Sole Syndicate – Striding into the FlamesTuesday, 14th June 2022
These days musicians can develop a melting pot of influences past and present, old school to modern, and shape things into a mold or niche that has a wide array of appeal. Swedish act Sole Syndicate are one such band – developing a mix of melodic hard rock and heavy metal songs that are quite catchy on all fronts yet have a heaviness and slightly modern quality that showcases relevancy in the current marketplace. Their third album Into the Flames contains a variety of material that has tinges of Alter Bridge, Evergrey, Black Sabbath, and Queensrÿche to even aspects of Europe, Journey, or Styx. The versatility, dynamics, and attention to detail pay dividends in a very satisfying experience listen after listen.
We reached out to main songwriter, guitarist, and vocalist Jonas Månsson to learn more about his personal development as a musician, deeper thoughts on the recording sessions and songwriting for the latest record, the mix of social/ environmental/ war concerns and normal rock poetry within the lyrics, their no backing track stance when it comes to live performances and why they believe in this outlook, plus future plans and some car racing talk.
Dead Rhetoric: Can you tell us about some of your earliest memories surrounding music growing up in childhood? At what point did you start discovering and moving towards heavier forms of music (hard rock/metal) – and when did you decide to pick up an instrument to want to perform in bands?
Jonas Månsson: The thing that really got me into rock music was when my older brother gave me the Kiss- Alive II album. I was blown away by the songs, the makeup, the attitude, the stage – everything. From that moment on I wanted to be in a band and play guitar. I made my first wooden guitar in school, and it looked cool, but it didn’t work. We had an acoustic guitar at home that I started playing on and I think I got my first electric guitar when I was around 14.
Dead Rhetoric: What do you remember most about the origins of Sole Syndicate? How did this current lineup take shape, and did you know straight away the type of sound and style you wanted to put forth, or do you believe things evolved as you started developing those first set of songs?
Månsson: We started out without a plan or vision. I wanted to put together a band that played hard rock and original material. The drummer Henrik Zetterlund and I are the only members left from the first lineup. When we recorded our first album our current bass player David Gustafsson had joined, but he played guitar. That album (Garden of Eden) is very diverse, and we hadn’t really found our sound. There is one song on that album that pointed us in the right direction and that is “One Step Closer”.
Dead Rhetoric: Into the Flames is the third album from Sole Syndicate. Describe the songwriting and recording sessions for this set of material – where do you see the major differences between this outing and your last album from 2020 Last Days of Eden?
Månsson: I have written every song on this album. The process is very simple. I come up with ideas and record a rough demo in my studio. Then I send the song to everyone in the band, and they contribute with their instruments and ideas about how the song could be improved. This has been our way of working since the start of the band. Everyone is free to come up with ideas but it’s mainly me who is the songwriter. I am super productive and write songs for some of my other bands and also for other bands and artists.
Dead Rhetoric: There seems to be a strong emphasis on engaging vocal harmonies throughout the record – the type that you may hear more often within classic rock or AOR artists. Do you believe you spend as much time on the proper delivery and vocal harmonies as the music? Which songs do you think took on the greatest transformation from the demo stage to the final outcome?
Månsson: I have been raised on bands like Journey, Queen, and Styx so I absolutely love big choruses with big harmonies. A song needs to be able to stand on their own. If I can try to play a song on an acoustic guitar and if it’s still a great song, you are okay. But when I write and produce music for Sole Syndicate my goal is that the songs should be hard and heavy but also big and catchy. That is the Sole Syndicate sound. The song that changed the most from demo to final version is probably “Miss Behave”. On the demo version there was no real chorus but when we started working, we thought that something was missing so I wrote the big intro and that ended up being the chorus of the song.
Dead Rhetoric: You choose to discuss topics of war, social injustices, mental health, and the environment in your lyrics. How important is it to you to have lyrics that your listeners can relate to, think about, and engage with – as I’d imagine you place equal importance on the lyrical content as the music? What fuels the inspiration for these topics – personal experiences or other influences?
Månsson: When I listen to music, great melodies, riffs, and rhythms always comes first. That is true to my songwriting as well. When I write a riff, I often just start to sing over it to find a great and memorable melody. The words can be anything and quite often that becomes the theme of the song. Some of the lyrics on this album are very serious like “Brave Enough” or “In the Absence of Light”. Some of the songs are more rock poetry and don’t really have any message. So, I must say yes and no to the question. I believe we live in a crazy world and right now we are at a tipping point when it comes to the environment, war in Europe, and political instability and I am not afraid to address these things, but a great rock song doesn’t need to have great lyrics necessarily.
Dead Rhetoric: You also take equal influence from European artists as you do North American when listening to your songs. What aspects do you enjoy about American/Canadian musicians that you believe may differ than the training and outlook of artists from Scandinavian and mainland Europe?
