Skyblood – An Alter Ego VoiceSunday, 24th November 2019
Dead Rhetoric: Did you know at the time you were writing and recording Facing the Animal that it would be an incredible launch platform for your talent and career – as to me it was an amazing late 90’s effort for Yngwie Malmsteen as well?
Levén: No, not really. The only thing I remember was that I really tried to… I guess it was a big thing for me of course. Getting the gig was a big thing for me, but I didn’t know what was going to happen after that. Obviously I gave it my best shot, I wrote a lot of that album as well. I really worked hard at the hotel and nights in the studio to come up with lyrics and new melody ideas. I really worked hard to try to do that and make a good album. I was lucky getting into the band at that time because Yngwie was receptive to ideas from me. He liked having a Swedish singer again, I wrote probably a third of that album even though it doesn’t say it on the album (laughs).
Dead Rhetoric: What do you believe are some of the toughest choices that you make as a musician that maybe the average music consumer has a difficult time understanding – and have those choices changed from your early days as an artist to the current industry model as we know it today?
Levén: Yes. To me, personally, the biggest difference for me nowadays compared to fifteen years ago is my family situation. I have a wife and two kids, everything I do, everything I say yes or no to, I have to take that into perspective. I can’t just say yes to every tour because I have responsibilities at home. So that has changed a lot to what I make choices for.
To answer the question in regards to the changes in the industry. I am a bit surprised that many bands and projects don’t have much money to use anymore, but it seems like they are still prepared to pay decent money to get a singer for their albums. I’ve been pretty fortunate that way, I have been able to do albums and make decent money to survive doing this. I’ve been 100% a musician since the 90’s – especially after I joined Yngwie, that is when I really became a professional singer. You can’t really expect any money coming in these days for publishing or record sales – so you have to make sure you make some money out of the budget for these records, or selling merchandise.
Since I slowly broadened my market here in Sweden as well with different stuff, I had to become more professional as well. I have to make money somehow, I have a family, so how do I want to provide for my family? I’ve found my path – it’s important as well to have integrity. I don’t want to say yes to albums or tours if I don’t really stand for it or like it. It’s not honest to anyone. That makes it hard sometimes because you still have to pay your bills. I’ve been fortunate enough that the last three years I’ve done Trans-Siberian Orchestra in the states, which has been a great thing as well. Obviously it’s a big difference today than it was in the year 2000.
Dead Rhetoric: How do you look at your voice now compared to the past? Have you gotten wiser and stronger perhaps over the years?
Levén: Yes. That comes with experience, playing live and whatever you do. The last five years, I’ve really had to take care of my voice more. When you have small kids, you don’t get to sleep! (laughs). Suddenly you can’t just lay around in bed all day just to get your voice back. I’m getting older at the same time. I try to be a good boy so to speak and take care of my voice better now. Then when it comes to recording albums, I record things myself in my home studio. The good thing with that is I can go when I feel my voice is in shape and record whenever I need to. Most singers I guess you learn so much when you do as many shows and albums as I’ve done over the last twenty years, you learn some stuff on the way.
Dead Rhetoric: Because you record at home, do you find first takes are often the best or do you have to warm up a bit to reach the best parts of your range?
Levén: It’s different. It’s a good thing recording at home though, sometimes you listen to an album as a guest singer – I’ll know what are the tougher songs so I need to be in better shape to record that song, others it could be a verse or chorus. You warm up doing the verses first. In one way I’m very unprofessional when it comes to singing, I do so much just by inspiration. I just press record and give it everything I’ve got, and like you say that first take may be what I keep because I can’t get it back to that inspiration again. It’s the same with the Skyblood album – a lot of the vocals on the Skyblood album are from demos, the parts where I could keep the lyrics. I recorded the vocals with the same microphone so it was easy to change things if necessary.
Dead Rhetoric: Your first two concerts you viewed as a fan were Deep Purple on the Stormbringer tour and then ABBA. Do you believe both artists helped shape your outlook and importance on live performances?
Levén: Not ABBA, but I was very influenced by David Coverdale and Glenn Hughes as well. David Coverdale, and Ronnie James Dio I guess when it comes to the hard rock department. They were the singers that were my influences. Especially Deep Purple – they were popular in Sweden. Way more people listened to Deep Purple than Led Zeppelin for instance. Deep Purple and Black Sabbath were the bands. Ian Gillan as well. ABBA was a totally different thing, but I was really happy I got to see them as well.
Dead Rhetoric: Have your priorities in life changed now that you are in your mid 50’s with a wife and children? Does your family understand and support all of your musical endeavors?
Levén: Sure, absolutely. It’s very, very different. That is the way that it is. My wife, she is a freelancer as well – just in movies and television. We really have to… it’s tough to get our schedules and calendars in line. Luckily enough her parents live in Stockholm so they can help us as well. She understands my situation and vice versa. That’s the way it is, if you have a family and kids, the priorities absolutely change.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s next on the agenda for Mats Leven now that this album will be hitting the streets?
Levén: Well, right now I’m doing guest vocals for a band called Opera Diabolicus. I did an album with them six or seven years ago, Snowy Shaw is recording the drums for this band too. I’m doing that, and I’m writing songs with an old friend of mine for an album he’s doing. When it comes to concerts, I’m not doing much this year because I’m not doing TSO this year. It takes a lot of time to do the Skyblood thing, I’m doing videos and I do them myself as well, the editing for the videos and preparations. It takes a lot of my time which is fun – I have been waiting to release this album for so long. It’s great to do something 100% more or less by myself, and release something that I totally wrote and produced myself to see how people react. Obviously a lot of people didn’t know that maybe I was playing a lot of different instruments, or that I could write all this myself. But this is cool.
I want to do some live shows with this material next year. That is absolutely in the works.
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