|HEEDING THE CALL|
It seemed predetermined. With an ingrained family legacy and a talent so innate and surprisingly eclectic, HAMMERFALL drummer Anders Johansson was probably destined for life as a musician.
When one considers that Anders played in some of this interviewer’s all time favourite albums (with YNGWIE MALMSTEEN), currently pounds the skins with the band that thankfully revived the Power Metal genre, and had recently toured with STRATOVARIUS (featuring his bother Jens on keyboards), the interview I had scheduled with the Swede was obviously going to be a candid affair. It was also obvious that some roots would be unearthed.
Is this the first tour you’ve done with your brother Jens since you both played with YNGWIE MALMSTEEN in the 1980’s?
A.: Well, we had done some small Jazz Fusion tours after that, in the 1990’s. But yes, this is the first big tour since then.
And what do you remember of your first tour?
|"It’s hard to be a session musician – you have to chase work all the time."|
A.: The first tour, with Yngwie, was in 1984. A long time ago, 21 years ago in fact. We had done 2 gigs prior to the tour as a sort of warm-up. Then we went to Japan. The third concert (of this tour) was weird for me because we played in a fairly big place in Japan. We had recorded that event and also released a live video of it [“Live In Budokan”].
Nowadays of course I don’t suffer from stagefright at all but then, with all those cameras filming and considering that we had hardly rehearsed, I did have a little bit of stagefright. Remember I was 21 years old, Jens was around 19, so we were all very young.
If I’m not mistaken, after leaving Yngwie’s band you had worked with Jonas Hellborg, ex-bassist with John McLaughlin’s MAHAVISHNU ORCHESTRA…...
A.: I did a lot of things with him, a number of records and tours.
Do you ever find it a problem as a drummer switching from the Jazzier stuff to the Power Metal of HAMMERFALL?
A.: Not really, no, because when we were young, Jens and I more used to play the Jazzier and Funkier stuff. The Metal thing came as an accident, more or less. In our neighborhood, there was this band called SILVER MOUNTAIN that played. I think they had fired their drummer because their guitar-player had heard about me and that I had been played since an early age and, well, they asked me to play with them.
But since I was 17 I always did both [Jazz and Metal]. The thing with Jens and I is that our father was a Jazz musician so I always heard Jazz and when we were growing up we were always exposed to Jazz.
If I’m not mistaken you also worked with guitarist Allan Holdsworth. How would you describe this experience - of having worked with such a revered pioneer of Avantgarde Jazz?
A.: The funny thing is that we never met during the recordings we did together. Instead we just relayed tapes to each other. We had met but not when we recorded.
I remember when he sent his tapes back with all his solos & stuff recorded onto it [i.e. onto the music Anders and Jens had composed and recorded]. And I could hardly believe it was true because he was one of our idols when we were kids. When I heard those tapes I thought it was unbelievable – probably one of the biggest things for me as a musician.
I’ve also had an opportunity to listen to the “Fission” album you did with brother Jens and I think it is an album which reveals you at a high technical level of musicianship. Through this album, in fact, I discovered you were more technically qualified than I had imagined.
A.: Really? You know, the “Fission” thing was actually recorded in our mother’s basement and you could say we had unlimited studio-time to do it. I think we spent a whole week just recording the drums. Normally, when you records albums, it’s just 1 or 2 days for the drums but in this case we did several extra takes, and if it didn’t work try to compromise or even redo it.
Also, Jens lived between USA and Sweden then but he had already sent me tapes of some of the stuff beforehand. So I was well rehearsed for that album. Normally there’s a feeling of not knowing exactly what you’re doing but this album was well planned.
You’ve also worked with the late Shawn Lane – how do you remember him?
A.: A great guy! Fantastic musician!
And a very fast guitar player, right?
A.: Geez….unbelievable! I think I’ve never seen anyone play guitar so fast. Fast and good. He was also a cool guy, really easy to hang out with.
