Nordic Union – Talent Personified

Thursday, 11th August 2022

One of the highlights in the modern music era is the proliferation of talented musicians combining their skillsets to offer the public more recordings than ever before. Nordic Union started in 2016, putting together Pretty Maids vocalist Ronnie Atkins with Eclipse mastermind Erik Martensson – now reaching album number three with Animalistic. Choosing to go in a bit of a faster, heavier direction than 2018’s Second Coming, most listeners will be blown away by the tremendous compositions and performances on hand. This is melodic hard rock/metal of a high caliber variety, standout material that feeds the need for this style to current listeners who crave new compositions beyond the classics.

We reached out to Erik through Zoom to get the latest background happenings for Animalistic, the many hats he wears for these albums, thoughts on Frontiers Music and how they kept melodic hard rock/metal alive at a time when no one else really cared about these styles, plus talk regarding favorite Pretty Maids albums, and all the future plans with Eclipse, W.E.T. as well as Nordic Union.

Dead Rhetoric: Animalistic is the third Nordic Union album – almost four years removed from Second Coming. Being the main songwriter, instrumentalist, plus producer, mixer, and master of the final record, where do you find the energy to tackle all these duties and keep the quality of the output at a high level? Also, where do you see the major differences between this record and the previous two outings?

Erik Martensson: Well, keeping high quality is always a challenge. The hardest critic on myself is myself. I push myself to do songs that I enjoy listening to – and I think if I enjoy listening to a song when I am doing a demo, then probably somebody else will like it as well. That’s the only thing you can do – I have to like it, and if I like it, I go ahead and record it. You have to wear all these hats. You start in the creative part; the songwriter starts things off. When the songs are finished after the first demos, you become the recording engineer and change them. When everything is recorded now, then I turn myself into the mixer and later the master engineer. It’s many roles on one person, but I’ve been getting used to this – I have been doing this for Eclipse and a lot of other projects throughout the years. Hopefully I’ve learned something along the way.

The difference with this record compared to the previous one is I think it’s faster, and it’s much heavier than the previous one. The second one was more of a mid-tempo record, and I think this record is more of an up-tempo record.

Dead Rhetoric: Obviously all of the songs are like your children, but for Animalistic was there a specific song or two that really captured your attention almost like lightning in a bottle where you knew you had something special – or possibly took on a greater transformation once you heard Ronnie’s melodies and interpretation?

Martensson: Well, I’d say… a few of these songs, I did in the same week, and they were all fast and almost like metal songs. This was going to be a different record, I realized that something else was coming out this time versus the previous records. Maybe not one song, but when several songs came out that were quite heavy, I realized this would be different. You never know how a record is going to be in the beginning. You have one song, then two songs, maybe five songs – but once you have eight or nine, you can hear what the album is going to be like. You never know what the record is going to be like until it’s almost finished. I don’t think there is a single song that changed everything. It’s more like a bunch of them.

Dead Rhetoric: Does that make it more of a challenge to pick out the two or three best tracks to push as singles?

Martensson: Sure. For me, easily eight songs could have been the singles from this record. The record label had a few choices, Ronnie had a few choices, I had a few choices, we all agreed on these three songs that we released before the album release. It’s always hard. When you write songs, you write an album, and then it’s really hard to pick one song to define the whole record.

Dead Rhetoric: You gain support from Henrik Eriksson on drums plus guest lead breaks from Unleashed guitarist Fredrik Folkare and Thomas Larsson. How do you feel their contributions and skill sets add to the Nordic Union songs and style?

Martensson: They add a lot. Especially because I am playing all the bass, rhythm guitars, and wrote the songs. I’m so deeply involved, I’m happy to let someone else have some input. I don’t direct them at all when they do the solos – I show them the songs, do whatever you want. There is enough of me on the record, I’m very happy to have their help. Ronnie has full freedom to do whatever he wants. Even though I do all the melodies and a lot of the lyrics, I send them with my vocals, but he can make his own versions of the songs with his voice. I want him to do his own thing.

Dead Rhetoric: What does Ronnie Atkins mean to you as a singer, a person – and how much of a pleasure is it to work with him and get to know him over the years doing these records?

Martensson: He’s amazing. I love Pretty Maids, so when we started doing the first record, it was amazing to do a record together with Ronnie Atkins. A privilege, and I still think it’s a real privilege to work with him. He gives so much into the music. He gives 110%, even if he’s been in this business for so many years. He really cares about the music, and he wants things to be as good as they possibly can be. That is something I can really learn and love from him.

Dead Rhetoric: Obviously you were a Pretty Maids fan growing up – what are some of your favorite songs or records that he’s done from that catalog?

Martensson: I think one of my favorite records is actually Pandemonium. When they got the band back together again, it kickstarted their band again. I like the old classics as well. But Pandemonium is probably one of my favorite records from them.

Dead Rhetoric: I’m curious to know your thoughts on the cover art this time around – do you still believe in its importance in the modern world compared to your youthful days when often people had to base their purchases purely on imagery, not having access to a note of the record before it came out?

Martensson: Yeah. Maybe it was more important when we had record stores back in the day. I loved W.A.S.P. as a kid, and those records looked awesome. Or the Mötley Crüe records – I remember as a kid my older brother went to the record store and bought Shout at the Devil, you open up the cover artwork and you knew it was going to be the best record, even if you had never heard it before. Maybe with this record, the cover art is not as extreme as those records, but it’s still important. It sets the vibe for the record – even though there is Spotify, some people still buy the vinyl. Both the artwork in the front, pictures, it’s all important.

