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

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

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Interview: Conrado Pesinato | Escaping from Alcatrazz to get Out Of The Woods

Conrado Pesinato in Roppongi, Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

He made a name for himself as lead guitarist in Graham Bonnet Band and also sitting in for the Alcatrazz reunion of 2017 when he filled in for Yngwie Malmsteen and Steve Vai (as documented on the live release “Parole Denied – Tokyo 2017”). Now Brazilian guitarist Conrado Pesinato is hard at work with his new band, Out Of The Woods in Los Angeles. When he recently visited Tokyo again on tour with Marco Mendoza, Roppongi Rocks sat down with Conrado at his hotel in Roppongi to talk about his career.

Conrado Pesinato played with bassist Beth-Ami Heavenstone in Hardly Dangerous, an LA rock band fronted by Tomirae Brown, the widow of James Brown. In 2015, Beth-Ami subsequently brought him into the Graham Bonnet Band which she was forming with the legendary Rainbow, MSG and Alcatrazz vocalist. In GBB, Conrado played a significant role as guitarist, songwriter and producer of the band’s 2016 album “The Book”. He toured Japan twice with GBB. First in 2015 when GBB opened for Michael Schenker’s Temple of Rock (when Michael Schenker and Graham Bonnet reunited on stage for the first time since their brief time together in MSG). In 2017, GBB did a headline tour of Japan which also included the terrific Alcatrazz reunion with Graham Bonnet, Jimmy Waldo and Gary Shea reunited on stage in Tokyo.

Conrado Pesinato in Roppongi, Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

You’ve done two Japan tours and now you’re here for the third time. “That’s right! The first time was 2015 and…2017, yes. It seems to be the pattern, every two years I am back” says Conrado with a big smile as we sit down at his hotel a few hours after he has landed in Japan. 

What’s your best Japan memory so far? “Too many. Too many! Ah, Jesus. Where do I even start? The first one was really special. It was my first time in the country. It was my first time experiencing all the excitement about rock music that the Japanese fans have. It spoils the whole thing for you and anywhere else you play after that. It’s not quite the same. And seeing Graham and Michael for the first time together, being a fan, that was cool. But the second time was really special too because that time we were headlining.”

Is it different for you as a guitarist to step into a band like Alcatrazz compared to playing your own music? “Yeah, that was a lot different, for sure. I’m a lot more comfortable… I think I excel as a songwriter and doing my thing. I think I did a decent enough job honouring those songs in those performances. But, by all means, I was never to do that, playing Yngwie note for note. That’s just not the kind of player I was. So, it was challenging. A lot of growth for me, I learnt a lot trying to make justice to those songs. It was challenging because I was never that type of dude that sat down… I can definitely count on my fingers the number of solos I’ve learnt note for note. I have always tried to find my own voice and that’s always what I prefer to do. As much as I had fun and I felt honoured to be part of that, especially being a guitar player… At the same time, I was a lot more excited to play the songs we wrote back in the day on the album that we just released, ‘The Book’. I was a lot more excited about the response of people from those songs, because those were my babies, than doing the whole Alcatrazz thing. Then, of course, there was a little bit of guitar ego there. ‘Yay! Look at me playing in Alcatrazz!’ It was good. It was fun.”

On the Graham Bonnet Band album “The Book”, Conrado not only played the guitar, he wrote songs and produced the album which also featured Beth-Ami Heavenstone, Mark Zonder and Jimmy Waldo. “I co-wrote ‘The Book’ with him. It was mainly me and him and Zonder did a lot of good ideas. Great drummer, great guy. We co-wrote the songs and I ended up producing. I was wearing many hats in that band. That was one of the reasons that that band was very challenging for me too, other than all the legendary guitar stuff. I was always so busy with everything else, helping with arrangements and recording and writing. I produced the album, but I didn’t mix or master, but I engineered the whole thing. I’m proud of it. It’s a good album.”

