Jean-Luc Putaux: Why and how did you get Allan involved in "Heavy Machinery", as he has often been described as a bit unsociable?
I think the reason he ended up actually playing on it is that we gave him plenty of time and almost no pressure. I think the thing with Allan is that with him, things will just have to take the time they take if he's not satisfied musically he could care less about deadlines! That's how dedicated he is.. and he doesn't like to compromise about anything. This was completely clear from the beginning. You don't screw around with that guy! The thing is, HM was put out on what is basically our own label, so of course the deadlines were very flexible.
JLP: What inspiration is he for your music? I can hear Holdworthian harmonies in your improvised beautiful solo piece "Zero Sum Game".
Of course I have listened very much to all his records, so some of it probably seeps in. In that piece, perhaps some of the methods with which he builds chords have seeped in... it's an extremely un-guitar-like approach to chords, by the way.
JLP: How did you work with him? Did you record together in the studio or did he come after the primary recordings to play his solos?
JLP: Did you let him completely free or did you suggest "guidelines" on some tracks? How did you manage to get him play one of his best solos ever, at the end of "Beef Cherokee"?
No guidelines, who the hell would I be to suggest guidelines to Allan!? In some cases, I wrote down which parts of the songs I envisioned as having solos (guitar or keyboards), but then basically he was on his own, in his own studio as well. (with no deadline pressure.. This is how I would have wanted to do a project like this myself, by the way..)
JLP: You must be proud to have it on a Johansson CD!
You have no idea how proud! Of course it's scary putting your own lame solos next to Allan's... I'm quite proud that I had the balls to do that as well, instead of collapsing into a blubbering heap saying "we can never release this because I suck"!
JLP: You seem to particularly like the legato style for guitar players since, after Allan, you played with Shawn Lane who has a similar sound and style. Even Mike Stern used a sound slightly different from the one he generally uses.
Yeah, most "distorted guitar" players end up with some sort of legato sound. I think Mike uses the pick quite a lot though, don't know if that's what you meant.
Shawn uses both a lot of picking and a lot of legato! Lots of everything..
JLP: Don't you think that recording separate sections in various studios (especially for the guitar solos) makes albums lack the special alchemy that form during group rehearsing and recording?
But if I have to choose between that method, and not doing a record at all, of course I would chose to do the record. Especially Allan has a very busy schedule and is difficult to commit to get in the studio to "jam". He hasn't done some much of that type of "loose and not complicated" type music for a long time, recording almost solely as a leader the last decade or so only his own material, which is very brilliant and advanced harmonically. The last guys that got him to "jam" with them failed to get him to accept the end results, if I remember correctly (these were the dreaded "neverwas, neverwillbe" demos). So with Heavy Machinery the goal was make very modal material, and to record the backing tracks as "natural" sounding as possible (synth bass and drums at the same time, not so many keyboard overdubs either, mainly solos) and to see in what direction Allan took it. But in my head I also knew it probably would have been impossible logistically to get us together in the studio at the same time and to get a result everybody would be comfortable with. So it's a compromise. But at least it's a CD! Such is life. I still love the record.
JLP: Another consequence of this session-oriented type of album is that you will hardly play such music live which is sad. You and us miss a lot of fun. Isn't it frustrating for you?
Well, I play a lot live with other bands so it's not so frustrating. Most of the "HM" material would be possible to play live, with a guitarist or possibly even with a bassist. I don't know about "Fission" there's usually just too many parts going on at the same time. Maybe if I hired two more keyboard players!
In the past years I've done a lot of concerts with Jonas Hellborg as well which is usually a lot simpler music, and for three-piece so there's not so many people involved (travel costs, equipment hassle, etc).
There are still plans to do live shows at some point in the future..
JLP: What would be the similarities and differences between "Heavy Machinery" and "Fission"? Why does the first one list all the musicians on the cover and the second one is presented as a solo project?
Well, "HM" was really more of a group effort, i.e., me and Anders wrote the songs together (some of them in the studio) and recorded at the same time. Then Allan basically just did whatever he wanted to. So it was a very "loose" collaborative effort.
With "Fission", there was more of a plan to make more complex material. I wrote all the material beforehand, made a demo with the finished songs, and then tortured Anders into playing the parts (with a click!) until I thought it sounded right, then put keyboards on, tracked down Shawn and Mike for more proper "recording sessions" (sort of wearing a producer's hat). That's the conceptual difference.. "Fission" is also a lot more strange, maybe I didn't feel comfortable making the other guys responsible for all the weirdness!!
JLP: With fusion, the dividing line between great music and cold technique is very thin. On which side do you walk?
You ask that question (in that form) of anyone, and the answer will be "great music" of course. Nobody wants to tell themselves they're a "cold technician"! I'd imagine it's up to the people that listen, I'm sure different people would consider me walking on different sides.
JLP: Most tracks appear to be born from rhythm patterns, grooves or bass lines rather than harmonies. You seem to use very few chords or, generally, basic riffs ("Don't Mention the War"). Is your music more modal than tonal? Could you tell us more about the approach that was used to compose those tracks?
Both "Fission" and "HM" are without a doubt more "modal", and without a doubt more horizontal than vertical. Especially with "HM", the songs were basically written using synth bass and drums, and the intention was to diverge as little as possible from the extremely "basic" type of sonic picture. Sort of an odd-meter rap album without vocals!
I's not that I don't like intricate chords, but I feel that the way music has mutated harmonically the last 100 years impressionism exploding into serialism which evolved (devolved?) into jazz harmonies there's not so much "new" I can say that hasn't been said before. Metric oddities, on the other hand, haven't been explored in quite such a comprehensive and understandable way yet, at least not in a context related to "rock music" (which is after all somewhat the territory I'm moving in, anyway). And the best way for me to leave any metric oddities open for inspection when playing a solo is to avoid the usual "jazz sounding" chord progressions.. and let's face it, many of the riffs and concepts are meant as 'soloing riffs' for my own brand of polymetric blues-influenced lead lines, because it's something I enjoy doing!!
