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

By Roppongi Rocks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interview: Frax of Venus Mountains | Japan tour in August

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interview: Jonas Stålhammar of At The Gates

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

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interview: Derrick Green and Eloy Casagrande of Sepultura

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

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Squeeze Me, I’m Yours – an interview with Glenn Tilbrook

Glenn Tilbrook of Squeeze in his dressing room at Billboard Live in Tokyo in May 2018. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Formed in London in 1974, British rock band Squeeze is still going strong. “We needed to justify being a band now as opposed to being a tribute band to our own past,” explains Squeeze’s founder and frontman Glenn Tilbrook as he sits down with Roppongi Rocks’ Stefan Nilsson at Billboard Live in Roppongi.

“It’s good to be here. It’s really great to be here. One of my favourite countries in the world!” says Glenn Tilbrook of Squeeze as we sit down in the band’s dressing room before the first of two shows at Billboard Live in Tokyo.

Tilbrook’s Squeeze co-founder Chris Difford is missing from this tour but the rest of the members of the latest line-up of Squeeze are here: Stephen Large (Pete Doherty, Babyshambles, Johnny Depp, Duffy) on keyboards, Simon Hanson (Death in Vegas, Hall and Oates, The Quireboys, The Dogs D’Amour, Rick Wakeman) on drums, percussionist Steve Smith (Dirty Vegas) and, the latest addition, bassist Yolanda Charles (Paul Weller, Robbie Williams, Aztec Camera, Mick Jagger, Dave Stewart). It’s a terrific version of the band.

Glenn Tilbrook of Squeeze on stage at Billboard Live. Photo: Masanori Naruse

Tilbrook has toured in Japan numerous times, sometimes with Squeeze and sometimes as a solo artist. “We didn’t come here until 1993 the first time. Difford and I came back once, I think -97. Since then I’ve come back… I’ve done a lot of solo work here. I really enjoy doing that but it’s lovely to be able to have the band too.”

Squeeze formed in Deptford in the southeast part of London in 1974. The band’s local DNA seems to have shaped the band’s look and sound as well as its song lyrics in the early days. “Yes, that is what shapes us. It was a very different time. It was economically quite depressed. Where I was growing up, there was still a lot of bomb sites around and they didn’t all disappear until late seventies, early eighties. It’s an atmosphere, let’s put it that way. I think that that time informed our writing a lot in the early days.”

Musically Squeeze is all over the place – rock, pop and much more. It’s a band that is hard to define. “I think that there was all sort of stuff that went into Squeeze. I mean certainly, for instance, my favourite guitarist and one of my favourite songwriters from that point will be Jimi Hendrix. Something not a lot of people would link with Squeeze, but I think he had a wonderful melodic sense and also the tone of his playing. His playing is just amazing. I still think he’s amazing. I think that Squeeze has always drawn on the different characters in the band and everyone’s different taste has always made it something different.”

Glenn Tilbrook of Squeeze in his dressing room at Billboard Live in Tokyo in May 2018. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

You have a long-standing creative partnership with Chris Difford. Do you write together or separately and then send ideas to each other? “We always write separately. Since the band’s been back together, I’ve been more involved lyrically. I wasn’t involved lyrically at all previously. Normally I would start off with a lyric of Chris’s and I put a tune to it. It’s always lyric-driven.”

That’s a bit different from how many other songwriters work. “It is, I found out. But, you know, if you learn to use a knife and a fork a certain way and it turns out not to be the way everyone else does it, that’s just how you’re stuck. Well, it works for us.”

You’ve had other strong creatives and musicians in the band in the past, such as Jools Holland, Gilson Lavis (Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, Dolly Parton) and Paul Carrack (Roxy Music, Roger Waters’ The Bleeding Heart Band, Mike and the Mechanics, Nick Lowe, John Hiatt, Ringo Starr). How did that impact the creative dynamics for you and Chris? “They brought really fantastic things to the table. I still love what they did. Gilson, our original drummer, was an incredible drummer. But they couldn’t do what this band does today. The band has moved on and I believe that change is always good and necessary. When you hear the band, you’ll see what I mean. It’s a proper band, it has a force and a dynamism all of its own, that Squeeze has never had before. It’s been different and really brilliant, but it’s never been like this. It’s great to be in this band. I’m really proud of it, still.”