Now you’re here in Japan for two gigs with Marco Mendoza’s trio with Marco and British drummer Kyle Hughes. These are your first-ever gigs with Marco. “That was an invite that came through my good friend Kyle. I knew of Marco and I think we spoke a couple of times previously on different occasions. Kyle was like ‘Hey, we need a guitar player for Japan’. I was like, wow, that will be fun! I love Marco’s material. I think, even me as a guitar player, I’m a lot more comfortable with that kind of classic rock-funk-bluesy type of thing instead of the neoclassical stuff. I think that is a lot more who I am as a guitar player. It’s my first gig with them so that’s definitely exciting.”

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

Marco and Kyle have come straight from a European tour and you flew in from LA. Have you had any chance to rehearse together as a trio? “No! Haha!! So, we’ll see how it goes. We have not, but they have been very solid together. They are the rhythm section and the front men together. I just have to sit in and do my part. I think we will be alright. It’s gonna be a good time, no doubt. At least for me! Marco is such a legendary musician, playing in such legendary bands like Thin Lizzy and Whitesnake, which I love. Thin Lizzy is one of my favourite bands of all time. Even his solo material has so many guitar players, like Richie Kotzen and Steve Lukather and all these kinds of guys. I have to do justice to those songs at those gigs. It’s an exciting part of the process. Yeah, it will be a fun time!”

Recently Conrado formed a new contemporary rock band in Los Angeles called Out Of The Woods together with vocalist Zach Jones and drummer Tomas Slemeson. The sound is quite different from the classic rock we normally hear Conrado play. “Yeah. The way I see it is… I would call it modern American rock radio. Bands like Bad Wolves and Bring Me The Horizon, that kind of stuff. It’s a whole different thing. I co-write everything with the guys and I help with a bit of the production. I don’t do the full production, but I do a little bit of it. That’s kind of exciting, to not be the guy that does everything. I use a seven-string guitar, which is something I don’t use in the most classic rock sound bands that I do. Seven-string guitar, I try to do more effects, I try to do beats and samples and things like that. It’s different stuff. That’s the beauty of it. I like it all. From The Beatles to extreme death metal to ABBA to whatever, you name it. Linkin Park and Ramones and whatever else. I dig songs!”

Out Of The Woods has done some gigs in the US and released its first song. “We have one single out and finishing an EP. We’re excited about it. We’re shopping it around with some labels for that type of music. It’s nice doing something different. It’s definitely refreshing.” Out Of The Woods is Conrado’s main focus now. “There’s a couple of other things I am working on, but, for sure, Out Of The Woods will be it. We have this EP coming out. I am trying to get busy. I like to do it all. I was even making beats for hip-hop artists! I just like to be busy and collaborate with creative people with a good heart.” 

Keep an eye (and both ears!) on Conrado Pesinato. He likes to stay busy and there will no doubt be more interesting music coming our way from this creative musician.

Conrado Pesinato in Roppongi, Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

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Interview: Ian Haugland of Europe | “We have our roots in the hard rock of the 70s”

Ian Haugland of Europe backstage at Club Citta, Kawasaki, Japan. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

When Swedish rockers Europe recently returned to Japan for three special shows at Club Citta in Kawasaki, Roppongi Rocks’ Stefan Nilsson caught up backstage with drummer Ian Haugland to talk about working with producer Dave Cobb, life on tour now versus in the 80s, performing deep cuts from the back catalogue, when work on the next album will start and much more.

Swedish rockers Europe – with the band’s most classic line-up consisting of Joey Tempest on vocals, John Norum on guitar, John Levén on bass, Mic Michaeli on keyboards and Ian Haugland on drums – are back in Japan for three special shows at Club Citta in Kawasaki. They last performed in Japan in 2015 and during their four-year absence from Japan, Europe has released two new Dave Cobb-produced studio albums that have a more mature classic rock sound.

