After a flying start with the debut album ”Lord Of The Wasteland” and a chance to perform at Keep It True in 2010, things looked really bright for Steelwing. Unfortunately, the follow up, “Zone Of Alienation” wasn’t as strong, and things seemed slow down a bit for the young Swedes. I hooked up with guitarist Alex Vega, and ask him if he feels things took off a bit too fast with the debut…
– We have asked ourselves that a lot of times. In retrospect, maybe things went a little fast. What we would have wanted afterwards, was more live experience before we did some of the bigger shows. We hadn’t played much together at all before we did Keep It True, just a couple of smaller gigs here in Sweden. If I could rewind things, I would for sure have played Keep It True now, rather than back then. Of course it was also a good experience to begin with, but yes, it probably all started a bit too fast.
I really loved the debut, and found the second album, while still decent, nowhere near as interesting as the first effort.
– I agree with you, at least to some point. I wasn’t satisfied at all with the second album either. I don’t know why, but I didn’t like the process and wasn’t satisfied with the end result. Don’t misunderstand me, “Zone Of Alienation” is a good album, but I agree with you that it didn’t reach the standard of the first one. We wanted to go back replicate what we did on the debut for this new album, but at the same time to do something completely new. Something fresh, but still on the same level as the first album, that was what we were aiming for.
On “Zone Of Alienation” you brought in an outside producer that had a lot so say on the final product. You even credited the guy, Richard Løfgren for songwriting, which seems a bit unusual…
– We don’t regret this decision at all. We credited him as a songwriter since he had a lot of opinions on how to do the vocal melodies, and even wrote some of them with us in the studio. With that in mind, it seemed fair to call him a songwriter. We had everything ready when we entered the studio, but he changed melodies and stuff, and in our eyes that’s songwriting. I don’t know how other bands do it, but we felt we owned him that. He probably gave the album the lift it needed, so at least it ended up sounding like a good album. He wasn’t the problem at all, it was more that I had a big down period and could hardly find any inspiration to write music at all.
I remember asking Robby Rockbag (guitars) when “Zone Of Alientation” came out if you had encountered the second album syndrome, where you have all the time in the world to make the debut album, and then are under a lot more pressure to do the follow up…
– It could have been a bit of that. I just remember that I started writing songs, but my own expectations were simply too high. We aimed so high, so yeah, it probably was the syndrome you talked about. I remember rejecting a lot of ideas, since I didn’t think they were good enough.
You described “Zone Of Alienation” as a hit oriented album, and you put a song like “Breathless” on there for instance. This song is miles away from what you can hear on the new album.
– Yeah, and that was intentional, both with regards to “Breathless” as well as the direction of “Reset, Reboot, Redeem”. We wanted that song to be different on “Zone Of Alienation”, and on this new one we said: There will be no songs like that. If somebody enjoys the song “Breathless”, and want to pursue that direction, he can leave this rehearsal room right now! Just to be clear, we didn’t want to explore that direction. We did the song at a couple of shows, but it simply doesn’t fit in too well, as it stands out too much from the rest of the material.
Even if the experiment with “Breathless” didn’t work out particularly well, it obviously didn’t scare you away from continuing to experiment, as we can hear on the new album, which is darker and more diverse than the last one.
– As I said, we really wanted to do something new this time. It’s been a while since the second album was released, and we were clear that if we wanted to continue with Steelwing, we wanted to renew it, to do something fresh instead of going back to the roots and doing the debut album all over again. We wanted to do something different, and we know this album is probably going to divide the fans. People with either like it or hate it, at least that’s what we think. Nevertheless, we really had to do this album for ourselves, we needed to make something we can be proud of.
So it was only forces within the band that made the change happen? It wasn’t triggered by the label, the audience or anyone outside of the band?
– No, the label hasn’t said anything. It was mainly the songwriters, me and Riley, that wanted the change of direction. Since we’re the ones writing the songs, we need to like them if we’re going to continue writing songs. Simple as that! The others of course need to appreciate the material as well, but they’re more…I probably can’t say replaceable…. At least we could say: If you don’t like this song, you can walk out the door, because we’re not gonna please everyone in the room. Not every fan in the world either, for that matter. We had to do what we wanted to do right now, as songwriters, and in the end, hopefully most people will like the material that ended up on the album.
As a songwriter, what did the change in style do to your creativity?
– You have to understand that the changes didn’t happen overnight, but over the course of a longer period. You know, we haven’t released an album in three and half years, and the change had already begun when we did “Zone Of Alienation”. I just started writing music, taking ideas from a lot of types of music, and it ended up like this…more or less. I wanted to be a better guitarist as well, to explore the guitar more as an instrument than in the past.