Squeeze’s newest member is splendid bassist Yolanda Charles who joined last year. Was she a deliberate choice to make Squeeze relevant, contemporary, groovier and funkier? “It really is down to her playing. The fact is, she can do anything. She has her roots in jazz, really. Although I am not a jazz player, I love jazz and some of my writing sometimes veers that way. To have that informing how we play stuff is amazing. For instance, we play ‘Annie Get Your Gun’, which is an old Squeeze song. Squeeze didn’t play on it, we just sang on it. But Yolanda’s bass playing really drives it along. It’s the best version we’ve ever done. We’ve been through a few changes. We weren’t gonna make them but just found out that we had to because people couldn’t be there. And then it’s worked out. It’s been really good.”

Glenn Tilbrook of Squeeze and Roppongi Rocks’ Stefan Nilsson at Billboard Live in Tokyo in May 2018.

In recent years you’ve produced some great new music with Squeeze. Were you ever tempted to just keep touring with the old hits? What drove you to write new Squeeze material? “I think that we needed to write, we needed to prove ourselves. Certainly, to me, we needed to justify being a band now as opposed to being a tribute band to our own past. I am immensely proud of our past. I love it. But if we were just doing that, I think we’d go stale.”

The new material is fab and fits in well with the classic songs. “It does work. The sets now feel like completely integrated between new and old. That’s the aim, to say: Look, we were there then and we are here now and it’s all good. That’s what’s so exciting about it. You can take the audience with you or, there have been a few times in the past where we’ve left them behind and that’s not a good thing to do. So, yeah, you have to find the balance and that always takes a while when you have a bunch of new songs to see how they integrate into everything.”

You have been doing gigs in Australia, Singapore and now Japan on this leg of your tour. What’s next for Squeeze? “We have some dates in the UK in summer, we’re doing some festivals, and then going back to the drawing board.”

So, will there be a new Squeeze album next year? “There could well be. I just don’t know until we sit down and chat about it.”

You’re 60 years old now. How do you deal with the pressure of life on tour? “I just have to look after myself and get plenty of rest, otherwise I can’t sing. My voice is in good shape and vocally, this Squeeze is such a strong line-up. Everyone can sing and it sounds fantastic.”

Glenn Tilbrook of Squeeze in his dressing room at Billboard Live in Tokyo in May 2018. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Interview: H.E.A.T | Into the great unknown soundscape

H.E.A.T in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

When Swedish melodic rock band H.E.A.T released its latest album “Into the Great Unknown” last September, they divided their fan base with a partly new musical direction. Roppongi Rocks’ Stefan Nilsson sat down with the band in Tokyo to discuss the thinking behind the album and the return of original guitarist Dave Dalone.

Following the 2015 “Live In London” live album, which featured quite a lot of rock’n’roll, H.E.A.T’s new album, “Into the Great Unknown”, the band’s fifth studio album, is more focused on melodic rock and even some pop. The new catchy side caught some fans by surprise.

Erik Grönwall of H.E.A.T in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

“We were aware that there would come a reaction once we were finished with recording the album,“ says vocalist Erik Grönwall. “Personally, I don’t think we planned too much about the direction. It was more because we, during the break, all sat and wrote new music on our own. When we are around each other all the time and write music as we did with the previous albums, we inspire and influence each other. Now spending time with different groups of friends, we get introduced to new kinds of music, get new influences. Then we jointly put together the new album.”

Bassist Jimmy Jay continues: “You almost fight with yourself to not limit yourself. You don’t want to be boxed in. A fan should be wondering ‘What’s next?’. I think that is fun with this album.” Drummer Crash adds: “It’s boring to set limits. It’s fun to do whatever we want to do. I think we have done that.”