JLP: Both albums are choke full of odd meters and complex rhythm patterns which are far from being intuitive (you often "explain" them in the booklet). That might appear totally abstract and lifeless. However, you seem particularly natural with such structures. Does you heart beat normally 8-)? Is a special brain required ;-)? What kind of pleasure do you get from playing such music?
My ambition is to make music which has these strange structures in it but that sounds to an untrained ear as if it didn't. That way there would be different 'layers' of discovery. This is what I love about Zappa's or Bach's music, for instance, there can be this piece that you're totally familiar with and all of a sudden you realize there's some twist to it you didn't notice the first three years you listened to it!
On "Fission" especially, there are of course a lot more 'layers' and things hidden than the fairly basic descriptions I put in the booklet that's just to point to the "entrance of the labyrinth", if you will!
I still don't believe I've really got the hang of how to do this completely smoothly, I think I need some more CD's "to grow" and most of all more time! I wish I had more time to write..
JLP: We can hear a great complicity between Anders and you. Is it only "musical" or does it come from the fact you're brothers?
Maybe, and also from the fact that we have played in so many bands together thru the years. Moreover, on Fission, I made it clear from the beginning that he was being punished for all the bad things he did to me when we were children!!
JLP: On both records, you don't have a bass player. You play heavy bass lines on keyboard but with a very synthetic sound. Is it a deliberate choice? Don't you want to use more realistic bass samples?
A real bass player would be great! But it's hard finding people that can play this type of stuff. Regarding the sounds, well, that horrible little "dr synth" bass sound sort of grows on you!! Seriously, I stopped worrying about things like this a long time ago. Better to get some low notes on there and get the CD out this millennium, than to search for the perfect bass sample! But of course I know it sounds a bit strange.
Andy West was actually going to play on a few tracks of "Fission", but Fate conspired against this.. (for a full description of what happened, see http://www.panix.com/~jens/parse.cgi/faq-more.par#HED_TAG_2 and if you know any other bass players that can play this type of stuff, let me know! firstname.lastname@example.org )
JLP: Additionally, your keyboard sounds are largely analog. You use a lot of organ, with a high distortion and very few layers or digital sounds (remember D50). What do you like in that kind of sound?
The lack of harsh treble!
JLP: "Don't Mention the War" is my favourite track form "Fission", one without guitar by the way. There is a short countrapuntal section which reminds me of Gentle Giant. In the liner notes, you write that you wanted "to explore a subset of the "prog" idiom". In which way did you do that and, more generally, how does (did) progressive rock inspire you? Which keayboard players did you like?
I liked Gentle Giant as well!
Well, that song is a lot more "spelled out" than the other ones, it's no so heavily based on improvised solos, for instance. Of course I've listened to a lot of prog rock in my day. My all time favorite is probably the band UK and the keyboard player Eddie Jobson.
JLP: The final solo in "Don't Mention the War" seems to make use of holdsworthian scales. Your keyboard solos sound quite often like guitar solos. Are you a frustrated guitarist? 8-)
No! I'd hate to play guitar. But I am a frustrated keyboard player, because I don't feel the technology is quite there to get everything across the "barrier of the instrument"..
JLP: I'd like to know if you deliberately play them as guitar solos?
I think it's more that guitar soloing has evolved to the point where it's emulating horn/woodwind/flute players, and that keyboard playing with a monophonic sound (not chordal piano soloing, for instance) has evolved in the same direction.
Of course horn players in some fashion try to emulate to the human voice.. it all goes back to the human voice, because that's of course what the human ear evolved to relate to!!
If you think of what a guitar actually sounds like without the distortion, you'll see this development more clearly. It's not really a legato instrument at all. But it's a moot point.. so we all try to emulate the emotion and clarity of the human voice, but with the added rapidity and pitch-correctness of a fingered instrument. We're all in the same boat. But many of the things I play in keyboard solos would be completely impossible to play on guitar, and vice versa. (But I maybe you're right, perhaps I have aquired some bluesier ideas from the world of the electric guitar..)
JLP: More generally, due to the difference in the instrument, in which ways are keyboard and guitar solos different? (Am I clear enough? It's a bit difficult for me to phrase this as clearly as the question is in my head?)
Well, you can play a lot faster on a keyboard, so you have to be careful there so you don't play too fast. On the guitar you can get so much more emotion across, so with guitar maybe you have to be careful to put some thought in there as well. I don't know!? Good questions!
JLP: Your album is called "Fission". After "fusion", do you want to start a new genre?! 8-)
Naming records and songs is a lot more difficult for me than writing the music!!
JLP: Fusion is a bit out of fashion those days, with very few albums produced. Its electric instrumentation does not seem to please the jazz intelligensia. It's something from which Allan Holdsworth always suffered and he even "had" to record an album with jazz covers. Why did you choose this style? Did you find a market for it?
I'm not really aiming for the "jazz intelligentsia", I consider them beyond all hope!! I don't know about the market either, with these two records we just went with what sounded interesting. But there is interesting possibilities with the (global) markets for strange music "flattening out" in the next few years, with Internet trade and whatnot.
JLP: Will you finish the tryptic started with that two albums? With which guitar player would you like to play on the next one? Which musical project are you involved in right now?
I don't have ANYTHING planned right now, which is a great feeling!! Other guitar players whose numbers I have and who I'd love to do some stuff with: Mike Keneally, Fredrik Thordendahl, Steve Vai, Ron Jarzombek... let's see what develops!
JLP: What can you say about your apparent obsession for the number 7? It is symbolic in the name of your label, Heptagon, and it's often features in your rhythm patters. I always thought it was the number associated to progressive rock or, at least to more "cerebral" types of music.
