a chat about the thinking behind this exciting reunion.

“The idea for the Black Earth project started back in 2015 when Michael Amott realised that the 20th anniversary of the debut Arch Enemy album ‘Black Earth’ was about to take place the following year,” explains Angela Gossow to Roppongi Rocks. “After thinking things through how to properly celebrate this important landmark of his career, he talked to original Arch Enemy members and co-founders Johan Liiva and Christopher Amott and it was decided to put together this new side project under the Black Earth banner where they would play the music from the first three Arch Enemy albums, as true to the original versions as possible. The very successful Japan tour in 2016, as well as their surprise set at Loud Park 2017, was something that they enjoyed very much, as did the fans! Now the guys are gearing up to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the 1999 album ‘Burning Bridges’ with an extensive tour of Japan again! They will play that album in its entirety as well as digging into the old-school songs from ‘Black Earth’ and ‘Stigmata’. They also have two newly composed songs that are available on the “Path Of The Immortal” compilation album which will come out in Japan on March 20!”

Black Earth has been a Japan-only affair, which has made these shows even more special to the Japanese fans. Angela Gossow explains why: “The reason for the Black Earth band only performing in Japan is quite simple, the members have a limited time in their busy schedules to do this and they choose to perform exclusively in Japan – so far – due to the fact that Japan is where they had their first success in the 90s with the first three Arch Enemy albums and tours. With the exclusive Black Earth concerts and material that is released in Japan they wish to say thank you for the long-time support of the Japanese fans for a journey that has lasted over twenty years now!“

Johan Liiva and Christopher Amott of Black Earth performing in Tokyo in 2016. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Black Earth – consisting of Michael Amott (guitar), Christopher Amott (guitar), Johan Liiva (vocals), Daniel Erlandsson (drums) and Sharlee D’Angelo (bass) – will do a total of nine gigs in Japan in May. The tour will take them to Tokyo, Nagoya, Sendai, Hokkaido, Kumamoto, Fukuoka, Hiroshima and Osaka. Full tour dates and ticket info from Creativeman Productions can be found here: www.creativeman.co.jp/event/black-earth19

Black Earth’s “Path Of The Immortal” compilation album will be released in Japan on 20th March via Trooper Entertainment. Additionally, the current line-up of Arch Enemy will perform at the Download Japan festival on 21st March. 

www.facebook.com/blackearthofficial

www.trooper.co.jp/artist_blackearth

Interview: Graham Gouldman of 10cc

Graham Gouldman of 10cc in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

10cc frontman Graham Gouldman, one of the best songwriters in the history of British pop and rock, sat down with Roppongi Rocks’ Stefan Nilsson in Tokyo to talk about songwriting, 10cc and working with The Ramones and Ringo Starr.

“Roppongi Rocks, eh?” says Graham Gouldman as we sit down backstage at Billboard Live in Tokyo’s Roppongi Midtown district. Best known as the frontman and the only remaining original member of British rock group 10cc, Gouldman has also written songs for the likes of The Hollies and The Yardbirds, produced other artists such as The Ramones and toured as a member of Ringo Starr’s All Starr Band.

How would you describe 10cc musically? “I just say it is 10cc music. It’s so eclectic really. I think we always did what is best for the songs. So, we would have different singers playing on different songs and there might be different lead guitarists on different songs because your style is better than mine for this particular song. That’s what we’ve always done. I think in that way we almost have different bands on different tracks, whereas other bands, say Queen, are a prime example of…it’s always Freddie’s voice, it’s always Brian’s guitar. That guitar sound is very identifiable. But with us, less so.”

Graham Gouldman of 10cc in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Every member of the classic 10cc line-up was a multi-instrumentalist, singer, writer and producer. Was this an asset or something that caused arguments? “How could it be a bad thing? We had so many hits…Hehe!! We never fought over songs, because we never rejected a song. Whoever wrote it… The principle was: if you think it’s good, OK, but I can make it better. So, allow me to do that. Or rearrange things, or suggest a different chord here, a slight melody change or sometimes we’d change the rhythm a bit. It was a really positive thing. The ownership of the song was the four of us. Normally we wrote in pairs. Whoever wrote it, we all took ownership of it and treated it like our own. I think that was one of the most positive aspects of the band, a really important part of what we were.”