H.E.A.T in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

“I was the one who was the most sceptical towards this album. I was siding with the not-yet-convinced fans,’ says Grönwall. “When the reactions started to come in, I was like: I knew it! Then when the fans started to come round and like it and the reviews were great, I thought: It’s not that bad after all. Now I think this album’s great!”

Were the band members worried about how the new album would be perceived by the fans? “I’ve been worried ahead of all the album releases,” says Crash. “When we released ‘Time on Our Side’ as the first single from the album – it stood out a lot. That single probably set the tone for what impression people would have of the album. Had people heard ‘Bastard of Society’, the opening track on the album, then there may have been a smoother transition in some way. Now it was like a bomb going off. It is a fantastic song, it’s nothing we regret, but I can understand the initial reactions. But it feels great that we are engaging so many people.” Grönwall adds: “I still claim that ‘Time on Our Side’ is the best release we’ve done when it comes to its reach. It became a talking point.” Jimmy Jay continues: “A lot depends on how one chooses to package things. If you take ‘Time on Our Side’ as an example. At the demo stage that was more of a hard rock song. It had several different shapes before we chose to package it in the electronic style that we did on the album.”

H.E.A.T’s live set now contains more and more newer material. “Naturally we now play more from the three most recent albums with Erik. We’re playing fewer and fewer songs from the first two albums. We do play quite a lot from the latest album. It’s fun playing new stuff,” says Crash. “It’s becoming harder for every new album,” says Grönwall of choosing set lists.

What musical direction will the band take from here? “It’ll be a surprise. For us too!” says Crash, who then adds: “We have a rough sketch of a plan to get back into the studio and record already this year. We want to keep the tempo up. No more two-year breaks!” The latest album was recorded in Thailand and produced by Swedish producer Tobias “Tobbe” Lindell, best known for his work with bands such as Europe, Sister Sin and Hardcore Superstar. “The reason it was recorded in Thailand was that we had a great budget! Haha!!!” jokes Grönwall. Crash continues: “Tobbe, the producer, lives in Thailand and had some connections. It’s not that much more expensive and so it’s not as if we went out and wasted loads of money.”

Crash of H.E.A.T in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

“We also got quite a lot of time to let things settle in and we could continue to produce at home. It was more detailed,” adds Jimmy Jay about the production of the album. “It is in contrast to how ‘Tearing’ was. That album sounded very ‘live’. On that album, we tried to retain the live feeling. I can catch myself sometimes when I listen to ‘Live in London’. On, say, ‘Inferno’, it’s hard to know which version is studio and which one is live. It is a very similar sound,” says Crash.

With guitarist Eric Rivers exiting the band as they began the work on the new album, original guitarist Dave Dalone returned to the band after a few years of absence. “It just kind of happened,” says Dalone. “From our side, when there was a need for a guitarist, we went through what alternatives there were. We realised that Dave is the best!” says Jimmy Jay. Crash adds: “Keep it in the family! An hour after Rivers said he was leaving, I finally realised that he’s gone. Then the four of us sat down and the first thought that came up was Dave. Should we ask Dave back? That’s how we started to discuss.” Does Dalone see any difference with the band this second time around? “Yes, it feels a bit different now. Personally, I think I needed that break. It feels better now,” explains Dalone. Most of the material for the new album had already been written by the time Dalone was back in the band but he added his bits and pieces where he saw fit. “Someone writes the basic outline and then we all sit and create together in the studio. All of us are involved in songwriting all the way,’ explains Grönwall.

H.E.A.T will now continue to do more gigs during the spring and summer. “And we will perhaps go out on another tour in the autumn,” says Crash, before they start to properly work on the next album. Who knows what we’ll get next time? No doubt it will be quality, no matter what genres H.E.A.T decides to tackle.

H.E.A.T in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Interview | Venom Inc: “We can only be who we are”

Venom Inc: Abaddon, Mantas and The Demolition Man in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Venom Inc talks to Roppongi Rocks about an unplanned reunion, being cheeky, writing very long songs and staying relevant.

