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SEVENTH WONDER: New Challenges for this Swedish progressive metal wonder!

Interview with guitarist Johan Liefvendahl of Seventh Wonder by Vera in March 2011

Swedish band Seventh Wonder was founded in 2000 and has achieved worldwide recognition with three albums ‘Become’ (2005), ‘Waiting In The Wings’ (2006) and ‘Mercy Falls’ (2008). In December 2010 their fourth prestigious blend of catchiness against progressive skilfulness was launched at the world. ‘The Great Escape’ marks an escape from earlier efforts of the band, while respecting their signature sound of the past. We had a nice conversation with the very friendly guitarist of the band Johan Liefvendahl.

You have made four excellent albums till now, but I think it is very typical for Seventh Wonder to have some new challenges every time, isn’t it?
It is always a big challenge to write a new album. I think the biggest challenge is to create a new album that doesn’t sound exactly like the old one. You always want to improve your song writing and you want to beat the former one. The previous album that we did, ‘Mercy Falls’ was more of a concept album, we didn’t want to do that again, but still the people liked that a lot. It was a big hit, so we wanted to have a small piece of some kind of concept in the new album and therefore we have the long one of thirty minutes, the title track ‘The Great Escape’.

That’s a great one. I really love it… but I think it was based on a book?
Thank you very much! Yes, it is based on an old book. I think it was written in the fifties by a Swedish author, Harry Martinson. He got the noble price in Sweden for that book. It is quite famous international. Not so many normal people know about that book, because it is a rather sophisticated one. When I spoke to people in the literature world that we were going to do a concept around that book, they were very surprised that a progressive, hard rock band with long hair would do a song out of that book. I think it is a little bit funny to do that.

Is it a real book or a poem? Because I read somewhere that it was a poem?
Indeed, it is a poem, a weird fiction poem. I haven’t read it actually myself, because it is very complicated, but Andreas (Blomqvist), the bass player in Seventh Wonder, is very much into languages. He likes the old way to speak and stuff like that. He does not speak old Swedish or so, but he is very interested in both old Swedish and old English. So when he read the book in Swedish, he instantly bought the book in old English to read it, because he likes the sound of those sentences.

And that’s probably why he contacted the daughter of the author?
Yeah, you have to do that, because if you want to base a big part of the new record on that book, you have to check with her because she is the owner of the rights. Fortunately she instantly thought it was a really good idea. That was really cool.

And by that she probably got to know a new favourite band…
Yeah, we sent her the CD and she liked it very much. I think she is pretty old, so it is not the kind of music she normally listens to.

Where did you tour after the release of ‘Mercy Falls’ in 2008?
We didn’t tour everywhere, only four gigs in Italy and a couple of gigs here in Sweden. And we played at the big Sweden Rock festival. That was one of the best gigs we had ever done. We also did a small tour in Finland. That was really good. We did not know what to expect from the Finnish audience, but when we got there, people really went crazy. Really funny, because it was a surprise for us.

But I think the Finns are really into metal!
Yes and all kinds of metal, from really death and doom metal to soft metal. They like everything. We play like the way we do with all our turns and switches and I discovered they even like that kind of music (laughs). I think there is a market for progressive metal. Perhaps the most popular genre is power metal, with bands like Stratovarius and bands of that ilk and I guess we are quite far away from that kind of music but still it is hard rock, the same kind of genre.

In Sweden there is a great diversity as well. You have the melodic death metal of Gothenburg, but also bands like the Hellacopters. But I guess Evergrey is a bit comparable with you…
(hesitates) Yes, but I think they are a bit slower and heavier then we are. The way we sound is more eighties AOR influenced progressive rock. If you take Tommy’s vocals and I play acoustic guitar, it could be sounding like Europe, Scorpions or Whitesnake.

And what were the bands that inspired you to start making music yourself?
I listen to a lot of music as long as there is a good melody. For example the metal that came during the eighties, the glam metal thing. That’s when I grew up. I still listen a lot bands like Mr. Big and Extreme and something like that. When people combine a great singer with a strong melody and cool guitar stuff, that’s my kind of music.

In the meantime you have built your own studio, can you tell a bit more about that?
We are not rich guys; we don’t make a lot of money, but the small amount of money that we made from the band is put in building a studio, with our very hands. We all built it up stone by stone. We bought our own studio gear and now we can spent there 24/7. It is really good. It is hard to sell CD’s these days with all the downloads, so we don’t get a lot of money. The biggest part you get of the amount from the label goes to studio costs, but now we can save that and make a good video or a nice booklet. Things we could not do before.

Another advantage it probably the lack of time pressure…
Indeed, I hate that. But the good thing of having your own studio is no time pressure but the bad thing is that you can record an album forever. We had to put a deadline for ourselves and tell the record label the record should be out in 2010. We managed to do that, in December 2010, to make things go a little bit faster. We didn’t want to release it in 2011. Someone must say: you have to be satisfied with this and move on to the next part. With Tommy we can sit for hours, talking about small harmony stuff. It sounds brilliant from the very start, but he always gets other ideas. That’s a small disadvantage, but for the rest, having your own studio is positive.