Even prior to founding 10cc, you were a songwriter for bands such as The Yardbirds and The Hollies. Is it a big difference to compose for other artists than for your solo albums or 10cc? “I generally just write songs. Although I have written specifically… Like for The Hollies, I did ‘Bus Stop’. I had them in my head when I was writing because I knew I wanted to… I can’t say I was… I was just thinking about them rather than going ‘I’d better do this, I’d better do that.’ You can’t write with that sort of burden. But that was a rare occasion really. Generally, when you’re writing, you’re just writing. Not thinking, just writing.”

You’ve been a professional songwriter since the 1960s. How do you keep coming up with new song ideas? “I know. It’s a long time. I go through periods of not writing. Like I’ve been on the road a lot recently, so I haven’t been doing that much. But now I’m itching to get back in the studio. And the only way I can get back in the studio is to write some songs. So, I’ve got to write some songs! It’s in my head now.”

Let’s talk setlists. You now have quite a large drawer full of great songs you have written. How do you approach putting together a setlist? “With setlists, I always think of the beginning and the end first and then fill it in. However much I plan a setlist, when you play it live, you can find a glaringly obvious mistake. Not a mistake in what you’re playing, in that this song should not be there, it needs to be somewhere else. That’s just an instinctive feeling you get. But actually, this set that we are doing tonight, although we have changed it slightly… Tonight’s set will be slightly different because one of the boys that are here, who’s our singer, has got a throat problem and we’re gonna adapt the set to suit him. But normally the set that we do is pretty much unchanged for the last, I’d say, about two years. We do a much longer set than we’re doing tonight, normally. Normally it wouldn’t be like completely hits and nothing else. But we’re going to change things tonight, because of Iain. We’ve got like a 70-minute setlist, just non-stop hits. But normally we’d do an hour and fifty and have album tracks and all sorts of stuff.”

Graham Gouldman of 10cc with Roppongi Rocks’ Stefan Nilsson backstage at Billboard Live.

You produced the Ramones album “Pleasant Dreams” in 1981. How did this come about and was it an easy yes for you? “I know! Weird! They approached me. I thought I was the last person in the world that The Ramones would want. I said to them: Why did they want me to do it? It was nothing to do with 10cc, it was all to do with the 60s. The British Invasion, my connection with that. I said, well, I will give it a shot. But rather than commit ourselves to a whole album, let’s do two or three tracks and see how it works out and then make a decision. It went OK.”

How were those weeks in the studio in March-April 1981? Reportedly the band had a lot of internal conflicts at that time. “I was actually surprised how… Johnny, bless him and God rest his soul, is a miserable bastard, I’d have to say. Joey was delightful and very conscientious of what I was doing. And the other boys were great. I know he didn’t like the album that we did. He said so. He never said it to me, but he told everybody else. It was an interesting project. I loved being with Joey. I thought he was great. We did all the tracks in New York, but we did a lot of the vocals at our studio in the UK. I used to take him out for dinner to different places. Everybody sort of fell in love with him. He’s a sweet guy!”

The Ramones namechecked 10cc in the song “It’s Not My Place (in the 9 to 5 World)”. Did you have anything to do with this? “Alright! I didn’t know that! Wow! They knew my connection with The Yardbirds, that was more their thing. Although their music was very different, they loved guitar bands.”

You and Debbie Harry sang background vocals on some of the tracks on that Ramones album. Was this done to add some mainstream star power to a punk band? “Yeah, I did a few things. I just did what I thought was good for the record. Johnny thought it was a bit clean. He should have said something!”

Last year you toured as part of Ringo Starr’s All Starr Band. How did you end up there? “Yeah, I did two tours with him. I loved it. It was great. I got a call from their production manager. Do you fancy working with Ringo? No, why would I? I said yeah! That’s it, I don’t need to know anything else. Yes! And then it all went quiet. Then it came back. A journalist friend of mine phoned me from New York. He said: Can you give me a quote? I said: What for? That you’re joining Ringo Starr and the All Starr Band! I said: Are you sure? I hadn’t heard anything officially. And there it was. It was on Ringo’s website or something. I loved it. It was great. Working with Steve Lukather and Colin Hay, Gregg Rolie, Gregg Bissonette, Warren Ham. Fantastic! I really enjoyed it. They asked me to do this year but I have other commitments. It’s a lot of fun. Ringo is like a real showman. He loves it! He loves playing. He loves jamming. He’s very enthusiastic. It was great to spend time with him. To just stand next to him on stage. A lot of times when he played the drums, I’d sort of look over sometimes. There’s Ringo Starr! Haha!!”