Hey, you get really bored with 4 after a while..
Well, if you want to get weird there's a lot of mystical references to the number '7', in the Bible, for instance. And it's the next prime number up when you get bored with '5' (I can somehow image some cave man being completely mystified with the concept of '7' some 60000 years ago.. )
You like to joke about almost anything. Is there anything that you would never joke about? What?
I'm not sure there is anything that shouldn't be joked about! I mean, if you start to draw boundaries that you tell yourself that you cannot cross; sure enough, you'll have this itch to cross them. But of course you should try to avoid hurting people.. I think humor should be used to cheer people up (myself included), there's enough pain already... most of the things I find "funny" are not so much of the "schadenfreude" variety, rather of the "twisted thought" type of idea, based on some sort of lateral thinking or so.
Stratovarius is not the only band you play in. What are the other projects you are currently working on?
Well, actually Strato is the only "real" band I play with that does real gigs and videos and stuff, any other records are more studio oriented. But I have absolutely NOTHING in the pipeline at the moment which is a great feeling of non-stress! I'm sure that'll change next week though.
How is the future through your eyes?
Which one you prefer more. Playing concerts or recording in studio? Why?
Whew, it would be very hard to choose one! I really like both. I love recording, I love playing live, it's just the travel that kills me.. I just like making music I suppose. We should only release live records from now on!!
Stratovarius has received a gold record from Visions and will receive a gold record from Destiny as well. They both came from Finland. Can you appreciate the achievement as much as the Finnish members of Stratovarius?
Well, the 'Visions' gold disc was my first ever*, so it's really special for me. But regarding appreciating as much as TT, TK and JK, I think probably not! Of course it HAS to be extra sweet for the Finnish guys after all the years of struggle (that I essentially even missed.) Like "REVENGE!!" But I can pick up on the vibe that they have and enjoy it somehow, anyway. It's really great.
You've been living in U.S for quite a some time already. Do you still consider Sweden as you homecountry though?
I consider Earth as my home planet..
You are also a songwriter. Is there any chance of hearing Stratovarius songs in the future made my Mr. Johansson?
Hmm, I think we'll be in the studio in the fall for the next one.. at some point before each record, Timo T usually goes into this "writing mode spasm" and processes the impressions and ideas of the past year into songs. This usually only takes a week or two, so I think if you want material to be considered you'd better not be slow! I'll try to put together some material later this spring for Timo to listen to, but probably not in time as usual!! I'm still learning also, I'm not sure that the stuff I'd write would fit in, but all that's entirely up to Timo... thank god! It's a good thing we don't vote on these things, we'd probably never get any records done!! But I'll try to get some stuff together and send him a tape this time. I love to write..
I've seen your keyboards and you've painted some of the keys there. Any reason for that?
Hm, someone else asked me this recently. I don't know what you mean! (There was this one tour with Yngwie where I had black tape on all the E:s so I could find them easily when playing this 'reverse patch' from the wrong side of the keyboard...? ) Or do you mean the finnish touring DX7 which has a key missing? Ah, wait a minute, now I know what you are talking about! In the olden days I had a Polysix with all the keys painted BLACK. A few of these keys have since made it onto other Polysixen of mine, to replace keys that have broken. That is the explanation you're looking for, I think.
You have played in 3 Stratoalbums and they are all pretty much different from each other. Episode is fastest of them three and Destiny is the slowest. Visions is nicely there in the middleground. How do you see the development of the band? Should the next album be faster or is this road satisfactory?
Well, difficult question, I think as long as the next record is melodic we'll be OK! But let's say faster AND slower is fine with me!! I say lets make a 70 minute album : 5 fast songs, 4 slower groovier songs.. and 3 great ballads.. and again with 2 10-minute epics!!
What is the strangest question you've been asked by a fan?
"Could you autograph my dog"
How do you feel about the fact that some fans consider you as their big idol?
It feels good, of course! I think all musicians start playing for a variety of reasons. Hopefully the most important is "a love of music", but I think "a desire to get attention" is an important one as well.
Tell me a joke?
Sorry, I can't think of one now.. I've slept maybe 5 hours in the last two days.. maybe later.
Where do you see yourself in your fifties?
Earth. Long answer: I would think I'll still be involved with music in some form..
European part of your Destiny-tour is done. How was the overall reception over there?
Very good! Better than last time. The South American leg is over also when I type this, it went very well, especially considering the recent currency crisis in Brazil. It was the first time in Chile for us, and the gig there was just great!
Do you have any regrets concerning things you've left undone?
Not really, but I sometimes wish I had more time, but that's perhaps not an answer to your question..
What wouldn't you do at any cost?
At any cost?? The way the question is phrased, nothing! (but then "any cost" could mean, well, I mean, say someone offered me a deal where I would have to eat boiled rotten cabbage for all of eternity while listening to Tom Petty's "Free Falling", I suppose I'd do it, but only if in exchange I could have the value of pi changed to encode a three-dimensional image of my head in the first 1074790400 digits of its binal expansion, and there would be an end to all suffering in the world for all of eternity)
Say something to the readers of this magazine (as you know, they are fan-club members)?