It’s been 40 years since the band was founded in a Stockholm suburb in 1979 and the sound keeps evolving. The early days of rough-around-the-edges hard rock morphed into the more polished melodic metal of the late 80s and early 90s and then, following your reunion, we got mature hard rock and, more recently, grown-up classic rock. Are these musical changes deliberate actions? “No, they are not!” explains Ian Haugland as we sit down backstage at Club Citta shortly before Europe will perform its second show. “It feels as if we’re on a musical journey. We let the music lead us in the right direction. We have never started to produce a new album thinking it should sound in a certain way. It just turns out a certain way. But, of course, we have our roots in the hard rock of the 70s. It’s from somewhere there we get our direction. Then we also get influenced a bit by current temporary favourites, albums that are influencing us a bit extra. But as a foundation, we always somehow have the 70s. I also think that with the last two albums, that we have done with Dave Cobb, the producer, it feels like we have dug out the 70s in us even more.” Nashville-based Dave Cobb has produced a lot of country music, but also rock bands such as Rival Sons. “Yes, that was one of the major reasons we chose him because we liked the Rival Sons albums. We don’t decide any musical direction in advance, it’s the music that takes in whatever direction we end up going.”

Ian Haugland of Europe backstage at Club Citta, Kawasaki, Japan. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

In 2015, when you last toured Japan, you performed a “Wings of Tomorrow” special. This time you’re doing three different special gigs, each focused on different Europe albums. Where did this idea come from? “It was probably a request by Club Citta that we should do three nights with different themes, to focus a bit more on different albums. It’s fun. It gives us the chance to revisit music that we perhaps haven’t played in a long time or never. I think it is quite exciting. Some of the songs I feel like: Oh shit! This song is really adolescent if you know what I mean. Whereas other songs I feel have aged better somehow. We get a great overview of our own musical journey. Oftentimes, you’re too busy with here and now when you are composing and touring. This is actually really exciting.” 

This evening you are focusing on the debut album “Europe” from 1983 and the reunion album “Start from the Dark” from 2004. How have you chosen the songs you play from these albums? “In these two cases, it has really been more about what we want to play, what we think are the best songs. With ‘Start from the Dark’, that’s an album we played many songs from on the first tour after its release. But after that most of those songs have dropped off. We chose a few that we haven’t played earlier and a few we did play on the ‘Start from the Dark’ tour. From the first album, we’ve thought about the fact that Japan was the first country, outside Sweden, that discovered Europe. Here in Japan, it’s always been… They have loved ‘In the Future to Come’ and ‘Seven Doors Hotel’ and ‘The King Will Return’ and those songs. Thus, we thought we should treat the fans to those songs that we know that they like. That’s how it is.”

Last time you were here, you had recorded but not yet released the “War of Kings” album, which meant you didn’t play any songs from it. Now you’re back after having released “Walk the Earth”, but not doing the usual “Walk the Earth” shows. Thus, the Japanese fans have kind of lost out on your last two album tours. Have you faced any disappointed Japanese fans because of this? “No! I think that the Japanese fans are the most grateful in the whole world when we come here to perform. They are really grateful just because we come back here. It’s really fantastic. We’ve been to Japan… I am not sure if we’ve been here after every album, but in principle, we’ve been here after every album since ‘Final Countdown’. They’ve been with us since the first album. The Japanese have always been loyal to Europe. It’s fantastic! I think it is incredible, especially as it is an isolated territory on the other side of the Earth from Sweden. And there’s still interest here. I think that’s terrific!” 

It’s now 40 years since the band was formed. Do you feel it is different touring now compared to how it was in the second half of the 80s? “In the 80s, everything happened so damn quickly with ‘Final Countdown’. When it took off with a bang, it became a rocket ride, so to speak. We didn’t have time to reflect on anything, really. It was so unbelievably intensive right then. But then when we reunited the band at the beginning of the 2000s, we decided that it always had to be the love for the music and the inspiration for the music that should steer the band somehow. We didn’t want to milk it by just going out and playing old hits. Thus, we’ve always been careful to ensure that we all feel good, that we don’t tour too much and especially now as a few of the boys are on their second round of having kids with more or less small kids at home. You have to find a balance between tour life and family life in order for it all to work. I think we have a pretty good balance. Personally, I think we perhaps could tour a bit more, but then I don’t have any small kids anymore.”