You have released solo records in recent years, but it’s been a long time since 10cc released a new studio album. Any such plans? “No! I won’t do that. It’s one thing to go out as 10cc, we’re playing the music of 10cc. We do it right up ‘til the last single that was ever released by 10cc. But I won’t record under the name 10cc. It’s a line I can’t cross. I don’t want to. I don’t think it’s right.”

But can we expect more solo material from you? “Yeah, definitely. I really enjoy writing and recording. I put an EP out. It was called ‘Play Nicely and Share’, an EP, six tracks. I’ll probably do another one whenever I can. Probably not ‘til the middle of the year. There’s so much work to do.”

What’s next for you? “I do a thing called Heart Full of Songs which is an acoustic show I do. I am doing that. We’re going to Holland, we’re doing some dates there, and we’ve got a Scandinavian tour with 10cc and then a UK tour with 10cc. So, busy time coming up.”

Do you write songs all the time and anywhere, or do you need to be in the studio? “I don’t need to be anywhere. But the only thing that happens on the road, it’s not actually writing songs, but sometimes if you’re jamming, you come up with a riff or chord sequence and I make a note of it if it’s interesting. If it is good, I usually remember it. That’s one of the sort of tests. But I might have a tape, a recording of it, as a bit of insurance!”

Graham Gouldman of 10cc in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Do you mainly write alone now or in collaboration with others? “I collaborate as well. Both, really. I like both processes. If I am writing on my own, it might take me… I might get the bulk of a song and then it might take me quite a long time to actually finish the lyric. If I am working with someone else, it’s a much quicker process. I don’t mind as long as it produces something good! Occasionally I go and watch what’s the top 20 downloads or streams or whatever it is. Most of the time I don’t get it at all. Another time I go: ‘Oh, that’s good’. But, generally, I’m just listening to what’s sort of in the air.”

www.grahamgouldman.info

www.facebook.com/10ccband

www.10cc.world

Interview: Mats Karlsson of 220 Volt | One of Sweden’s best melodic hard rock bands turns 40

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

As 220 Volt turns 40, guitarist Mats Karlsson talks to Roppongi Rocks about the band’s sound, the current line-up, what the plans are for the anniversary year and much more. 

In 2019, 220 Volt, one of the best Swedish melodic hard rock bands of all time, marks 40 years since its foundation. While the band has seen a number of line-up changes over the years, founding guitarists Mats Karlsson and Thomas Drevin are still in the band together with long-term drummer Peter Hermansson (who joined in 1982). They are joined in the current line-up by bassist Mats Vassfjord and vocalist Göran Nyström. 220 Volt has always been known for great live shows. I still have great memories from some of the band’s high-energy gigs in Sweden in the 1980s. 

Having released their self-titled debut album in 1983, their most recent full-length studio album was 2014’s “Walking in Starlight”. The band called it quits in 1992 but reunited in 2002. “In 2002, when we started to play together again, it was to mark the 20th anniversary of our debut single. At that point, I, Thomas and Peter had already played together for a few years. We wanted to do the reunion with the original line-up and that’s what we did.”

Apart from the veterans in the band – you, Thomas and Peter – the band now features two newer additions – bassist Mats “Vasse” Vassfjord (Impera, Scaar, Laney’s Legion) and vocalist Göran Nyström (Twinspirits, Majestic Dimension, Paincraze, Silent Call). “We have known Vasse for a long time. He’s experienced and is an easygoing person. Thus, it has worked very well. We were looking for a vocalist for a long time. We got many recordings sent to us and did a few auditions. We wanted to find somebody with their own personality and not necessarily somebody that sounds like our previous vocalists – who all have had rather characteristic voices. After a while somebody mentioned Göran. He’s been flying a bit under the radar in Sweden’s hard rock scene as he has mainly done things in Italy and such. We liked what we heard and it turned out he was also available. We also realised that he, like us, was from the county of Jämtland in rural Sweden and so we had something in common there.”

At the beginning of the band’s career, you managed to create some kind of Swedish version of NWOBHM which later got merged with more melodic hard rock and even some power ballads. How would you describe your sound? “We like to call it classic hard rock and melodic metal. We have never really started to work on an album with a set musical focus in advance. We just try to write as good songs as possible, which is why the albums are quite different from each other. That’s something I always loved about, say, Deep Purple, Rainbow, Black Sabbath and all the old classic bands – you never really knew in which direction they would head next. I have had that as a bit of a guiding star. However, what we have decided ahead of the next album is that we must not shy away from trying things we haven’t done before, without becoming a thrash metal band. We want to a heavier album. That’s the direction we’re heading in.” 