I’d now like to focus on your solo-recordings, although I admit I only know of 1 solo album of yours – “Red Shift”. Anders, are your solo compositions to be considered as different aspects of your artistic inclinations or are they simply channels offering you opportunities for music experimentation?
A.: I think simply experimenting and having fun, really! Again, some of the tracks [on “Red Shift”] took a long time to record. There was one that was really difficult to do but most of them are results of experimentation. I was just trying to get some different sounds or cool parts.
I know you’ve recorded in many albums during your career. Do you remember to how many albums you’ve contributed?
A.: I don’t know really. You see, when I stopped playing with Yngwie I remained in Los Angeles, California. Somehow I had to pay my bills so I worked as a session musician. During this period I had recorded for some known bands and musicians. Most of them, however, I had never really heard of - in fact I don’t even have many of these recordings. I think I’ve recorded in a 100 albums, or something like that.
Do you think you’ve learnt anything from all those experiences?
A.: Yes, a lot! You know, it’s hard to be a session musician – you have to chase work all the time, and in Los Angeles there was a lot of competition too. I also got a lot of studio experience, learnt not to be nervous when recording. This definitely helped me later on.
Anders, I’d like to ask you what you think of HAMMERFALL’s image – do you feel part of that ‘macho’ image?
A.: Not really. Actually I tried in the last album [“Unbent. Unbound. Unbroken.”] to buy some ‘Rock clothes’ but when I look at the pictures now I feel I look totally retarded!
It was also my children, who were sick of me having such an anti-Rock image, that told me to do it. They were telling me: [puts on a ‘hippie’ tone of voice] “Man, you have to look like a Rock star and wear Rock clothes.”
I don’t think it’s bad or anything, but it’s kinda not my style wearing leather or stuff like that.
So your children do listen to Metal music?
A.: Oh yeah, they do. They also think the Metal image is so cool and feel I’m embarrassing if I don’t adopt it.
Sort of unusual, I think. Usually the parents are embarrassed if their children wear Metal gear…..
A.: And it’s the same thing with STRATOVARIUS in the sense that also the children of Jens love the Metal lifestyle. Recently my brother fell asleep and they woke him up right before the show and he went up on stage wearing his pajamas throughout the whole performance! So his children have the same problem with him [keeping him in tune with the Metal image].
Recently I came across an interview with Jonas Hellborg, where he is reported to have said: “Music has to fill a function in a societal reality. It’s got to mean something for people.”
Anders, what does music mean for you?
A.: It’s hard to say……since I was a kid I got so excited by listening to and playing music. So that’s pretty much it basically. It doesn’t have a function, it’s just having fun….. enjoyment……entertainment maybe, somehow. I get good feelings from music and when I was a kid I realized I could also get a kick by playing it.
My last question is: do you think you’ve got where you want to be as a musician?
A.: Yes, why not! I mean we (HAMMERFALL) are not as famous as ROLLING STONES and can still go to restaurants without being mobbed but at the same time have our share of success. I think it’s just perfect as it is now.
Maybe this tour you’re doing with STRATOVARIUS might take you a step further in that direction though!
A.: Well, I think Metal is not big enough for that [to happen]. It’s a medium sort of thing.
©Chris Galea [email@example.com]
Current Hammerfall line-up:
Joacim Cans - vocals
Oscar Bronjak - guitars
Stefan Elmgren - guitars
Magnus Rosén - bass
Anders Johansson - drums & percussion
Recommended Anders Johansson discography:
With HAMMERFALL -
“Chapter V – Unbent. Unbound. Unbroken” (2005)
With YNGWIE MALMSTEEN -
“Marching out” (1985)
“Heavy Machinery” (1997) [feat. Jens Johansson and Allan Holsworth]
“Red Shift” (1997)
[released as a Jens Johansson solo album, feat. Shawn Lane and Mike Stern]
Official Hammerfall website:
Other related websites:
[Personal site of Magnus Rosén]
[An incomplete discography of Anders Johansson]