This is a band that does not need any sort of introduction. HEAVY LOAD was Swedish heavy metal back in the 80s. That they will be playing live at this years Sweden Rock Festival is a massive happening. Anders Ekdahl ©2018
Man I almost choked on my breakfast when I read that you albums will finally get a proper reissue on CD. Why has it taken so long for it to happen? And then I read that you will be playing live again for the first time in 33 years. What is up with all this activity and why now?
Styrbjörn: Well we had tried to keep away from music for a great many years due to it being too emotional and passionate for us and making us not wanting to engage in other matters. We knew all this time that the interest for Heavy Load had increased steadily here in Sweden each year for about 20 years. Our first hint of that the same thing was going on in other countries came about with a telephone-call while I was working in the studio producing an album with another metal band. On the other end of the line I heard a voice saying:
“My name is Greg Varsamis I’m calling from Greece. Have I come to Thunderload Studios?” “Yes, that’s right,” I replied.
“Oh …. May I speak to either, Ragne or Styrbjörn Wahlquist, please?”
“Yes, I am Styrbjörn,” I replied.
“Oh… I can’t believe I’m talking to you!” he exclaimed.
“Well, I can’t believe I’m talking to you,” I replied. And we had a great laugh.
Greg told me that he had been a huge Heavy Load fan for ages and that we were very popular in Greece. In fact he used to be called Greg “Heavy Load” Varsamis and had a magazine named Singing Swords after the Heavy Load song with the same name on Stronger than Evil. About ten years later he paid a visit to Stockholm and we hanged out at metal bars and so on. We became friends.
So, we have known for about two decades that there is a big interest for Heavy Load in Greece. And, the last two years we came to understand this on a deeper level since we have been approached by Chris Papadatos of No Remorse records in Athens, who is a great fan, about doing official re-releases. In addition, the enthusiastic drive of Bart Gabriel, of Gabriel Management, and his conviction that Heavy Load is very popular in various countries all over the world, has been an eye opener as well. And not the least, in 2016 we were invited to the Up the Hammers Festival, by the promoter Manolis Karazeris in order to be rewarded “The Medal of Honour”. The festival was headlined by the Greek Heavy Load tribute band Heathens from the North (named after the Heavy Load song). When I experienced them playing our songs with such a great passion, I was immensely moved. It made my own passion for playing rise to unbearable levels. I was yearning to play so much that it became painful. This experience ignited the flame in me. Having come home to Sweden I conveyed this sentiment to Ragne and the flame rose in him as well. And then it was impossible to stop. We have tried to stay away from music for a great many years due to its meaning too much for us and being too emotional for us – but now we cannot stay away any more. No one can escape his destiny…. And in later years, through things like Facebook and internet, journalists and record companies asking us to let them release our reissues, we have come to understand that there is an ever growing interest for the band in many countries around the world.
On 25th October it was announced here in Sweden on the National TV News that we will return to the stage in 2018, after 33 years of absence. Three concerts are booked so far at festivals that have been asking us repeatedly for decades. We will be one of the main acts at the Sweden Rock Festival in the evening of 8 June, be headline of the Up the Hammers Festival in Athens May 26 and be headline of the Keep it True Festival in Germany 28 April. Perhaps, we will play a few further venues later that year.
A band sets the tone for the band. With the right name you don’t really need any sort of declaration of intent. Was it hard to come up with a name back in the 70s? What does the name mean to you?
-Heavy load, the name, has two different origins. One is that we wanted a name that shows what our music is all about namely Heavy Metal. The other fact is that we had a massive bunch of gear to carry for the concerts and in the very early days we had to carry it all by ourselves. It is not so good for the quality of your playing since you need to be relaxed in you limbs to play your best. Still we needed all that the gear to be able to give the audience what we wanted and to enjoy the concert ourselves.
Who would say are the founding stones of the kind of sound you have? Who are your house Gods and how have they coloured your music?
-Our main influences since the late 60s early 70s had always been Deep Purple, Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin. After that came Rainbow and Black Sabbath with Dio. We, the brothers, grew up in a milieu of classical music. Listening and playing and singing. It all came from our father that was a fantastic singer and a good pianist. Quite soon we turned to our own creativity, to what later became Heavy Load.
When you play slow do you have to think differently arranging the music than if you play faster and vice versa?
Ragne: I think the rhythm of the vocal part and the solo is very important for the song. It all comes down to the combination of the life you give a note and the rhythm of the combination of notes; and the space between them, the silence, is of the utmost importance in this combination. Excess is limiting both when playing slow or playing fast. I think it is the combination that makes music. I love to paint in all the colours that are available when I “paint” in music.
The more notes you play per second the harder it is to give each note a soul, a meaning of its own. So you have to prioritise and decide what you want to accomplish with each part and each tone.