Dead Rhetoric: How did you personally handle the down time away from stages worldwide over the course of the pandemic? Did you find it tougher to dig deep and throw yourself into your music – or did it allow a creative free flow to occur due to the extended break?

Martensson: In the beginning, we just came off touring for the first leg of the tour with the Eclipse record Paradigm. We did quite a few shows, a full European tour and a Scandinavian tour. No one knew it was going to take over two years before we could play live again. In the beginning, it was kind of nice, relaxing time and I enjoyed it. After a while, we realized it wasn’t going to end soon. I think we used the time well with Eclipse, we did the last album Wired during that time. I also got together with Jeff Scott Soto and did another W.E.T. album as well. I have a lot of studio work, I run my own studio and I mix a lot of records for other bands. I used my time wisely. After a while it got tiring – especially when the omicron virus came around Christmas. It’s never going to end – the whole world was closing down again, it was tough. Since then, we’ve started playing live again – it’s really good. You can meet the people, hang out in the bars, just having a good time.

Dead Rhetoric: I had heard that Sweden was one of the countries that seemed to handle the pandemic and spreading of the virus to a minimum – was that your sense too?

Martensson: Yeah, I think it’s really hard to tell. In twenty years, I think someone will look at this and can make an objective look at it. Sweden handled it pretty well. We never had any lockdowns. We couldn’t do any concerts, but we didn’t have any big lockdowns. We didn’t even have facemasks.

Dead Rhetoric: Being associated with Frontiers Music for such a long time, how do you feel about their commitment and business outlook when it comes to the melodic hard rock, metal, and AOR-style bands and projects they deliver – and have been delivering – for decades, especially at a time when labels often struggle to make ends meet?

Martensson: When we signed with them in the early 2000’s, there was no other label that was doing this kind of music at all. All the bigger labels, they had no interest whatsoever in melodic hard rock/metal music. They were the only one that had bands and made it possible to do this, to sell records. The whole genre owes Frontiers a lot for keeping this genre alive. All the labels now have a few bands in the melodic rock style – Nuclear Blast, Napalm, whatever. Fifteen years ago, this was not the case at all.

Dead Rhetoric: Do you think they’ve helped build a fanbase not just with the older generation who grew up on these styles, but a younger generation that want to get involved in this style?

Martensson: I think in the beginning, this was for more of the older fans, the people who liked this music from the 80’s and early 90’s. The same people who loved it back in the day, they gave it a chance. If you look at a band like Eclipse, you can definitely see that a lot of younger fans listen to us. We have 34 years and younger as a category that is 60% of our audience on Spotify. You can see there is a new generation listening to the music- not just the people who were in high school when Shout at the Devil came out. It’s really good to see that. You can see this at gigs as well – in the front row in the beginning, there were only men, and they were middle aged. It’s not the case now – it’s a very mixed audience.

Dead Rhetoric: Do you believe your outlook on life has changed now that you are in your forties compared to how you lived and viewed things during your twenties and thirties?

Martensson: Yeah, definitely. It’s changed a lot. I’m still very much the same person – having family, having kids, it changes who you are and what you want in life. I am a different person, but still very much the same, as well.

Dead Rhetoric: Where do you think you’ve seen the biggest growth as a musician, songwriter, or producer when looking at your body of work and career so far to date? Are there specific releases either you’ve played on or been behind the boards with that stayed with you in the memory banks as special?

Martensson: When we did Bleed & Scream album with Eclipse in 2012, ten years ago. That was the first time where we knew the songs sounded really good, it was a professional sounding record. I think that was a gamechanger for me as a recording artist. But also, the first W.E.T. record, that was successful for Frontiers the label and us as musicians. It’s opened a lot of doors even for Eclipse, a lot of people who knew Jeff checked out the band, and then discovered Eclipse. Maybe those two records are the game changing records. But also, the Paradigm record, when we had the “Viva La Victoria” hit, that opened a lot of doors for the band.

Dead Rhetoric: You also did a special guest appearance with vocals on the new Edenbridge record with “The Bonding (Part 2)”. How did you feel about that duet, as you also performed on the first part which was the title track back in 2013?

Martensson: About ten years ago, Arne (Lanvall) the guitar player, he talked to me. He was a big Eclipse fan, and he asked me if I wanted to do a duet. I was honored that someone would want me on their record, so I did that with Sabine. Now I had to do the second one as well, of course. I haven’t heard the final result. I’ve only heard the rough takes on a rough demo. It was quite a long song. I did that during the winter sometime.

Dead Rhetoric: What’s on the agenda for all things related to Erik Martensson for Nordic Union, Eclipse, W.E.T. or any other endeavors over the next twelve to eighteen months?

Martensson: I think it’s going to be a lot of gigs with Eclipse. That’s going to be the main priority. Ronnie and I have talked about doing some live gigs with Nordic Union as well. Nothing is planned, Ronnie has his cancer to deal with – we have to take one step at a time with Ronnie. Definitely a lot of Eclipse gigs coming up. The voice is the same – Ronnie removed 20% of his lungs, so he can’t run around as much on stage, he gets very worn out. The singing is still identical for him, which is fantastic.

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