Jens Johansson is perhaps best known for his work on several Yngwie Malmsteen records. But the talent of this Swedish keyboardist is not well known in America, as his best works still are not available in the US. Recently, his name has creeped up concerning the previously vacant keyboardist job for Dream Theater. The situation surrounding that is still cloudy, but here's a chance for Jens to explain it himself. Jens was born in 1963 in Stockholm. He appeared on vinyl for the first time in 1982, doing some heavy metal. Since then, he has worked with Ginger Baker (of Cream fame), Jonas Hellborg (fusion "bass-artist"), Dio (of Black Sabbath fame), Tony MacAlpine, and many other musicians. Jens is perhaps famous for the "neo-classical" sound he displayed on the Rising Force albums with Yngwie Malmsteen. His creative style and ability to interplay with a guitarist was likely the reason behind the excitement of his possible involvement with Dream Theater. But there is more to Jens than a back-up man to Malmsteen. This interview seeks to introduce Jens as a keyboard maestro in the American prog-rock circles, where he belongs. This interview was conducted, strangely, over 2 computers (as he was in Sweden during the interview). His open letter to Dream Theater fans on the news server (over Internet) opened the opportunity for fans to speak to him directly, something very few musicians would allow. But he has asked me personally to share his e-mail address with others who would like to write to him. You can reach Jens at "email@example.com" and he'll be happy to write back. He will soon complete two projects. One is an instrumental record, and the other will be a project with his brother, drummer Anders Johansson. Here is a very candid interview done with all the interesting features of electronic mail.
Hello Jens. I must say it's quite an honor for me to conduct this electro-interview with you. Interview via computer is strange, but perhaps the future, eh? Anyway, how did you get your start on the piano? It's seems that you're classically trained, but when did you develop a taste for other musical genres? And when did you move towards electronic keyboards?
Yes, perhaps this is something we'll see more of. It's an interesting way of doing it. As far as the piano, it was my mother that kind of made me start playing, I wasn't really into it at all at the time. She made both me and my brother Anders go. At the time, we realized that the other students spent ten times as much time on practicing at home...we didn't really practice at all, perhaps ten-twenty minutes before meeting up with the teacher again. Despite this, we were the best students in the group! After about two years (or as soon as we were big enough to argue properly with our mother) we quit the piano lessons. So I'm not really classically trained at all, I'm afraid. None of us played at all for a while, but then when I was in 8th grade my brother got a drum kit, and we decided to start a band with a friend that played guitar. I was already familiar with keyboard technique from the piano lessons, so it felt natural for me to play organ. (Luckily I didn't start playing bass.) I never really listened to baroque or classical music until I was about 14, before that I listened mainly to hard rock like Deep Purple and Rainbow.
Perhaps you're most well-known in America due to your involvement with Yngwie Malmsteen. Did you feel that was where you did your best work on record?
No, probably not. "Best work" is hard to pick out for me. But I liked the way the "E" album with Jonas Hellborg turned out, and "the Johansson Brothers" has some stuff that's interesting both keyboard-wise and otherwise. Out of the YJM (int: Yngwie J. Malmsteen) albums I probably like the first, second and fourth best (as far as the music) and the fourth and perhaps the first as far as the keyboard playing.
Jens, listening to your past work on Malmsteen's LPs, I've noticed a heavy Bach influence. What other influences do you have on your playing and writing?
Jens Johansson: "Bach's music is, to me, IMPOSSIBLY sophisticated. Someone like Bach probably comes around once every millennium or so. I don't know if it's even possible for anyone that NOT to be influenced by Bach in one way or another. He took one of the greatest eras in music history and summed it up with a coherence and identity that is just frightening. He single-handedly terminated the baroque. And kind of made it look like there was nothing to it. Regarding the Rising Force material... Yeah, we "borrowed" quite heavily from baroque compositions. Yngwie actually preferred more mindless but technically difficult stuff, like Paganini. I was (and still am) more into Bach, Beethoven, Stravinsky, and Bartok. "Popular music" I used to listen to a lot were Deep Purple, UK, Allan Holdsworth, Zappa, perhaps the Dixie Dregs a bit, Mahavishnu Orchestra, things like that. Of these I still listen a lot to Holdsworth and Zappa even if it's on my "spare time." Nowadays, I try consciously to avoid some of my earlier influences. But of course it's difficult. The keyboard player in Holdsworth's band, Steve Hunt, is one of the few people whose keyboard solos I can listen to and just plain enjoy. I always liked Eddie Jobson and preferred his treatment of the instrument "distorted synth" (to Jan Hammer's for instance.) But I still can't really say that I sound like either of those. I'm lost as far as what influences I have when it comes to compositions. Consciously or subconsciously it would probably range from Palestrina to Metallica, from Lassus to Ligeti, whatever... depending on which record you'd listen to...
How has playing with Yngwie and Jonas Hellborg directed your style?
Yngwie: nudged me away from the Hammond Organ. Perhaps made me more aware of Uli Roth. Hellborg: nudged me back toward the Hammond Organ. Made me more aware of stuff like Shakti and Stockhausen. Other than some inevitable progress, my approach is pretty much the same as in 1983.
So would you say that playing with Yngwie was not a musically fulfilling project? Was he not interested in creating music? Or was he into purely technically difficult bits of solos and things?
Oh, he was very interested in creating music, he always talked about "creativity" as something he valued. (Primarily his own creativity. ) He actually has a bit of an aversion for the nitty-gritty theoretical details of music, as well as for the technical performance stuff. The latter might be hard to believe, but it's true. (Typical comment: "I don't give a f*ck about sweep picking, suspended 13ths, or 32nd notes or whatever. I'm not a f*cking mathematician") As far as "fulfilling," I'd have to say, yes, it was fulfilling up to a point...it's a long story.
As someone who creates complex parts on keys, do you rather play as a solo artist or would you rather work with a band?
With a band. Surprises are fun. I have a pretty good idea what Ican come up with already.
If you can focus on any type of music for a future project, which direction would you take it? Would you focus more on that neo-classical style we all enjoyed in the past, or would you push for more of a "progrock" style, or something else?
No, the purely neo-classical stuff I'm a little bit sick of. We just finished an album in the spring of '94 called "the Johansson Brothers," it's a prog/metal record with a great singer from Sweden and a bunch of guys I got to know in Yngwie's band. We're working on another record with the same line-up at the moment (I'm actually typing this on a laptop in a studio in Vaxjö, Sweden we're recording drums for 'J:son Bros II', and for another instrumental record) This one will be a bit simpler we're going to use the more 'complex' material for a NEW project which will be more progressive than metal so to speak. Unnamed as yet. Also will have a different singer. The instrumental record looks to be interesting too... Also mixing a solo piano record while here in Vaxjö.
