Denied – The Power of FreedomMonday, 12th March 2018
It’s difficult to distinguish oneself in the metal landscape these days – even with all these categories and sub-sets within those categories. Hailing from Sweden, Denied first formed in 2004 and gradually gravitated to a heavy metal with thrash/power sound – the heavier tone in down-tuned guitars giving the material a bit more punch than most. While at the same time, keeping a melodic sheen especially in terms of the vocals – proving that you can incorporate a versatile outlook and create catchy songs in the process.
Freedom of Speech is the band’s latest album, and first release in five years. Guitarist Chris Vowden took the time through Skype to discuss the reasons relating to the longer than normal delay between recordings for Denied, as well as a host of other thoughts on the internet, the music industry, favorite albums/concerts through the years – and his personal development on the guitar from his death/thrash roots to today.
Dead Rhetoric: What are your earliest memories that you have surrounding music – and how did you make the jump into hard rock/heavy metal? At what point did you decide you wanted to start playing the music and performing in bands?
Chris Vowden: First memories- they were not heavy metal, I can tell you. My mother actually used to play the Beatles a lot, and a lot of pop music as well. Blondie and the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack was a big hit in my home. Music like that – my sister introduced me to the first wave of pop music in the 80’s- Madonna, Michael Jackson, that kind of stuff. I have two brothers as well, and my older brother came home with Restless and Wild by Accept, and a couple of Motörhead albums, and that’s where it started. It was a huge transformation. Motörhead to me at first sounded like someone was vacuum cleaning, it took me a couple of weeks and then I was hooked after that. That was my first introduction to heavy metal- Accept, Iron Maiden, and Motörhead, I guess like anyone else.
When I first started to play music, I was 12 I guess. I bought a cheap guitar in a Sears catalog perhaps. I got it for Christmas, and then I started to play the guitar, as well as the drums and bass. I didn’t know what was the right choice for me- it took me a couple of years. That’s pretty much it. I was too shy for the school programs- but I did go to a youth center where you would hang out after school and started to play in local bands.
Dead Rhetoric: Did you have that early support for music from your family?
Vowden: Oh yes- my dad was a piano player. He played English musical music, kind of barber shop stuff. My uncle did as well – my older brother Nick who introduced to me the heavy metal albums, he also played in a band for a couple of years. So I had those influences.
Dead Rhetoric: You joined Denied in 2009 – were you familiar with the band through their first two albums, and how did you get the offer to join?
Vowden: I had never heard of them before that. I was thinking about quitting music at that time – I was married and I just had children, and was trying to settle down. I stumbled upon an ad in a magazine, where (guitarist) Andreas (Carlsson) from Denied was looking for a guitar player. I called him up and it turned out that the woman he was living with, and still is, was an old friend of mine whom I had known for 20-25 years. I went to three auditions for the band, and there was no problem after that. He asked his girlfriend about me, he learned I was a straight forward and honest guy, and that was it.
Dead Rhetoric: How would you assess the work of the Judas Kiss EP from 2012 and the full-length follow up Let Them Burn from 2013 as far as songwriting, recording, and performances? Do you believe they received proper support from the media and fans as well?
Vowden: From the fans, yes. I would have loved some more media support, but it’s a tough business and there are a lot of bands out there. I don’t like sitting around and waiting to see things happen. I don’t expect anything really, I just want to play music, that’s all. I’m very easy. (laughs)
Dead Rhetoric: Why was there a five-year gap between Let Them Burn and your latest release Freedom of Speech? And is there any specific reason behind not having a permanent vocalist for the band and using special guests on the records?
Vowden: That’s a good question. First of all, Johan (Fahlberg) who laid down most of the vocal tracks on the album, he did seven songs before he quit the band. We had a bit of a problem there, as we had three more tracks that needed vocals. At the same time, I actually left the band, (as well as) the bass player Fredrik (Isaksson). There was a bit of a dilemma there, if we were going to leave the bass and guitar tracks there and get some new guys in there to re-record them. A year or so passed and I came back, and we started working on the album again. I said yes to the guitar tracks I did, and I called up Johan again and asked him to do the last two songs, and he agreed. All those kinds of little problems took its time and toll on the recording process. We had another vocalist, and he quit a couple of months ago, we were considering if he could re-record all the vocals but that would have taken too much time. All these small issues that we had to go through before we could release the album, and then the record contract with Sliptrick as well took some time to negotiate.