You joined Europe in 1984 when the band had already achieved a bit of fame and success. Was it an obvious yes from you when the offer came? “Yes! I had reached a point where I had to consider giving up this big rock’n’roll dream. I was working at Arlanda airport, driving some truck or whatever it was. I sat there that summer and thought: I probably have to reconsider. Music can perhaps not be my number one. Perhaps I have to grow up and become more responsible, like a normal person. Just a week or so later I got the phone call with the offer. Nothing else could have been better than this! Europe was the first and, at that point, the only band that had this kind of success in Sweden. Yes! Let’s go!”

Ian Haugland of Europe backstage at Club Citta, Kawasaki, Japan. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

How does Europe record its albums nowadays? Do you record together in a proper studio or do each record your own bits and pieces in home studios? “We’ve been through different phases. In the 80s, then Joey did most of it in his home studio with drum machines and added guitars, just to create a demo. A song was more or less ready back then when we recorded ‘Final Countdown’ and ‘Out of This World’. Now, during the 2000s, it is more been a case of sending demos between us where keyboards, bass and some digital drums get added. But that has only been in order to do demos. Since we started to work with Dave Cobb, we no longer do demos in that way at all. He doesn’t want to work with demos. When we were going to start recording ‘War of Kings’, we asked him where we should send the demos. ‘No, let’s listen to those when I arrive later’, right when we will record the album. We had never experienced that before. We were like: Oh! He doesn’t want to hear the songs? Then when we were in the studio to start recording the album, he said: ‘OK, guys! What songs do you have?’ Then we played him a song that he was listening to on an iPhone, just to get an overview of the song structure. He didn’t care about all the details. He wanted to take the song apart and then put it together again from scratch. We realised that there was no point in coming in with ready song structures. It was better to come with a riff or just a rough sketch and then take it from there. At first, we were not used to working like that and even a bit afraid to do so. We thought: how is this going to turn out? We knew we only had so much time in the studio to get things done, what if it doesn’t work? We were a bit afraid of the unknown in a very Swedish way! We recorded ‘War of Kings’ in a brand-new studio in Stockholm. We were the first band to record there. That was a bit of risk-taking as we didn’t at all know how the studio sounded. There was nothing to listen to that had been recorded there. That was a big question mark, but it all worked out fine with Dave. He’s such a cool guy that it was easy to start working with him and integrating him with the band and the creative process. It turned out really great. Then when we did ‘Walk the Earth’, we just brought some riffs and stuff, because we knew we could do it. We went with real self-confidence into Abbey Road Studios. We worked on the songs more or less from scratch in the studio. It was really exciting. A creative and good way to work. Not being overconfident, but you know you have a good riff but that you need to be on the top of your game to get it done. If we will work with Dave again, then we will continue on the same path. We will see what happens.”

European summer festivals are up next for the band. And then a South American tour in the autumn. “Then we will probably start focusing more on ‘song fragments’ for the next album. The plan is that we will start recording the next album at the beginning of next year sometime. The wheel keeps turning.”

When Ian Haugland is not touring with Europe, he and keyboardist Mic Michaeli are working together as radio DJs in Stockholm at the Rockklassiker radio station. “I started already in 2000 to broadcast radio there. Thus, it’s been almost 20 years already! Mic joined about a year ago. We have started hosting a show together. It’s a lot of fun!” says Haugland before it’s time for the drummer to stretch and get ready for the evening’s Europe show.

Ian Haugland of Europe backstage at Club Citta, Kawasaki, Japan. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

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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

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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

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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. 

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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

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www.10cc.world