What are your favorite things to listen to these days?
Hmmm, right now I'm listening to a Shakti CD I just bought...incredible stuff. Also, I just got a hold of a strange Holdsworth record that I never saw before, "Wardenclyffe Towers", from 1992. Amazing. Other than that, (the last few weeks or so) Zappa, a Russian composer by the name of Schnittke, Bach (an oddball recording of the first 9 fugues in 'Kunst der Fuge' on organ with Glenn Gould highly recommended), Steve Coleman's "Fringe Zones", Tony Williams' Lifetime "Emergency!", Shankar's "Pancha Nadai Pallavi", the new Queensryche, and my friend Jonas Hellborg's latest ("Ars Moriende" with Glen Velez.)
What do you think of the present Swedish music scene, with bands like Anekdoten breaking out here in the US?
I stand in shame I haven't actually heard any of the Swedish neo-prog bands like "Anekdoten" or "Aenglagaard". I promise I'll check them out some day... :(
Having played with guitar greats like Tony MacAlpine, Yngwie Malmsteen, Vinnie Moore, and others, who did you like working with more as a musician, guitarist, and person?
Never worked with Vinnie actually, but I met him (at a NAMM show I think) and he seems like a nice guy. I really enjoyed playing in Rising Force, or at least that's how I remember it now. Tony I only "worked with" for an hour or so for some keyboard solos on his latest record...but he is a great guy with a good sense of humor. And a great player. I can't really compare the situations as I played with Yngwie in an actual band for about 5 years. Which did I like more? Can't really say, I've enjoyed it all. (so far)
How has it been to work with your brother for all these years, with Yngwie and the Johansson Brothers projects?
Good! Of course we know each other's playing style thoroughly...we both have the same attitude when it comes to a lot of things, from the business end to the musical bit, which is good too.
Anyone you want to work with in the future?
Yes, I'd absolutely love to do something with Allan Holdsworth...we've talked loosely about it, but who knows what he'll say when the time comes to actually do it...
If people aren't familiar with your style or playing, is there anything you want as an intro?
Not really. A brief history perhaps... I'll see if I have a bio somewhere.
What is your gear these days? Are you fully-MIDI-ed or do you still use some of those old-but-glorious instruments such as Hammond organs or Mellotrons?
I've been doing a lot of work on Hammond lately, it's a wonderful instrument...usually there's one standing in the corner of any fairly good studio. For the road I have a Korg CX3 which is a portable one-manual transistorized organ. If you play it thru a leslie it sounds just like a B3. (I have two 760 leslies.) Other than that, I have sh*tloads of old crap. But for synth work mainly I use my old Matrix-12 and DX7 keyboards. I own newer stuff as well but don't use it as much. I still use a Korg PolySix for most of the lead stuff. I have about ten of them, some of which I have sacrificed for spare parts. Mellotrons I've never gotten into, mainly because any decent sampler will give you the same result nowadays.
Well, perhaps the reason your name came up seriously in the prog rock discussions of late is due to your possible involvement with Dream Theater. What do you think of DT, their older and perhaps more keyboard-oriented pieces, and their present, more metallic style?
I liked "Images & Words" a lot when it came out...actually BOUGHT myself a copy. The new one is good too, an itsy bitsy bit grungy but perhaps I need to listen to it more. The first Dream Theater album I haven't heard I'm afraid.
What did happen with Dream Theater? There seemed to be a bit of a keyboard musical-chairs recently. Many of us were secretly wishing that you got the gig, as your skills are incredibly sufficient to handle Kevin's parts. So what did happen? Was it an incompatibility in style, or was it something else?
No idea what happened there I'm afraid. I was ready, willing, and able, at least at the time. I did an "audition", actually the first one of my life. I thought it went great, but then maybe I have nothing to compare with. (No fist fights broke out means it was a good audition, right? ) I don't think it was a musical problem myself, perhaps a money thing, or something. I also got the impression that it wasn't a "permanent" gig, rather, a "road sideman" type of situation where you don't get to be in the videos, don't get to do interviews, etc. Effectively, to be able to write and participate on the next record you'd have to pass a one-year-long audition. I would have been a bit unhappy with that part of it, perhaps they realized that. If so, I'd have to give them credit. I had quite enough of the "Them vs. Us" bullsh*t with Yngwie I guess, so perhaps I'm a bit allergic.
Was there an incompatibility with Dream Theater, being that you're from a classically influenced style while the band was of the 'Berklee' school?
I kind of doubt it, I was actually more of a fusion freak myself although the stuff I did with Yngwie of course was 'neo-classical'. I was never "classically trained" or anything. And I think the Dream Theater guys never graduated from Berklee. (Which, if it's true, in my mind is good, I don't really think you can be taught how to be a good musician. Technically proficient, yes, but then pretty much anyone can learn how to type really fast and accurately too.)
I've also heard elsewhere about DT's lack of desire to fill a permanent keyboard spot at this time. Did you think that you would of been a "sideman" as with Yngwie? I do hear that at this time, that's what Derek (Sheranian, present live keyboardist for Dream Theater) is going through....
That's the impression I got as well. I think it is worse for him than it was for me with Yngwie, I mean, when we were with Yngwie, at least we got to be in the videos, and do interviews and such. Perhaps they will put this Derek guy in the next video..
Okay, last question....if you can get a dream combo for your next LP, who would you like to play on it and why? Be honest, and you DON'T need to be practical!
OK... Drums: Tony Williams, Keyboards: Steve Hunt, Violin: Shankar, Bass: Scott Thunes, Guitar: Marty Friedman, Vocals: Devin Townsend. I'd lock them in a studio and they'd have to produce an acceptable album (to me!) to get out...and no, I wouldn't dare playing on it myself... I'd stand outside the studio, and feed them hamburgers and pizza and get DAT cassettes in return...