Månsson: A hard question to answer. I grew up listening to bands from all over the world. I was inspired by Queensrÿche and Dream Theater as well as Dio and Iron Maiden. And from my country Sweden we have some of the best songwriters in the world in people like Joey Tempest (Europe) and Max Martin. They say the people from Sweden or Scandinavia are shy and quiet and maybe music is a way to express ourselves, and therefore a lot of great music comes from out of Sweden.
Dead Rhetoric: You are a part of the Scarlet Records roster. How do you feel they’ve treated Sole Syndicate and the types of promotional / business activities they do to get the word out about your albums and activities? Do you believe the responsibilities of a label have changed in the modern age of the music industry, where artists themselves have a lot of social media/technology tools at their disposal to increate fan interaction, engagement, and hopefully build the brand of the band?
Månsson: We are super happy with our relationship with Scarlet. They are quite small but so are we. That will hopefully change however… it’s a complex world and as a small band or artist it’s almost impossible to get your music out to potential fans. So much music is produced and released and it’s very hard to get through in the media buzz today. We try to entertain with our social media content and Scarlet does what they can, but we are just amateurs when it comes to marketing and promotion.
Dead Rhetoric: How would you describe Sole Syndicate when it comes to your live performances versus what listeners hear on record? What have been some of your favorite shows to date for the band?
Månsson: When we play live the songs get a bit rougher and some of the vocal harmonies are hard to reproduce. Our latest addition to our lineup, Katja Rasila, is a great singer so we actually have a lot of harmonies live as well. We refuse to play live with backing tracks so everything you hear on stage is the four of us playing live. That is important to us. If you wanna hear the recorded song you can listen to the album. A live experience should always be a unique experience with the risk of playing the wrong note and singing the wrong words. That is the edge of playing and watching a real live performance.
Dead Rhetoric: How would you assess the career of Sole Syndicate at this point? What goal(s) short-term or long-term have you set for the group? And is it a challenge to balance the activities of the band with having regular jobs and family lives?
Månsson: We are at an important stage of our career. We have recorded the important third album and are super happy with it. When we released Last Days of Eden we were stoked to get on the road and then COVID-19 messed up everybody’s plan. Our short-term plan is to get our music out to as many people as possible and get out on the road to play our music for our fans. We want to tour Scandinavia and Europe and if we would ever get the opportunity to come to the US that would be awesome.
We have already started to work on the next album and hopefully that will be out in a couple of years. Combining the band with our regular jobs and family lives has not been a problem for us so far. If things would change and touring became a bigger part of our lives, we are all ready to work less and play more.
Dead Rhetoric: What are your thoughts on the state of heavy metal and hard rock today compared to how things were in your youth? What excites you about things, and what changes (if any) would you like to make for the greater good of the scene?
Månsson: There is a lot of really great music coming out today and productions are often tip top. Back when I was younger some albums really sucked in production quality, even if the songs were great. More people can get their music out which is great but at the same time, less bands are getting airtime on the radio. Back then when you bought an album you listened to it from start to finish and now when you have all the music of the world on your phone, you kind of shuffle your way through life. That kind of sucks.
Dead Rhetoric: What activities, hobbies, and interests do you have away from music that you like to pursue when you have the free time to do so? And how would you describe the relationships within Sole Syndicate – do you think it’s important to maintain proper friendships and share in specific responsibilities?
Månsson: The four of us in the band are really good friends. Henrik and I grew up together and have known each other since the age of five. We like to hang out and this coming weekend we are going to the Sweden Rock Festival together. It’s important for us to have a good relationship within the band.
When I don’t write, play, or listen to music I like to ride my motorcycle, go skiing or watch movies. Another really big thing for me is racing and I follow both Formula One and IndyCar. My brother and I went to St. Petersburg, Florida to watch our Swedish driver, Marcus Ericsson. I was really happy when he won the Indy 500 last weekend.
Dead Rhetoric: What worries you most about the state of the world today – not only within Sweden, but globally? Are there specific areas of concern that you think the common person needs to put time/energy into to make things in the world better, safer, and / or happier?
Månsson: The war in Europe is something that really concerns me, and I can’t see how it is going to end in the near future. The fact that we have a cold war again between NATO and Russia is worrying. The climate is also worrying, and we can see the climate change in Sweden as well as in the rest of the world. I am not an activist or anything, and I am probably as bad to the climate as the rest of the world, but a change is really needed.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s on the agenda for Sole Syndicate over the next year or so once the album comes out? Do the members have any other band(s) or projects, guest appearances that we can also look forward to in the pipeline?
Månsson: We look forward to touring the album and finally getting out and playing again. We are all focused on Sole Syndicate right now, but there will probably be other projects coming up in the future.