Venom Inc on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Mikio Ariga

What a comeback! When the classic “Prime Evil” era line-up of VenomTony “Abaddon” Bray, Jeff “Mantas” Dunn and Tony “The Demolition Man” Dolan – reunited as Venom Inc a few years ago, I think many people saw it as a fun and nostalgic thing. Venom was founded 40 years ago in Newcastle in the north of England. It not only pioneered extreme metal, the whole black metal sub-genre was named after its second album. In August last year Venom Inc released the fantastic album “Avé” on Nuclear Blast internationally and Ward Records in Japan. It was one of 2017’s best albums and it became obvious that Venom Inc is much more than just a reunion and a celebration of the past. Venom Inc links the past, the present and the future. When Venom Inc recently returned to Japan for a second tour, I sat down with the band backstage before their Tokyo gig.

While a bleak Cronos-led version of Venom has been out there playing shows, the proper legacy of the band seemed to have died. But then guitarist Mantas and vocalist and bassist Dolan reunited in 2010 in the band M:Pire of Evil and that was the beginning of something which in 2015 led to a proper reunion of a vital Venom under the name Venom Inc.

“It was always a good version of the band,” says drummer Abaddon. “It wasn’t a short stint of the band. People tend to forget about that a little bit. Good albums, some good tours. We went to some places we hadn’t been to before. So, it was a good thing to reunite, it wasn’t a ‘let’s get some random guy back in the band and hope it works out’. It was a good version of the band to start building from. But it wasn’t meant to be a band. It was just meant to be a one-off thing for a festival in Germany. It was meant to be these guys playing as M:Pire of Evil and I was going to join for five songs, six songs.” Dolan adds: “Just to go ‘Surprise! There you go’.”

The Demolition Man backstage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Abaddon continues the story: “There were a lot of…I guess what you call hardcore Venom fans there anyway. It’s very central to where a lot of people live, handy for the French people, the Swiss people and obviously the Germans. So it was always going to be a hardcore group of people there. This just kind of added a bit of spice on that cake and it made it a bit more exciting for them. Right from the beginning, right from the first chords of the first song we played, you’re getting this wave happening… You only really get that with some of the bigger bands, like when Deep Purple getting someone back in or Black Sabbath getting Ozzy back in and you get that really big wave.”

“It felt unusual, not regular,” says Dolan and continues: “Not just another band. Even the signing. There was 20 minutes allotted for the signing and after like 35 minutes they were going: ‘You know you guys can stop now’. But there was still a line. I mean there was over a thousand people, I swear to God, lining the hall while the bands were still playing. And I said: ‘But there is all them.’ It was crazy. At 50 minutes they went: ‘Look, I think you guys should probably just…’ and I said: ‘Well, when they’re finished, if we can get to every fan.’ There were other bands signing their things and leaving and we were still there. That’s just how it is.”

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

What prompted the reunion of the “Prime Evil” era line-up? “There is a festival in our hometown Newcastle,” explains Abaddon. “Tony’s band Atomkraft was playing and he spoke to Jeff about getting to do some old tune in a very similar sort of way but in our hometown. I was there just watching what was going on as a fan of the music. I had been there maybe a couple of years in a row. I’m standing at the bar and a couple of these big German guys with ‘Black Metal’ on their backs, they turned and looked at me when these guys were on stage.”

As Mantas appeared on stage next to his old Venom bandmate Dolan, the Germans looked at Abaddon in the audience and said: “What the fuck! Why aren’t you doing this?” Abaddon was taken by surprise: “I was like: ‘I don’t know.’ It turned out that one of them was the promoter of the show. He does a few big festivals. The one in Newcastle I think was in February and the one these guys were going to do in Germany was in April, so it was a kind of a natural. ‘If I can make this happen, would you be up for it?’ Like I said it was ever meant to be that quick couple of songs.”