Dead Rhetoric: How do you feel about the record now that it’s finally out?
Vowden: I am so glad it’s over- the recording is. I can leave it behind. At the same time I was recording the guitars for the album, which took a long time- I was going through a divorce. I wasn’t feel well at the time, so I really pushed for (this). That took a toll on me, and that’s the reason I left the band for a short period. Now that it’s released, I’m glad that we can move forward – and hopefully the next time it won’t take another five years to record and release a record. We actually recorded most of the album three years ago – the mixing and mastering has been done now. So it was a long process.
Dead Rhetoric: Denied as a band embrace a heavy/power metal stance with melodic hard rock tendencies. What in your eyes makes Denied special or unique – especially considering the plethora of other bands worldwide trying to gain fan support/interest?
Vowden: When I first heard Denied, I loved the mix of Judas Priest meets Pantera. There was something thrash-oriented in that heavy metal aspect of the music. It wasn’t just heavy metal, it wasn’t just power metal, it was something else. Besides Johan’s vocals being extraordinary, something different to the music. Low downtuned guitars matching up to this high-pitched voice, that’s what grabbed me and was something unique. I don’t know what else we could do outside of grabbing a pope hat and dressing up as popes and ghosts (laughs). I don’t hear much of the power metal in our sound like Helloween or the German style, I don’t really listen to that style. This has more of a thrash metal edge, and that’s what got me hooked.
Dead Rhetoric: How did the idea to cover “Stay Hungry” from Twisted Sister come about for a bonus track? Were you always a fan of the band beyond the big hits- and did you ever get to take them in live?
Vowden: No, I haven’t. To be honest I have never been a fan of Twisted Sister – it was Andreas’ idea. I would have chosen many other songs- but I love that song, I think it’s great. He said ‘why don’t we record a cover from a famous band?’. I was thinking about all kinds of 80’s bands, bands like Dokken. He is the boss, he wanted to record “Stay Hungry”, and I love the song.
Dead Rhetoric: I agree. A lot of people pay attention to the bigger hits from the band like “We’re Not Gonna Take It” or “I Wanna Rock”, but forget how heavy they were with some songs…
Vowden: Yes, and with another song called “Captain Howdy”. It’s heavy for Twisted Sister. I am not sure if I would have wanted to record their hit songs, because you get so fed up with hearing them, everybody knows that song it would be tedious. It’s like “Rainbow in the Dark” by Dio, who wants to hear a cover version (of that)? This one though turned out great.
Dead Rhetoric: You stated that you are a fan of Dokken- does that mean that George Lynch is one of your favorite guitarists?
Vowden: Absolutely. What can I say about George Lynch? He’s like a fine wine- he keeps getting better, even as he gets older. He’s got great feel, he’s one of my favorite guitar heroes of all time.
Dead Rhetoric: What is your outlook on the guitar – how do you handle technique versus feel when it comes to your style of play?
Vowden: That’s a good question, because to be honest I am an over-exaggerator. I try to be Yngwie Malmsteen, playing very fast all the time. I needed to really focus more on feel, and relax a bit more. I used to love fast solos all the time, I need something up my bum to keep me calmer when I am playing (laughs). I plan my leads – I like to improvise, but that’s not how it works. Andreas has an idea of how a solo should be, and I play it for him in the studio and he voices his opinion. Then we try to break things down, just taking the best parts to work on them. We try to do the solos as well as we can, so they really fit the songs. There is no senseless, whammy bar, Kerry King-like shredding – even if I would like to.
Dead Rhetoric: You mentioned in some of your social media posts the growing pains of dialing in your sound for Denied versus playing in death/thrash bands of the past. What did you see as the biggest challenges to overcome – and do you believe you’ve become a more well-rounded player as a result?
Vowden: Yes, I have. Death metal… nowadays, you know how it was in the 80’s, death metal was to be honest, it sounded terrible. Everybody could play death metal back then. It was a lot of noise, which I love- but nowadays it’s very technical, you have jazz players these days that can develop into playing death metal, which is great. It’s another league. Back then you just had to go berserk on your instrument and that’s it. When I started to play with Denied, I realized it’s more complex than that. You really have to focus on the songs, the riffs, the lead playing as well. For me it was a big challenge, not that I was a bad guitar player. People really hear what you are doing in this type of music, apart from death metal where it was just noise. 1989 as you mentioned, I listened to bands like Repulsion and Carcass- and you couldn’t really hear what those guys were playing, back then. It’s another thing now- now everyone is a guitar god nowadays. You can go on YouTube and see these 14-year-olds who play extremely complex compositions and are geniuses on their instruments.
Dead Rhetoric: Do you get jealous of the fact that these younger people have so much more access to knowledge and information through the internet to advance faster and further than when you were developing your craft?
Vowden: Yes, I do. You only have to go on YouTube and you have access to everything there. I remember when we were kids, if we wanted to buy a record you had to walk to the local record store and often order what you wanted via mail. Nowadays you can get everything so easy – Spotify, YouTube, Facebook. I’m a bit jealous – if there was YouTube back then, I would have been a more accomplished player much earlier. It’s not too late though.
Dead Rhetoric: What would surprise people to learn about Chris the person off stage and away from music that forms the complete person?
Vowden: A friend of mine, another guitar player who I’ve played with before a couple of years back- he said the first time he met me on stage, I was a complete asshole. I didn’t say a word and he thought I was acting snobbish. And I thought a lot about that. When I am playing gigs, I am very shy- I don’t talk much to people. I am social guy, kind and a nice person- but I like to relax and hang backstage after a show. The first thing I do after a gig is not run to the bar and grab a beer, or talk to people. I want to sit back and be by myself. I have kind of a Monty Python style humor- I like to make people laugh. I’m not boring, I like to take a walk until the gigs start.
Dead Rhetoric: What would you consider three of the best heavy metal albums of all time – and what are some special concert memories that you’ve taken in purely as a music fan over the course of your life?
Vowden: This is a good one. Three favorite heavy metal albums- we talked about Dokken, that would be Back for the Attack. The second one is Iron Maiden- Somewhere in Time. I never get tired of that album. The third album to me is the best heavy metal album of all time- that’s Queensrÿche’s Operation: Mindcrime. I was about to say Alice Cooper – Billion Dollar Babies, but that’s not really heavy metal, is it?
And you asked about concert experiences. I’ve always been a Rush fan, as long as I can remember, for 30 years back. When I first saw them in Stockholm about 14 years ago, that was a magnificent experience. I had been waiting for so long to see them, and those guys were great musicians and still are. Too bad they are retiring now. I’ve been to so many concerts. I saw Steven Wilson recently when he played Stockholm, this past Monday. My girlfriend and I were there – they played for about three hours and I was so tired. It was a great gig, and that was my most recent concert. I saw Queensrÿche back in 1995, the first time I saw them, and that was a wonderful experience.
Dead Rhetoric: Where do you see the evolution of recording technology these days? Do you embrace much of the triggering, sampling, cutting and pasting that takes place – or do you prefer the days when bands really had to work hard on keeping things tight and doing it right the first time in an outside studio?
Vowden: I would say both, but I prefer the old recording days with a sound engineer would cut the tape down with a razor blade. All this editing can be great, it’s easier- but it takes out the soul and all the hard work that you put into it as well. You can do a lot of cheating that way. For example, you can record a riff and loop it on and on in the song to not record it again. That’s hard to digest, I prefer to just play the song all the way through, every riff, every note. If it helps and you need to do some cutting, that’s okay- but try to keep it real. That’s my point of view.
Dead Rhetoric: What are your thoughts on the state of music industry today?
Vowden: I haven’t thought about it really. I am humble guy. It’s very overcrowded, there’s too many bands right now. But that’s not really about the business itself. I miss those days where you didn’t have to pay to get on the bill. You didn’t have to do a buy on to get on a gig or a tour, or buy your way into a record deal. I miss those days when bands got discovered for real by record companies. It’s a different kind of business these days- whatever you do, it’s going to cost money, and these days bands buy their way into things instead of the other way around.
When I was 14, you sat there and listened to every album that was coming out. These days everything just sounds the same, there’s nothing new.
Dead Rhetoric: What is the plan with Denied over the course of 2018? Will there be more videos and has work begun on the songwriting process for the follow-up?
Vowden: Myself and Andreas met last week, and I told him that the next album will not take another five years to record and complete. If that’s the case, I’m not going to be in the band anymore. I said that jokingly. We have to find a new singer, we have a few candidates, I can’t mention them now. They are interested in joining the band. As soon as we find our new vocalist, we can just hit the go button and start working. We will plan more gigs, the festival season is a bit far off so we have to plan maybe for next year on that front because everything is already planned for the bookings. We have started to work on some new songs now, we’ve recorded a couple of demos. It shall not take five years for the next album.