Thanks a million Jens, and good luck with all future endeavors.
1) Musiken. Vad betyder den för mig? Varför lockar den? Varför spelar jag den? Hyser jag äkta kärlek till Musiken, är jag mer intresserad av att kommunicera med mina medmännniskor, eller är jag ute efter berömmelse, pengar, ära, makt, eller något annat? Alla som sysslar med att skapa musik borde fråga sig detta då och då. Inte för att något svar egentligen är "bättre" än något annat. Och jag menar inte att man av någon anledning ska ändra sin inställning, tvärtom. Men det kan vara bra att veta i många situationer, för när det verkligen gäller så måste du kanske medvetet lura dig själv. Man måste ta tillvara på så mycket som möjligt av den "drivkraft" som fick en att ta de första stapplande stegen på sitt instrument. Låt ändamålet helga medlen!
2) Knark och sprit. Det har ju alla hört talas om i samband med musiker. Paganini, Charlie Parker, Jimi Hendrix. Mitt råd här: ta det lite försiktigt. Man blir inte genialiskt vansinnig av att knarka, utan det råkar i stället vara så att vansinniga genier lockas till knark. Och tänk på detta: på varje knarkande geni går det tio vanliga. Men dom skrivs det aldrig om, dom dör ju inte genom att kvävas av sina egna spyor. Själv gillar jag att dra upp Bach. Han var nämligen ganska tråkig, drack bara kaffe och rökte pipa. Inga nålar, ingen syfilis, inget laudanum. Men ändå historiens störste. Hur mycket hade Bach fått gjort om han hade varit tvungen att injicera heroin ett par gånger om dagen? (Själv gör jag förresten inte anspråk på att vara varken geni eller knarkare, men kaffe och öl dricker jag gärna, helst för mycket av båda)
3) Om att sätta gränser: Hur långt får det gå? Vart är det på väg? Var slutar detta? Dessa frågor är ibland det allra viktigaste i ett projekt eller en komposition, eller till och med ett solo. (Eller till och med i en musikers karriär!) Utan en klart definierad gräns kommer en samling kompositioner ha dålig genomslagskraft det blir enkelt uttryckt 10 personer som gillar 1 låt vardera i stället för tvärtom. I frågan om en normlös komposition eller ett splittrat solo kan det hända att lyssnaren blir förvirrad och tappar intresset. Vissa musiker har ett väl utvecklat sinne för vad de tycker om och vad de ogillar. De kan säga direkt: "Nä, det här är inte bra alls." Detta medför att de sparar mycket tid vid arbetet och har lätt att bilda sig en egen "röst", en enhetlig och genomgripande "röd tråd" som går genom alla deras verk. Men medaljens baksida är naturligtvis att de har svårare att utvecklas. Om du vill splittras (eller "utvecklas"), eller koncentrera dig (eller "stagnera") bestämmer du själv, men det kan vara bra att fråga sig ibland.
4) Improvisation. Det enda sättet att kunna improvisera avspänt och väl är tyvärr att försöka sig på det. Ofta. Och länge. Om du känner dig osäker på ditt improviserande, ta en kopp kaffe (eller tre!), och sätt dig och spela någon eller några timmar till någon form av komp. Spela precis vad som helst. Fortsätt så, varje dag, i ett par år. Var inte rädd att upprepa dig. Det är som att lära sig ett hantverk, precis som att snida trä eller så. Alla goda improvisatörer har en arsenal av fragment ("licks") som snabbt pusslas ihop. Om någon påstår något annat så är det lögn, för var går gränsen? Är en enstaka ton ett fragment eller bara en ton? (Varje solo kan tänkas vara en rad av hopkopplade entonsfragment!) Dock, om man analyserar bra improvisatörer i detalj kan man naturligtvis oftast skönja mycket längre fragment, med många finesser ifråga om att knyta samman dem.
5) Musik och pengar. Vilken hemsk kombination. Men om man vill försörja sig på musik måste man tyvärr fördjupa sig i eländet. Gör det. Jag ska inte gå in mer på detta i detalj, köp en bok som heter "This Business of Music", skriven av Sidney Shemel och William Krasilovsky. Varning: det är fanimej ingen rolig bok. Men den är bra att ha att slå upp saker i ibland. "Musikindustrin" är förresten ett av de mest besynnerliga orden som finns. På något sätt ger det ett seriöst intryck, som om den kunde jämföras med "skogsindustrin" eller "metallindustrin". Inget kunde vara mer fel. Musikindustrin drar till sig de mest besynnerliga typer, såsom psykopater, sociopater, alkoholister, bedragare, hustrumisshandlare, knarkare, disc jockeys, musiker, sångare, hallickar, och fler knarkare. Att med hjälp av ordet musikindustrin jämföra dessa individer (oss!) med folk som går upp klockan sex varje morgon för att tillverka kullager är nästan en skymf mot folk som jobbar på riktigt.
6) Musikskola. Är det någon nytta med att gå i en sådan? Enligt min mening: nej. Men många håller inte förstås med. Jag tror att den bästa skolan är att spela med andra, experimentera, och framför allt lyssna på vad man har gjort och bestämma sig för om man gillar det eller inte. Och att lära sig att bestämma sig snabbt. Det är bättre att utvecklas som person än som musiker, och lättare att utvecklas som musiker om man utvecklar sig som person. Det svåraste är inte att skriva korrekt kontrapunkt. Inte heller lära sig att traktera sitt instrument. Vem som helst kan egentligen lära sig att spela fort och precist. (Eller att skriva maskin fort och precist.) Det kan ju vara nyttigt att kunna ibland, men det är inte lika viktigt som att kunna bilda sig en egen uppfattning om musik och form, och att kunna förverkliga sina idéer.