In the mid-1980s you toured with Nazareth and AC/DC. How much did those support act slots mean for the band? “Obviously it meant a lot. Many more people got to see us live than what we could have achieved on our own. With AC/DC we played what was at that time the largest indoor arenas in Scandinavia and all the gigs were sold out.”

In the 1980s you were part of a wave of Swedish hard rock bands that emerged around the same time, including bands such as Europe, Treat, Heavy Load, Madison, Easy Action, Torch and so on. Many of you were friends, but was there some rivalry and dirty tricks between the bands as you fought for the same fans, record deals and tours? “There was a certain rivalry, but it egged us on. We managed to avoid the dirtiest tricks. We got a bit of a breakthrough already with our first album. That gave us a platform to stand on and we had an organisation in place. It was tougher for the smaller bands.”

Backed by major label CBS, 220 Volt also got to work with some top industry pros, including British record producer Max Norman (Loudness, Ozzy Osbourne, Savatage, Megadeth, Death Angel).

220 Volt: Peter Hermansson, Mats Karlsson, Göran Nyström, Thomas Drevin och Mats Vassfjord. (Photo credit: Mats Vassfjord)

Rock artists and Christmas songs are often not a great combination – there are numerous examples of terrible songs in that music category. But your cult classic “Heavy Christmas” is actually a very good song. What was the thinking behind you releasing this back in the day? “It was originally an idea by our A&R guy at CBS/Sony. He was visiting the studio and mentioned the idea to us. It didn’t take us long to compose the song. If I remember it correctly, I came up with the riff and a rough chorus before he even left the studio. According to Dee Snider, who we played with recently, we made the first proper metal Christmas song! He knew which year it came out and everything. His brother apparently worked at a radio station on Long Island at that time and, apparently, they played our song frequently.”

Despite a number of line-up changes over the years, 220 Volt’s musical output has always managed to keep an even and great quality. Have you always been the driving force behind the creative process? “Thank you for the kind words. I have always had a lot of ideas, but have not been the sole songwriter. We have had different roles within the band through the years. In the beginning, it was me and Thomas that came up with guitar harmonies and riffs. He’s very good at arranging things. Peter is good at melodies and so he was important then and now doing that. Today, it can, for example, be a riff from Peter that kicks off things and then I step in with the melody. We had it as a requirement that our new vocalist should be able to contribute to the songwriting and Göran is really doing that. Thus, nowadays all of us get involved in most things, which is great.”

Your latest studio album was released in 2014. Can we hope for a new studio album sometime soon? “A new album will be released. We’re working hard on new material. We’ve had some personal issues to deal with. Illness, hospitalisation, death and such sad things that have taken up a lot of time for us. But now we’re making good progress and my feeling is that all the material for the new album can be ready within two or three months. I am hopeful that we can release an album this year, at least an EP followed by a full-length album soon thereafter.”

In 2019, in addition to writing and recording new material, 220 Volt has some gigs already announced, including some international festival appearances. The Swedes are still relevant, vital and no doubt will keep giving us great melodic hard rock. 

www.facebook.com/220voltofficial

www.220volt.se

Interview: Jocke Berg of Hardcore Superstar

Jocke Berg of Hardcore Superstar backstage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

When Swedish feelgood rockers Hardcore Superstar recently completed their eighth Japan visit, Roppongi Rocks sat down with vocalist Jocke Berg to talk about the band’s sound, the euphoria of performing on stage, being naughty, combining tour life and family life and what happened when Berg met Ronnie James Dio.

Jocke Berg of Hardcore Superstar on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Hardcore Superstar formed in Gothenburg, Sweden in 1997 and has been very active ever since with album releases and relentless touring. The band’s current line-up consists of Jocke Berg on vocals, Martin Sandvik on bass, Vic Zino on guitar and Magnus “Adde” Andreasson on drums. In September, the band released its eleventh album, “You Can’t Kill My Rock’N’Roll”.