Do you view “Reset, Reboot, Redeem” as a break from the last album rather than a natural progression?
– I wouldn’t say it’s a natural progression, but it’s a progression like a lot of bands have done throughout history. It’s all about trying to do something new, explore some new sounds and new styles. History shows that sometimes it’s the style a band gets famous for, while on other occasions it’s just a flop. Take Pantera for instance, I guess no one listens to their early stuff nowadays, it’s just the albums from “Cowboys From Hell” and onward. And that’s just one example.
Do you think this new album is the start of an evolution into something really different, or have Steelwing now found the direction you want to pursue in the future?
– You know, I can’t really predict the future, I have so many ideas and so many different directions I want to explore musically, but at the moment I am not sure whether I want to do it with Steelwing or not. I can picture myself doing more progressive and extreme type of music, but I don’t know if it fits this band. I can also see myself doing a more laidback, straight US metal type of style. That will probably fit Steelwing better, but I don’t know if we’re going to try it or not. At the moment we will focus on the release of this new CD and see what it brings us.
So it wasn’t a case of “everything is allowed” with this new album either, there were some restrictions for the songwriting?
– It’s not about forgetting the past and what we did to begin with, it’s just that people shouldn’t hang up in the past. We want people to accept new things and to see us as a progressive band that moves forward, not constantly doing the same thing over and over again. I think that could make us really interesting as a band. Personally, I don’t want to repeat myself, neither when it comes to creating riffs or writing songs. I don’t want to end up just copying myself.
The information that came with the promo-CD claims that there are some death metal as well as thrash, hardcore and punk crammed onto the new album. Did the fact that you “opened up” your sound made it easier for you to come up with material?
– It might have. Maybe the fact that I opened the doors for other kinds of music, made writing easier this time around? I don’t know. For the first two albums, we threw away a lot of stuff, with the explanation that the material didn’t fit us. For this album, I don’t think we threw away anything at all. We just experimented with every type of riff that came along. Whether it was heavy metal or death metal, it didn’t really matter. By the way, I don’t hear all these elements in the new album myself. I just know what kind of music I was listening to when I made the different parts of the songs. For instance, I can clearly hear where I was listening to Entombed and took inspiration from them, although the end result doesn’t sound like Entombed.
Take the title track for instance. What were you listening to that inspired you to do this particular track?
– The main riffs for this one are Riley’s, so I don’t know, but it was born over a long time period, and I think it was a lot of RAM and an Entombed album for the middle section, also the latest Darkthrone- album probably, as well as the first one from Razor. “Och Varlden Gav Vika”, the song with the Swedish lyrics was influenced by a lot of different thrash metal acts mixed with In Solitude, and there is also some King Diamond-influences in one or two tracks.
Talking about the track with the Swedish lyrics. Where did that idea come from?
– It started a long time ago, after the first album I think, where Riley wanted to sing in Swedish. We had already had several song ideas in Swedish before this one, but we threw them all away, as they simply weren’t good enough. You know, it’s very exposing when you sing in Swedish, so it has to be a really good song and some great lyrics as well. For this album Riley had some cool lyrics and I just wrote some music that he thought was a perfect fit.
It’s not something you have considered for a full album?
– No, but maybe we should now? We will think about it.
There aren’t many bands doing it?
– No, not in this type of music, at least. We know that, so it made the whole thing kind of unique too. After all, it’s not just a normal Steelwing song, it’s Steelwing in Swedish. The atmosphere is a bit different, so maybe it could be worth exploring further? I like the title of the song, and you know, it’s always post-apocalyptic science fiction from Riley. I am a bit interested in the subject matter as well, and like watching movies and reading books
Seen from the outside the change in style looks like a wise decision, because the new album, at least to me, is a lot more interesting than “Zone Of Alienation”.
-Cool. Thank you! I think it’s an album that will grow on the listener. It’s not that easy to digest the first time you listen to it, and you will probably have to hear it a few times before you can start enjoying both the depth of the songs as well as the lyrics. I am really glad you like it!
To create an album that people really have to listen to, and pay attention to, is that intentional from your side?
– Yeah, sure. I love that kind of music myself. Of course I can listen to easy listening music as well, but what I really like, is when you hear some music, and you start wondering what the hell the band is actually doing. Every time you listen to it, you hear something new. Although I wouldn’t say we’re a progressive band, I have to say I enjoy bands that are. I have a lot of albums I listen to and take inspiration from, but within the progressive style, I would single out the later Death-album, from “Individual Thought Patterns” and onwards. A newer band like Vektor has also been important , but as I said, I take influence from a lot of styles, and not only these two bands. I am not sure it this kind of approach will fit Steelwing, but yeah…it sounds like an interesting fusion.