7) Musikteori. Vad är nyttan när det inte är så många lyssnare som är musikaliskt skolade? Ja, det kan man fråga sig. Om inte annat måste man ju tillfredställa sig själv. Om man tycker att någonting låter "fel" musikaliskt ska man ju inte tvinga sig. Men jag tror att 90% av alla musikteoretiska finesser går den genomsnittliga lyssnaren förbi han lyssnar på saker som (den eventuelle) sångarens röst och vilken text som sjungs, den totala ljudbilden, pulsen. Och det är ju de allra grövsta dragen som alla lyssnare uppfattar likadant. Att det "bygger upp" mot någon form av klimax brukar även de mest ointresserade lyssnare på något sätt föredra. Det är väl kanske något som Freud hade kunnat kommentera bättre än jag.
8) Angående utrustning. Varning! Fastna inte i instrumentträsket. Musikinstrumenttilverkarna är värre än det värsta kolombianska kokainkartell. Alltid har de något nytt på gång som är modernare. (Detta gäller i synnerhet keyboards och datorer.) Hur ofta kommer man inte på sig själv med att dregla över någon ny sak? Men man kan utnyttja detta till sin fördel. Varje år säljs miljontals instrument i fullgott skick på andrahandsmarknaden. Köp begagnat och spara pengar! Många äldre instrument har besynnerliga egenheter som gör dem intressanta. (Fler har börjat inse detta, vilket till exempel har drivit upp priserna på gamla analoga keyboards på senare år) Det enda som det kanske inte är lönt att köpa begagnat i dagens läge är analoga mångkanalsbandspelare.
9) Jag är inte du. Men, om jag hade varit du så hade jag (dvs du, eller vi?) kollat in följande skivor: a) Glenn Gould, piano: Bachs Well-Tempered Clavier, och Goldberg Variations, båda på etiketten CBS. b) Zappa: Studio Tan, RykoDisk. c) Allan Holdsworth: Secrets, Intima Records. (Vi hade även rekommenderat oss: Wardenclyffe Towers, Restless Records.) d) Stravinsky's Våroffer. e) Shakti: Best of, Moment Records. f) UK: Danger Money, EC Records. g) Deep Purple: Made in Japan, Warner Bros.
10) Misstag. Det är egentligen det enda sättet att lära sig någonting överhuvud taget. Begå fler! Hur många gånger stod man inte på näsan innan man lärde sig gå eller cykla? Avge detta som nyårslöfte: "Jag lovar att följa tio fullständigt vanvettiga idéer till det bittra slutet." Vem vet? Om du håller det löftet kan det hända att man i historieböckerna omskriver 1995 som året då det hände, då hela musikkulturen ställdes på huvudet, då en musiker från ett litet land krossade alla musikaliska ikoner. Odödlighet! Rikedom! Du kommer att bli omskriven som ett geni! Din musik kommer att klinga över hela planeten. Varför inte ta risken?
© JJ 1994
On 09:21 1999/04/21 EDT, you wrote:
Below you can find the questions for the interview. You can also send me a list of your current Top 5 fave albums if you like. We have a section for playlists in the mag.
OK! Sorry for the late reply.
Current top 5 fave albums:
1. Meshuggah: Chaosphere
2. Bill Evans Trio: Everybody Digs Bill Evans
2. Shakti: Remember
2. Gamma Ray: Power Plant
2. The Gathering: How to Measure a Planet
Here we go:
1. Hello Jens. How are you?
2. Let's talk a bit about your new solo album "The last Viking" which also features your brother Anders on drums. Is it more one of your solo albums or another Johansson Brothers album just under the name of "Johansson"?
I would call it more of a duo album, this one, but only if I had to! "Johansson Brothers" and "Johansson" is essentially the same thing, a project for rock music output.
3. Besides Anders and you the album also features Göran Edman (ex-Malmsteen, Brazen Abbot) on vocals and Michael Romeo (Symphony X) on guitars. How did you get those two into your band?
Using a phone! Sending rough mixes that they didn't hate. Mike lives about an hour from me, so I took the train. We flew Göran down to our studio in southern Sweden.. Oh, and also, we paid them!
4. Will that line-up last for a while or is it a one-off project?
As always, it depends on if they call us back if we send them a new tape! And if so, if they have the time to spare.. but I hope so!
5. When I first heard that Edman and Romeo will perform on your album, I somewhat thought that it might become a Melodic Rock/ Metal kind of thing, different to the fusion stuff on most of the other albums even though the most of the songs from all those albums have been written by Anders and you. Did that happen naturally?
Yes! The whole project was conceived to be melodic rock we had much more material to start with but just discarded all the weird ideas.
Then, the choice of musicians followed from the material both are absolute masters on this particular type of music, and both are very musical and creative in general.
6. The neoclassical element is still there of course. Do you listen to classical stuff a lot?
Yes, it's many times about the only music I can still stand to listen to after working with music all day in a "job" type capacity.
7. Now over to the songs. "The Last Viking" is a tune that would have made a very good stand on my fave Malmsteen album "Marching Out". "The track "I am a Viking" comes in my mind everytime I listen to the opener of your album.
Maybe because of the subject matter! Well, the whole album is in that same style, I guess.
Essentially the record was an opportunity to release some musical material (ideas) that could have fitted on any of the earlier Rising Force albums as a matter of fact, a lot of the material came from a bag of idea tapes from the 80s that I found in Anders' basement. (There were many more ideas in the bag.. I'm working on more material right now.) Most of the stuff in the bag didn't end up on any RF album, because by the 3rd Yngwie record I was a bit miffed at Yngwie's royalty split procedures. (Two halves for me, none for you!) Then the tape bag got put in storage in LA when we all left after Yngwie's accident in 1987. Then it got sent by boat to Sweden when I emptied our LA locker in 1994 I think it was, and it was lying inside an old kick drum case for the longest time.. this stupid "Ralph's Supermarket" plastic bag was a time capsule from LA and the eighties, in a sense.