The new album seems to be somewhat of a return to the band’s party-rock roots, don’t you think? “Everybody is saying that!” says vocalist Jocke Berg as we meet backstage in Shibuya, Tokyo before the band’s first gig on its eighth Japan visit. “The previous album was something we had to do. It’s easy to just do the same thing, where everything sounds the same. There are certain demons we need to get out of our heads. The previous album, when I listen to it today, I think it is great. But when we released it, I had the same feeling as everybody else: What the hell are they doing? Even though I liked it, of course. But it felt like we had to do that album in order to arrive at the current album. The new album is more feelgood. The earlier one was more diverse, a bit darker.” 

Jocke Berg of Hardcore Superstar backstage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Do you feel you have to write fun feelgood party songs rather than more serious songs? “Hardcore Superstar is synonymous with the word feelgood. It should be fun. It’s drinking and toasting. A hell of a pre-party with Hardcore Superstar, sort of. The previous album wasn’t like that. It didn’t end up much feelgood as it was quite dark. But if we wanted to write a Tool song or something like that, it would not fit in with Hardcore. We have to be in the musical region where the Hardcore Superstar sound lives. In that case, we would have to do it as a side project. I want to do a death metal album! Unfortunately, I can’t do that with Hardcore.”

Do you actually have any plans for such side projects? “The thought is there, on and off, all the time. But nothing that is planned. One day!” 

How would you describe Hardcore Superstar’s signature sound? “The new album feels a lot like arena rock. You can hear Queen vibes. Slade – some obvious vibes. ZZ Top! I’d like to call it arena rock. That’s the kind of vibe we have. It’s a big sound. We had Queen as a starting point. Queen’s fantastic! Especially with Freddie Mercury on vocals. We had that arena rock feeling as a starting point. We tried to capture that feeling somehow.”

Hardcore Superstar is a band that likes to be a bit naughty. For example, the band’s logo includes an inverted cross and the latest album cover features smoking nuns. “I came up with the idea of turning the ‘T’ in the band name upside down. I think the cross looks better that way. My mother is a church volunteer in a parish outside of Gothenburg. She went ballistic when she saw it. But I’ve been teasing her since I was very young. It’s fun to do a bit of teasing. We’re not Satanists. Personally, religion-wise, I do not believe in one or the other.”

Jocke Berg of Hardcore Superstar backstage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

With eleven albums under their belt, it is no longer easy to put together setlists for the band’s shows. “We have certain songs that we have to play. If we don’t, we’ll be lynched! Like ‘We Don’t Celebrate Sundays’ and ‘Last Call for Alcohol’. We have to do them or else we won’t get home from Japan.”

Hardcore Superstar has had loyal fans in Japan since the band’s early days. “This is our eighth time here. Japan is special. I believe everyone feels that way. If you speak with Michael Amott in Arch Enemy or whoever you talk to, they all think Japan is special. This is like a different world. You can’t compare it to Stockholm or Gothenburg or Halmstad. Here it is special!”

More than two decades into the band’s career and with eleven albums to your name, you are now a family man with three kids. How do you manage to combine tour life with family life? “In order to long for something one has to go away! 21 years is quite a long time. Obviously, I don’t want to leave my family. No normal person wants that. Sometimes it can be good to get away for a bit. But it is that hour and a half, one hour and 40 minutes perhaps, on stage. There’s nothing better in the whole world! It’s a euphoric feeling you don’t want to be without. All the travelling I can do without. To sit in a plane for 12 hours is not much fun. What drives me is to make people happy. It’s fantastic to see those smiles. That’s what music is all about!”

Jocke Berg of Hardcore Superstar backstage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

One of Jocke Berg’s biggest moments, so far (he’s still mid-career, right?), in the crazy ride that we call Hardcore Superstar, is a backstage meeting with Ronnie James Dio. “We sat in his dressing room backstage in Gothenburg. He said that he had two Hardcore Superstar albums and that he thought that I sing very well. That is something special to hear from the voice himself! Then he added: ‘Later when I am gone – when I die – I want you to carry on my legacy.’ Then I started to cry. I became very sentimental. Mikkey Dee and John Corabi stood next to us. My bandmates stood there too and they started to laugh and thought I was being silly because I was crying. But John Corabi and Mikkey Dee understood the importance of Ronnie James Dio saying something like that to me.”

With another successful Japan visit now behind them, Hardcore Superstar continues to tour in Europe and will also do a stop in the US to play at the Rocklahoma festival in May. Indeed, no one can stop these guys’ rock’n’roll!

Jocke Berg of Hardcore Superstar backstage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

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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

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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

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