After the Newcastle festival the promoter approached Dolan: “He literally after the festival said: ‘That was really great to see all that and you got Mantas up and that was brilliant. Why don’t you get Abaddon and do some Venom stuff?’ and I was like: ‘Well, it wasn’t that kind of thing and I don’t know if that could happen’.” The promoter pushed on and got Abaddon to agree to turn up at the festival in Germany after being promised flights, a nice hotel and a bottle of whisky. “It was quite a shock. We all just had a giggle,” says Dolan about the one-off festival reunion in Germany. But by the next morning, says Dolan, “We had two or three management offers, we had four or five promoters worldwide go: ‘When can we book the band?’ We’re not a band, we just did that. ‘No, no, you guys should do this’.” Abaddon adds: “We got an offer for a live album, an offer for an album.” Dolan continues: “So we just said: Why not? But the misnomer is that we went out there to cash in and play the catalogue. It kind of wasn’t like that. We agreed to do a lot of stuff so the first thing was to go: ‘What would people like to hear?’ And they wanted to hear every single song that’s ever been done!” Abaddon adds: “Funny enough one of the first places we came to was Japan. We went to China and then Japan. The Japanese were some of the first people that saw this.”

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

Since the initial touring after the reunion, the band then went into the studio and created nothing short of a masterpiece. A new album with new terrific music. Did the band members know that they had such great new material in them? “There was no plan,” says Abaddon and Dolan adds: “No plan to do anything. We just went: ‘OK’. To make it legitimate, I personally felt we should go back to the first single and then come as fast through the catalogue of Venom because it’s such great songs that lots of people hadn’t actually heard. They never got a chance to see the band. Make our way right through to where we are.”

Abaddon continues to explain: “Me and Jeff were founding members of the band but Tony is a fan of the band. I think it’s fair for me and Jeff to say that we’re not particular fans of Venom’s music. You can enjoy playing it and enjoy writing it and enjoy taking it out on the road, but would I have bought ‘Black Metal’? I would have bought ‘Prime Evil’ after I heard it, but I don’t think I would’ve then gone back to the back catalogue necessarily. But to have somebody in the band who is a fan of the band and who gets the band, knows about the songs.” Dolan originally joined Venom as a replacement for Cronos in the late 1980s.

Venom Inc with Roppongi Rocks’ Stefan Nilsson in Tokyo.

Venom has a proud legacy with some classic songs, but the new Venom Inc album beats the whole back catalogue. “That’s a big thing to say. That means a lot,” says Abaddon. “The one thing that we discovered,” explains Dolan, “because I didn’t want to go towards an album, I really didn’t. The live album, we talked about it, people were asking about it. A live album though? Maybe later once we’ve done… But there’s no new music. Do you want to give that to the fans? The same songs but just in a different configuration. Is that not boring? But there are collectors and they want it. An album brings a whole load of stress. I don’t want to get into politics anymore. I don’t want to do that. And then selling it to who and getting the best deal and publishing… You think: ‘Oh my God!’ We were having so much fun just playing the music to fans who wanted to hear particular songs. That’s what I want to be able to do, to just play the music that is there. With the way we feel, there’s something special with it. The first three of them had something and we have something. I don’t know what it is, it’s just something. Let’s just have fun with this. We’re too old to get into all that bollocks again. But, they kept pushing, they kept pushing, they kept pushing. So it was like: ‘Well, what is the best thing about us? Apart from we’re good-looking of course, we’re sexy, we smell pretty good’. If we’re going to do it, how do we take who we are in a live situation and put that on an album without it being a live album?”

Abaddon continues: “The big thing that is different, I suppose, now is social media. The way that bands are perceived, the way bands can build something or change something. It’s different now. We didn’t grow up with that. We grew up with tape trading and phone calls and word of mouth. We weren’t very good players. The interest in the band grew outside of how good we were and what we did. We relied a little bit on… You learn all this with hindsight. We were allowed to grow into what we were supposed to be. By the time we got the band there, when Tony came in, we could actually play a little bit and we knew a bit about what we were supposed to be about. Don’t forget that it was fucking five, six albums in or something! You know bands have that tricky third album? We had to go to six before we could put a good record out!”