Some Symphony X fans have been disappointed that there's not enough fast or weird playing, but that was never the aim at all. The style is very 'pure', much more close to the baroque.
Symphony X, for instance, are heavily influenced by stuff past, say, 1750.. I hear lot of romanticism, even impressionism and modernism. There's none of that on "The Last Viking", almost no modulation by thirds, mostly diatonic modes, etc etc. The most modern musical quote there is is from Bach's C minor passacaglia, a pretty early work of his, at that, IIRC. And whatever shred there is, is concealed, so you don't even recognize it as shred. Some people are into that style as well, I know it for a fact. I like both myself! I've done so many freaked out records it felt sort of nice to write something really.. normal.
8. The tunes "Forest Song" and "Carry me" could have also been written by Timo Tolkki. Sounds a lot like Stratovarius to me. The influence from all the touring with that band?
Yes, all the touring and recording as well! I've spent a lot of the time on the road in that band now! It's great. Tolkki writes very good and focused melodic songs, I'm still learning. I always try to learn something!!
9. "Fading away" sounds like a very sad and dark tune to me. Typically Scandinavian somehow. What is it about?
Relationships, and specifically the strain that lots of travel put on them. It's the curse of all musicians!
10. The intro from "Valhall Scuffle", one of the instrumental tracks on the album, is one of those moments which remind me on Rainbow a bit. What do you think? Is Rainbow included in your fave bands and influences from the rock and metal genres?
Yes, without a doubt. "Live on Stage" is still one of my favorite records. I don't need to play it anymore, I have it all in my head, same as with "Made in Japan".. And just about anyone I've worked with and had a fruitful musical relationship with have liked Purple and Rainbow. Yngwie was a Purple freak. Timo is a Rainbow freak. And Ronnie of course is the singer that personified THE Rainbow.
Which leads us to...
11. Can you tell us a little more about your work with Blackmore's Night?
Well, this was like a dream come true, but I don't want to overstate my own importance in regards to the record. They had some tracks that needed some additional keyboards, but it would be good songs, and well performed, either with or without me. But anyway, I knew Jeff Glixman and Peter Rooth (the producers) from my days with Yngwie, and they just called me up out of the blue. My initial reply was "OK, but how much do I have to pay?" I was quite nervous, becaus almost my whole life I'd heard these incredible stories about Ritchie: rumours when I was just a little idiot in Sweden listening to Purple and Rainbow, and later as a musician from people I worked with like Yngwie's crew (many of which were Rainbow veterans), Joe Lynn, and Ronnie.. so I was a bit scared. But he turned out to be quite intelligent, have a completely normal personality, and a good sense of humor as well! He even invited me to his christmas party, which was for me just a mindboggling honor. I can safely say that if anyone in Malmö would have told me in 1978 that I twenty years later would go to a party at Ritchie Blackmore's and have him serving me beer I would NEVER have believed him. NEVER!! Life is strange sometimes!
12. It seems to me that you a very busy these days with the recording and touring stuff with Stratovarius, your appearance on the Mastermind disc, the guest performances on Roland Grapow's new album and with Blackmore's Night. How do you get all those things together? Is there still time for some kind of hobbies etc.?
No hobbies, unfortunately. But I still love the music stuff so it doesn't matter. All of Mastermind, Grapow, and BN were extremely nontime-consuming projects. It might not seem like it, but it took only about 10 hours (including meal breaks) to record the keyboards for the first Mastermind record both me and the Berends Brothers had their shit together that day or something! But it's also that sort of record which doesn't take time, it's very loose, and with a lot of soloing. I hadn't even heard any of the material they picked me up in the morning, we went over the roughs IN THE CAR on the way to Bill's studio, and started recording! Roland's record took something like TWO HOURS! And that's including connecting and disconnecting all the recording gear and eating pizza we did it on my DA88 in his hotel room.
The average Stratovarius record is a lot more time consuming, the records are extremely complex. There are usually orchestral and choral parts, complex keyboard arrangements, etc, but Timo bears the brunt of the work as he's there from the first note of rehearsal to mastering. And yes, with Stratovarius we also do long tours in support of the recorded product. But I still love it!
13. Will "The Last Viking" be a Japan only release or is it out somewhere else yet?
Right now, we have licenses for Japan, South America and Scandinavia, but we're "working on it" (I have to confess we're a bit lazy about it though.)
14. What do you think about the some of those recent rumours about a Malmsteen "Rising Force" reunion?
There was talk of this say between October of last year and March of this year. But in my opinion it's not going to happen, within the forseeable future. I actually hear Yngwie is already rehearsing, now with Mats, Mark Boals, and Barry Dunaway on bass. Should be interesting!
15. How do you see the Metal scene today? In Germany it's still alive and has a strong come back now. What about Sweden?
I wouldn't call it "alive" but it's definitely waking up. With the spectacular success of bands like Hammerfall and Stratovarius in their respective home countries I think labels are starting to realize there's quite a bit of a sales potential even in Northern Europe, what with the "growing metal" trend, but also in light of the markets coming more together in the EU.
16. Are there any new bands you like especially?
Well, there's a lot of interesting stuff going on in Scandinavia right now, not all of it "new", but I can give as examples, Meshuggah, Hammerfall, Narnia, Nightwish, Children of Bodom for instance. But all over the world there's more good metal being played, some of it quite fresh. Look at Angra, I know they're not extremely big in Germany yet, but it's unique and melodic stuff. Lots of times with Stratovarius we get local opening bands that are quite good, like Tarantula in Portugal or Metropolis in Chile. I really liked the last Gamma Ray record!
It's a great time for metal again!
17. What are your future plans?
To make more music!
OK, and to FINALLY send off this email. Bis bald, tschüß!