As a vocalist and a guitarist I always try to benefit to the soul of the song with my playing and singing. I like the dynamic and the emotional differences between the most subtle notes where you are able to form and create the tone. To set off the note with your voice, or with the pick, and to add a vibrato, to give the note a life of its own. When you find the place in the song, even if it´s just for a couple of seconds, the life you give that note can mean so much, at least it often does to me.
When playing or singing many notes per second there is another kind of energy coming to life. For a solo that often means that I have some fast sections and some slower sections. Combining a speedy background with a slower vocal part you can sometimes have both speed and the ability to give the longer notes more articulation. And, it is the same thing with a solo. The combination of a slower background with a speedy vocal, or solo, is often a very expressive combination where the background creates dynamic power and a speedy vocal, or solo, ad energy.
Playing live is a totally different beast to studio work. How does your music work in a live environment?
Ragne: We have always thought about our performance as a live performance. We play together as a band to arrange the songs based on what we can accomplish. Our rehearsals are like live performances without an audience. In the last tour 1985 we had a keyboardist on stage since we wanted more harmonies for the background than is possible with two guitars and a bass. We also wanted more vocal harmonies for some of the chorus parts. Heavy Load is a guitar based Heavy Metal band and will not bring keyboards up front. It is just to add some colour to achieve what we have in mind for the song.
You released your stuff on your own label back in the days. How important is having a label to back you up today when you can just release your music on any sort of platform online? Are there any negative consequences to music being too readily available to fans?
Ragne: To release our music on a platform online is not a good option for Heavy Load. I want our listener to be able to have a physical product to touch and feel. Furthermore, I think Heavy Load is more than music and lyrics. The artwork is of great importance to Styrbjörn and me. To us Heavy Load has many dimensions for expressing our feelings and thoughts. One cannot exist without the other. It is:
– writing music and lyrics, we only play our own stuff
– designing and making artwork, we always design our own covers etcetera
– live performances, we have always designed our stage set including clothes, lightshow and pyrotechnics etcetera.
All this is for better or worse but it´s all about us being passionate and devoted to what we do. All this is because we need to and we want to, we have to do it. All these parts are one for us and the big concept of it all gives us so much inspiration and satisfaction. Hopefully it shows that we love what we do and that it comes from our heart. What we do is authentic, from our hearts and we was found hard to work with by the commercial market back in the days. We would never adjust to an existing market or any label manger telling us what to do. We are NOT in this for the money. It´s all about passion, devotion and honesty. We want to use all the dimensions of Heavy Load to create the drama of our dreams.
I get the feeling that fans that are true to a band, is a lost thing with the easy access to music these days. Do you feel that this is a bad thing or are there any positive aspects of it at all?
Ragne: I have not experienced any problem with fans not being true. As long as a person is true to oneself I am perfectly ok with that. If the person honestly can say: “I do my thing to make my little contribution to make the world a better place” all you can say is; thank you. Styrbjörn: Well, I think we are very fortunate to have a very loyal following. I like to believe that it is because of us playing from our hearts, being sincere and following our own passions.
You had some of the coolest album covers in the 80s. They totally stood out. What to you is a great front cover? What should a cover have to make it great?
Ragne: Some regard the cover as a tool for marketing, to create attention, maybe by provoking. To me the cover is an essential part of the entire concept. I think it should be an extension of the music; you can say that the artwork, the music and the lyrics are one and not separate parts. Styrbjörn: Yes, the cover should display what the spirit of the music looks like.
What kind of feelings does it bring with it that HEAVY LOAD is still considered one of the more influential heavy metal bands, that there are being tribute albums produced and stuff?
Ragne: I am extremely honoured by this. Maybe some people give us too much credit. We just do what we love and are true to our self while doing so. As I have said before it´s all about passion, devotion and honesty, to be true.
Styrbjörn: Life is very short, everybody should do their own thing, become themselves, before their time is up. We did that and are very privileged since people liked it and it is fantastic that they still do and there are more and more people doing so.
I use Spotify and Deezer but only as compliment to buying CDS (it’s easier to just have your phone or pad when you’re out) but I fear that soon music as we know it will be dead and buried. What are your worries as a band?
Ragne: I am not worried about the future for Heavy Metal or any art or creation that comes from a devoted, passionate creator that is honest and true to himself and his creations.
What lies in the future?
At this moment we are:
– rehearsing for the concerts of 2018, first time in 33 years on stage
– locating very old tapes and saving old tracks that we feel should be bonus tracks for Death or Glory. Hopefully we will save some that has never been released. I think we will
Ragne: Furthermore Styrbjörn and I are fooling around with some ideas for new songs. Yet we do not know what will come out of it. But I can say that I like what I hear, I enjoy what I feel, I love being back on track with Heavy Metal.
Styrbjörn: we will probably play at least one new song at the concerts of 2018. Perhaps there will be a new Heavy Load album in the future.