Venom Inc: Abaddon, Mantas and The Demolition Man in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

While working on the new album, did the band feel any constraints to fit in with the Venom legacy? “When Jeff was composing this stuff, he’s constantly writing stuff,” says Dolan. “He was sending things through that I had to be thinking about vocally. I see music in images. When I hear the piece, I see whatever it is. If I don’t see anything then it needs something else. I don’t know what it is. But, OK, we’ll think about that. But if I see it, there it is. Anything sent through I kind of saw.”

“I think that the one thing that we all kind of agreed on, how the album came together and how it was done, was that we weren’t gonna go back and say: what made ‘Bloodlust’ good? Let’s do another one!” says Abaddon and Dolan adds: “No plagiarism!”

Abaddon continues: “I think that’s fair to say, we all thought: Right! ‘Witching Hour’ was great. People love ‘Witching Hour’. Let’s do another one! That was never gonna happen. Whether it was going to sound sonically like ‘Black Metal’ or whatever, or played like ‘Prime Evil’, it was never gonna be: ‘Just take that because it worked’. That was never gonna happen!” Dolan adds: “Not on purpose. That was the key. Jeff was like: ‘Do you think I am going in the right direction?’ I went, this is the direction you need to go in: You were Jeff Mantas, you are Jeff Mantas and you will always be Jeff Mantas. And I and Tony are the same. That’s what we need to record. Us! You don’t have to be that guy, you don’t have to be anybody! We don’t have to try and be that other thing. We just have to be us, the way we are. That’s what’s working and that’s what should happen. For me I think that’s what happened. It’s honest because that’s who we are. When we play the tracks live, people have been saying the same thing. When we play the new tracks, on one of the shows we did not so long ago, a festival show, I’m singing ‘Avé’ and when I was singing the chorus it sounded funny. Something weird happening. I’m getting some kind of weird reverb. And then I realised, the audience were all singing it! They were all singing it back. Wow! It was amazing to do those new tracks. That was always a Venom thing, when people would be singing the lyrics as loud as they could while we’re doing it. That’s a testament I think. But that comes from the other thing: plagiarism would have been death to us. Trying to be something we aren’t. We can only be who we are. That’s what works!”

The cheeky side of the Venom Inc boys is always present which is evident when we discuss how much of the new material the band now typically plays in the current set list. “Eh… Jeff plays all of it, I play some of it,” says Dolan with a big smile across his face. Abaddon continues: “I play about two-thirds of it. Hahaha!!” And the banter goes on: “So, it depends on where you are in the audience. Haha!!” laughs Dolan and Abaddon adds: “If they’re at the back it’s a right fucking mess!”

Venom Inc: Abaddon, Mantas and The Demolition Man in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

On a more serious note, Abaddon explains: “It kind of depends on how long the sets are. You have to give a crowd-pleasing performance. As people want us to play the new stuff anyway, so it’s a kind of give and take and find what fits. There are certain songs on the new album that fit well in with a classic set. One of the things I used to love about band, the bands I was into, would change up songs when they played live. One of the big things that we’ve done, there are no actual changes in the song, in parts of the song, but the way we play parts, is ‘Warhead’. We used to play ‘Warhead’ all the time, you know with the other guy and it was always good and it was heavy. It was great. But somehow it’s become this thing which is central to the set, almost every night. It’s like you just get into a fucking groove and it really becomes massive. It’s a great song, there is nothing wrong with the song. We played it pretty much every time we played but it was always just a song.”