Did the musical change prompt big discussions within the band, or did the others accept the new material you brought to the table for “Reset, Reboot, Redeem”?
– We were all pretty much on the same page, as we realized we needed to do something different to keep the energy in the band going. It seemed that everyone more or less appreciated each and every new idea I brought in this time. It was all about: “This is cool, lets do it!” There were no big discussions about how this album was going to sound.
Seen from the outside it seems a bit strange that Robby hasn’t written anything on this album. Did he have ideas that didn’t fit in with what you wrote?
– That’s right. Me and Riley did everything. Robbie might have had other ideas, but at least he didn’t show them to the rest of us. Maybe he was out of inspiration? I don’t know. He told me that he trusted me and Riley, and pretty much gave us the go to do whatever we wanted. For me personally, a bigger songwriting responsibility is a positive thing, but at the same time, it’s nothing new, as I always wrote the majority of the songs. This time it seemed the other guys were just waiting for me to come up with the stuff. I had the music by myself since we are all spread around now. I then let the other members in on my ideas, while Riley did the vocal melodies. We then arranged the songs together during rehearsals. If there were things we weren’t fully satisfied with, everybody could come with their own ideas.
Fellow Swedes, Portrait, Trial, RAM and In Solitude are some names that pop up when I listen to “Reset, Reboot, Redeem”. These are mostly bands that have opened up their sound and incorporated more extreme metal in their expression too.
– Yeah they have. These bands have always been very important for me. RAM for instance, made me play this type of metal from the beginning. It all started when I heard their first EP. I’ve always admired In Solitude as well, along with the likes of Morbus Chron and Tribulation. I like how they all evolved their style of music into something completely different. Of course there is a chance that people will think some of these bands sound too similar, but I think our band name, as well as the stuff we have done in the past will hopefully help us stick out. That being said, if people from now on say we sound like Portrait or RAM, that’s just a compliment to me.
Looking at the album cover, the artwork is different and the logo is a brand new one. Do these elements signal a new beginning for the band as well?
– Yeah, more or less, we said we wanted to change everything, even the band name at one point, but it proved too complicated in the end. The cover art could have been almost anything, as long as it felt like something new, but the logo was very important for us. I like it, it looks like some kind of mixture of death and thrash metal.
So you really considered scrapping the Steelwing-monicker for something brand new?
– We have thought about it for like…always, and when the opportunity arose now, we thought even more and harder about it. But then again, it was too much trouble, so in the end we decided to keep it. After all, we’ve made ourselves a band with this name, so it would be very difficult with regards to promotion. So after a while, we decided that a change of logo had to do. That being said, it’s clear for us that the name Steelwing fits better with the music we made on the first two albums.
Are the changes in the lyrics less significant than the musical changes?
– I think the lyrics are kind of complex and interesting. Have you had a chance to read them? They’re kind of intricate and over the top. They are all Riley’s work. The rest of us have some ideas sometimes, but Riley prefers to write the lyrics by himself, which I can understand. After all he is the one that’s going to sing them. The album title might seem intentional, as it fits in with the other changes, but it was mainly a title we had for a song, that we decided to use as the title for the album as well. Of course you can say it’s a metaphor for us as a band, but the lyrics are about the human race being replaced by something superior, the robots.
Is there one song on the album that you are particularly proud of?
– I like them all in different ways, it’s like choosing between your own kids. I don’t have kids, but I believe it must be like that. “Like Shadows like Ghost” probably deserves some extra credit though, I really enjoy the melodies in that one. We have tendency to conclude our albums with a long song, most of the time it’s simply because all the others have found their natural place in the running order.
You used Fred Estby this time, was that because you wanted a particular sound?
– We really liked how Fred did the drums for the second In Solitude-album and a lot of other stuff as well. We wanted the drum sound and the organic sound he has, but unfortunately we couldn’t do everything with him, for financial reasons, so we used the same studio as on the first album for the rest.
You recently did a tour with Noctum, and you have toured a lot during the last few years…Isn’t it just hard work, cheap hotels and old, dangerous buses?
– I like being on tour, but there are people in the band that like it less than me. It’s tough, but you have to do it! Right now we focus on this album and are looking forward to the reactions. If people enjoy “Reset, Reboot, Redeem” , and the new direction of the band, it will inspire us for sure. We are not confident that it will be well received. As I said in the beginning, it’s most probably a divider. I am very confident in the album on a personal level, but I know that I have a different taste from most other people. I won’t bother too much if people don’t like it, but if they actually like it, I am flattered.
I was very pleasantly surprised by this latest release by Steelwing, as they successfully (at least to my ears) incorporated the influences they speak of in this interview and have added a few new dimensions to their sound.