What about the choice of the producer? You did not work with Tommy Hansen anymore. Why?
We did two albums with Tommy: ‘Waiting In The Wings’ and ‘Mercy Falls’, but he is living in Denmark and we have to go there with the whole band. It takes one and a half week. We can go there, drinking beer, staying in a villa and make some remarks about the sound. That’s great, but it takes a lot of time and costs a lot of money. We took another producer, Eric Martensson, closer to home. He is a very good producer; I am very satisfied with the sound of the album. Perhaps there is a little more guitar on this album than on the previous ones. Maybe that’s because we were mixing the album with Eric. He is a guitar player and a singer in a band called Eclipse. He has also done a record with a band called W.E.T with Jeff Scott Soto. He is an AOR kind of guy but he likes guitars. It is so much easier to drive five minutes by car and start working on the material with him, instead of relocating to another country for a while.

What about the experience of making your first video clip for the song ‘Alley Cat’?
(laughs) I am afraid that I don’t like making videos. It takes forever! I think we started the shooting in the early morning, seven or eight in the morning and it was only done by eleven at night. Perhaps the reason for that was that we only used one camera. We were forced to take ten takes of Tommy’s singing, then five times my guitar playing of the song. In the end you are so tired of the song. I still like it, but I prefer to play it live. It is very hard to think about playing when playbacking. You cannot hear yourself and it is hard to make the fingers move in the right way. But I am satisfied with the result. The director of the video, Johan Larsson, is a very close friend of the band. We know him and he is very talented. The result is amazing, much better than I expected with all those colours.

But now you have the problem that your drummer Johnny Sandin quit the band…
That’s a big problem for us indeed.

And he is one of the founder members of the band?
Yes, it was me, Johnny and Andreas. It is quite sad, but the reason is that he has to be with his family because he has his fifth child now. As I told you earlier, you won’t get rich playing this kind of music and being in a band like Seventh Wonder takes so much time. We are in the rehearsal room a couple of days every week and we are managing everything ourselves. We don’t have a management. We are doing a lot of paper work, answering e-mails and stuff like that. It is okay, but I am a guitar player, I want to play guitar! I don’t want to talk about money too much. So I can understand why Johnny did not have enough time anymore, but we are still friends. It is hard to find a new drummer. We have a lot of applications, but people are from USA or so. We cannot take a drummer from the other side of the world, because we are looking for a full time member and that member should be in Stockholm or nearby. Progressive metal in Sweden is not the most popular thing to do. I know there are many great drummers, but we are working on it and let’s hope we can solve the problem pretty soon.

The band announced on their website late April that they have found a perfect match in Stefan Norgren, former touring drummer for Lion’s Share. So they can take the next step to playing gigs all over the world to support ‘The Great Escape’.

One of the important facts regarding gigs is that you will perform at ProgPower Europe in Autumn. What are the expectations?
We were there in 2009. We did not headline then as we will do now, but it is a great festival. It is a kind of small town, but people are flying in from all over Europe. The guy who is in charge of the festival, has done that for more than ten years. Great!

But you will have to do that gig without your common bassist Andreas Blomqvist. Why?
Yeah, unfortunately, because he really has a great day job and he got an offer from the main office in Los Angeles if he can work there for one year. He has moved one month ago, so we will have to miss him for a while. If something big happens he will be there with us, but most of the time he cannot make it. We have the guy Johan Larsson who did the video and our artwork. As I told you earlier, he is really talented and a very good guitar player. He has a six string bass which is rather unusual. Normally you have four strings and he told us: “Hey, can I do this?” and we know it is going to be awesome – just like the video – if he suggests something. Thus the gig at ProgPower will be something special, because Johan will not be with us for so many gigs. So it won’t be Andreas playing bass and may be a little different, but surely unique.

Are there plans for other gigs at the moment?
No, we have so many gig requests right now, but we want to solve this drum situation firstly, otherwise you are fighting with the time and may take the wrong guy.

What are the reactions on ‘The Great Escape’ until now?
I think the reviews have been awesome and we seem to get a lot of new fans. People seem to like the new album. Most of the time they are comparing it with ‘Mercy Falls’, but then again, we don’t want to make the same album twice, perhaps someone prefers ‘Mercy Falls’, but on the other hand, people who did not like ‘Mercy Falls’ that much may love ‘The Great Escape’. It is not a competition; it is a matter of taste. We don’t want to change the sound too much, it has to be Seventh Wonder all the time.

It was a coincidence, but I just reviewed an album from Overdrive and I think they have the same topic of the angelmakers… is that possible?
Yes, I have seen it as well. It is a Swedish band, but I don’t know them. I don’t know their story, what they mean by “angelmaker”, because the thing we are dealing with is the story of women that mistreated babies in the past. For me it was a surprise. It sounds like a horrible fairytale, but it really happened in Sweden until the twenties of the previous century. About one hundred years ago, it is a scary topic.

What albums did you recently buy?
I buy through internet, but the real CD’s. Recently I bought Dionysus and the guitar player in that band is really amazing, it is a Swedish guy, Johnny Öhlin. And I booked the new Whitesnake album and the new Paul Gilbert album, the guitarist from Mr. Big. In a couple of weeks I am off for holidays to Thailand and by then I need some new music to listen to (smiles). It’s been snowing here for months and I am longing for the sun!

I can imagine! So, for now I think we have covered most of the important features. Maybe some last words?
I hope everyone likes the new album ‘The Great Escape’ and buy it instead of downloading it. For me the booklet is another important thing on a CD. It is the complete experience of music, lyrics and artwork that makes a band what it is. So people, buy ‘The Great Escape’, so promoters can book us all over Europe!

Geplaatst door Vera op woensdag 11 mei 2011 - 10:41:06
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