Dolan continues: “‘Sons of Satan’, it’s kind of become an anthem for the fans and us. When we play it, it’s like the punkiest punch in the face you’re ever gonna get. And it means something now. Before it was just another song, but it means something now. Like ‘Warhead’, stuff like that. We play with it. We want to put the new stuff in, but was is amazing is that a song you may have composed forty years after that song and we put them back to back and they sound like they could…all of the songs from ‘Live Like An Angel’, the B-side of the first single, to ‘War’ or ‘Bloodlust’ in the middle, they could all be on the same album. That’s amazing to have stuff like that. That shows great songs. That’s always something I’ve said about the legacy. Most bands might go out… If you went to see Europe, tell me five Europe songs! ‘The Final Countdown’…” Abaddon adds: “Ha! I couldn’t tell you two!” before Dolan makes his point: “’The Final Countdown’! Now if you went to see Europe and they didn’t play ‘The Final Countdown’, you’d be going: ‘Ah, I’m gutted!’ To be in a band where you have got more than one and you’ve got ten and we could play 30 songs over two hours, three hours and still people go: ‘You didn’t play my favourite song! Why didn’t you play that one?’ That’s that richness of the legacy and that’s what is really special about this and really wonderful. Every night is a different night. We have that flexibility because of experience and because of everything else. Each night is not the same night. A thousand years ago, if you came to see the first night of a 30-date tour, the guys on the last night didn’t know what was gonna happen. The reviews wouldn’t be coming out until later. They might see a photograph, but rarely. They might have had a friend who went to the show. These days, before we finish the set, everybody on the last date already knows because they have taken photographs of the set list, there’s video up. In a way it’s kind of like a spoiler to a movie. I’m dying to see this movie and then someone post it and tells you everything about it. No! So I’m trying to encourage people to wait a little bit so that people can enjoy that. But because of that it means that we have that movement so we don’t give you the same show. In Osaka it won’t be the same show as tonight so that people can feel it’s special.”

The Demolition Man backstage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

On the new “Avé” album there are some very long songs. Mantas, the main songwriter, explains: “There’s a couple of songs I actually had to strip back. They were even longer. ‘Forged in Hell’ was about a minute longer than it is on the album. I was listening to it and it was just… When I’m writing, I am all about hook lines and choruses and where can the audiences join in? And this particular song, to me it seemed it was taking too long to get to the ‘Forged in Hell’! It was taking too long to get to that, so it was about a minute cut out of that.” Dolan adds a cheeky: “And then you gave yourself a good talking to, didn’t you?” Mantas continues: “I did. But a track like ‘Avé’, that comes in at… even ‘Dein Fleisch’, that comes in at seven minutes. But the thing is, when I construct the songs, when I am listening back to them, the first time I have a song fully constructed, I press play and the stop watch and I see what it comes in at. Then once I have got all the parts together and it’s still the same length, even without vocals, if it’s not doing it without vocals, because the vocals are the key on every song. That’s it, that’s the storyline for it. But as an instrumental piece, if I’m sitting there going: ‘For fuck’s sake! Fucking hell, when is it going to end?’ But with both ‘Dein Fleisch’ and with ‘Avé’ and with ‘Blood Stained’ as well, it was like I didn’t notice that because I felt the arrangements and the parts were keeping the attention. Then I thought: once the vocals go on top and the story’s told, then you’re not gonna notice. Seven minutes is going to pass like that. We had to do an edit for ‘Dein Fleisch’ for some strip clubs in America. They wanted a three and half, four minute edit for pole dancers. So, I did that and then listening back to it, it actually sounded weird. It was ending too soon.”

“The thing about radio play,” explains Dolan, “‘Dein Fleisch’ was on radio constantly in America. Nobody was going: ‘It’s a bit long, isn’t it?’ They were just playing it. If it works, it just works and people don’t notice the length of it.” Mantas continues: “Purposely, that’s why the album ends with ‘Black N Roll’. Because you’re getting commentary on world, fucking shit that’s going on and you’re getting the usual stuff from Venom, you’re getting the song about metal and the fans and all that kind of stuff. And it is a pretty dark album at times. Some of the songs are long and then it just needed a good punch in the face to finish it off! With a bit of humour which we have always been known for. It was a tribute to everything we love really.”

Dolan makes a point about the cheekiness of the band: “I think that’s a highly important point as well. That humour thing is something – we always had that cheeky humour thing. Venom always had that. I think it lost itself somewhere. That is part of whole thing. To me having that cheeky side back in there, I guess was important. It’s part of the identity.”

Well, folks, the Venom Inc boys are here. They have a past, present and future together. They’re relevant and they’re better than ever before. Shortly after our chat they walk on stage and deliver a devastatingly terrific metal show. Metal we bleed indeed.

Venom Inc: Abaddon, Mantas and The Demolition Man in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks