Nils Patrik Johansson – Sacred Metalhead

Monday, 21st May 2018

Legendary voices in heavy metal don’t come down the pike too often. Rob Halford, Bruce Dickinson, Ronnie James Dio- probably the trio most associated with premiere status in the classic/power mold for the genre. Swedish musician Nils Patrik Johansson has that similar golden touch to his melodies – consistently a part of numerous bands that most people who have been around the scene a bit know of. Astral Doors may be his most prolific in terms of discography, but he’s been a part of the discography for Space Odyssey, Wuthering Heights, Lion’s Share, and Civil War over the past 15 plus years. After many requests, he finally took the time to assemble material for his debut solo offering with Evil Deluxe.

Rich with heavy metal textures and including guest appearances from Chris Boltendahl plus members of Lion’s Share and his son, there is no shortage of strong, passionate songs with his powerhouse melodies floating over the top. He even takes on the Accept classic “Burning” to make it his own. Feeling the need to catch up on all the man’s activities, we reached out for a Skype interview on a Sunday and this is what he had to say about all of his musical activities – past, present, and future. Plus a little talk about Accept, Metallica, and honest outlook on the importance of playing live these days to sustain any sort of presence.

Dead Rhetoric: Why did it take so long to finally have a Nils Patrik Johansson solo album release? Was it more a question of finding the time, the energy, the proper players and songwriting – or have you always enjoyed more of the band format for your abilities?

Nils Patrik Johansson: Of course, I love to be in a band, that’s great. And I’ve been thinking about doing a solo album for at least ten years. What can I say- I needed some time to think. Because people have been asking me, and I’ve been thinking about it myself to go around and play live gigs as Nils Patrik Johansson. You can imagine what kind of a setlist that would be, as I would be able to cover my entire career. To play songs from Space Odyssey, Astral Doors, Civil War, Lion’s Share, and Wuthering Heights- it would be a kick ass set. I didn’t want to do that because I wanted to have an album, a solo album in the back. But now I can do that, I can go out and play shows as Nils Patrik Johansson. That was probably the main reason why I said to myself that I needed to do a solo album. I had a lot of inspiration last year to write a lot of new songs, so it was very easy to come together. It was an easy album to make, even though it took almost a whole year.

Dead Rhetoric: Where do you see the biggest difference for Evil Deluxe compared to your work in the past with Astral Doors, Civil War, Lion’s Share, and Wuthering Heights to name a few?

Johansson: I think the biggest difference is that I have written every song on here, except for the Accept cover for “Burning”. The other songs I wrote from scratch. In Astral Doors the guitar player Joachim (Nordlund) and the drummer (Johan Lindstedt) write all the riffs, and I just write vocal melodies and the lyrics. It’s the same with Lion’s Share- Lars Chriss writes the riffs, and he and I write the vocal melodies together. And I write all the lyrics in every band I’m involved in. In Civil War, it was different because I really had to step in as a songwriter to write songs from scratch. I wrote most of the songs for the three albums that we did. After I left them, I only wanted to focus on Astral Doors and Lion’s Share- but after a couple of months off, I got the inspiration back to write. What can I say?

Dead Rhetoric: I’d love your insights on a few of my favorite songs on the album – “Estonia”, “Kings and Queens”, and “A Waltz for Paris”. Is it important to have the musical themes for your lyrical ideas match up as far as feel and atmosphere?

Johansson: Yes, absolutely. It’s important to have that- I don’t want to write about crap, I want to write real lyrics. “A Waltz for Paris” deals with the terrorist attack that happened at the Eagles of Death Metal show. That’s a very emotional song. And with “Estonia” where so many Swedes died. I get very interested in the history of the United States of America, we did an album with Lion’s Share called Dark Hours and the album was about America in the 1960’s with Martin Luther King. I’ve always been fascinated with the Civil War – history is important – and it’s always fun to sing about real things.

Dead Rhetoric: How did you decide upon doing “Burning” from Accept on the record? What are your favorite memories surrounding this classic German band?

Johansson: Good question. I wanted to do this as a bonus track originally. I’ve always loved the song “Burning”, but I wanted to do it a little bit more metal, you know? Take the rock and roll riff and put a little bit more heavy metal into it, more evil. And then we recorded it, and Lars Chriss my partner from Lion’s Share, he produced the album and we shared ideas. I sent all of my demos to him and we worked together on this. After I laid the vocals for the song, I said to myself that this is incredible- we cannot have this as a bonus track, this must be on the actual album.

Of course, I grew up with Accept – I love Accept. I saw them in the 1980’s on the Balls to the Wall tour and Metal Heart tour. They have been a very big inspiration to me.

Dead Rhetoric: Is it surprising to you how much of a great comeback they’ve made with Mark Tornillo and the latest studio albums?

Johansson: I think it’s great. The albums they’ve done with him are incredible, they kick ass. They are still… Mark has been an injection into the band, he’s a great singer. I take my hat off to them, they are great.

Dead Rhetoric: How did it feel to have your son Fredrik playing drums on this record – and does he have a similar love of metal as you’ve had your entire life?

Johansson: He’s more into thrash metal and death metal – and that was my intention, to have someone different. My music is very old school, so I wanted something fresh and I wanted him to play modern heavy metal drumming on the album, as I thought it would give the album a new twist. He plays really well on the album, he’s an incredible drummer. We have the same interests- we are more like brothers than we are father and son, if you know what I mean.

Dead Rhetoric: Does he play in original thrash or death bands in Sweden?

Johansson: Actually, he plays in a band called Tuck From Hell, they have been on ice for some years. They did an album in 2010 called Thrashing, it’s a super great album. They had a lot of things going on, then my son became a father so he could not go on tours and stuff like that. They had a break for many years, unfortunately – but they still exist.

Dead Rhetoric: How is life for you as a grandfather?

Johansson: Incredible. Unfortunately I don’t have as much time as I want to spend time with my grandson as I spend so much time with the music. I wish I could there be more than 24 hours per day- I don’t see them so often, but when I see them we have fun. I love it, absolutely.

Dead Rhetoric: Would you possibly consider putting together a few shows in support of this record – and where do you see the major difference between the studio and the stage as far as your work?

Johansson: Well, I think like this. I wonder how the response will be from the fans, and the response to this record. If the fans love it, and the media loves it, and if I see a good response- then I will talk to my booker to book some festivals next year and perhaps some touring as well. It’s up to the fans.

The differences between live and the studio- I think it’s much more fun to play live, to meet the audience. That’s why I am in this business, to sing for people and entertain people. On the other side, in the studio, what you do there- that lasts forever. Like everything that you do is like your own testament, it must be perfect. I would never release anything I could not stand up for 100%. I’m working very hard in the studio every day, and I rehearse every day because Astral Doors is preparing for some summer festivals, the Sweden Rock Festival which is one of the biggest in the world.

Dead Rhetoric: When it comes to recording in the studio, do you find that first or second takes work best- or specific times of the day to get the best out of your voice?

Johansson: In the mornings, it’s not so good to sing, you have to sing up. If I have to do it, I can sing at that time as well. Usually the first take is usually the best, it’s very strange. I try to do at least three takes of every song – and then I listen back to hear which is the best. That’s what I do.

Dead Rhetoric: Last year you left Civil War, as your work/family situation and their touring opportunities of late didn’t match up. Can you discuss the challenges of trying to sustain a living through your music endeavors and support a family at the same time?

Johansson: It’s tough. How it looks… the scene is today, you have to tour. That’s the only way, people don’t buy albums anymore- so if you want to earn some money, you have to tour. But if you are doing only support act tours, then you don’t get paid. You see what I mean? It’s really tough. I’m glad that I work my 8-4 job, I work with music therapy with dysfunctional people and we do music therapy together. I work with music therapy – in the day job I play acoustic guitar, we sing together, and we have sessions with the kids. It’s a great job- and then in the evenings I change into heavy metal (laughs). All day and all night as well.

I thought it wasn’t really the touring, it was the lack of pay. We set out to do a lot of support tours. When we started Civil War, it was supposed to be a super band- and it was in the beginning. And then it went down, it never became as big as everybody thought it would be. And all of a sudden we had to go on support act tours- and I have enough bands to do support act tours with, I can do that with Astral Doors, Lion’s Share. I wanted Civil War to be something bigger than what it became, I didn’t want to start from scratch, I am getting too old for that.

Dead Rhetoric: Do you get requests for many guest appearance vocal work – and if so, do you have specific criteria for what you choose to do and not do?

Johansson: I have said no to everything for so many years. Because I don’t want to be considered money hungry and be on every album so that no one could ever take them seriously. I don’t want to end up there. Last year a couple of friends asked me to do this, as I had the time from leaving Civil War to do it. I did a track “Wounded Knee” for Thobbe Englund on his solo album Sold My Soul, which I wrote the lyrics to. One guy, they had a tribute album to Jon English, the old Australian musician who died a couple of years ago- they asked me to be a part of that album. I didn’t take any money for it. If I feel for it, I can do it. I had requests from so many bands and they offered me so much money to sing on their records, and I said no. I didn’t want to be a money whore- I am already in so many bands. Lion’s Share, Astral Doors, and Wuthering Heights – three bands. It’s enough.

The ideal situation of course… if you look at Lars Ulrich and James Hetfield- they have only been in one band since they started with music. That’s respect. They have only been Metallica- and I think that’s pretty cool.

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