Interview by Tarja Virmakari
After being member of such legendary bands as MERCYFUL FATE, KING DIAMOND, THERION, DIMMU BORGIR, MEMENTO MORI, DREAM EVIL, NOTRE DAME, SABATON and others – where SNOWY SHAW appeared as a vocalist, guitarist, bassist and drummer, it’s time to go on with his solo career. On July 22, SNOWY SHAW released a digital single titled ‘Dusk’, which is taken from the forthcoming – and much awaited – live DVD/CD package titled “The Liveshow: 25 Years Of Madness In The Name Of Metal”, due for release in September, and which can already be pre-ordered, HERE.
“The Liveshow” DVD/CD, which will be released by Wunderwurld Music, includes more than 3 hours of amazing, high quality material, recorded during two special theatrical shows, and featuring very special guests from the KING DIAMOND band, MERCYFUL FATE, MEMENTO MORI, ILLWILL, OPERA DIABOLICUS and Snowy’s backing band featuring lead guitarist Kristian Niemann (THERION), Mannequin De Sade III (NOTRE DAME, ENGEL), Mark U Black (DREAM EVIL) and Vikki Valkyrie (ICE AGE). “The Liveshow” has a one of a kind track listing, as well as playing his own originals, SNOWY SHAW performed with his band all his personal favourites from his former bands, including classics such as “Eye Of The Witch”, “Halloween” and “Sleepless Nights” (KING DIAMOND), “Evil” and “Black Funeral” (MERCYFUL FATE), “The Book Of Heavy Metal” (DREAM EVIL), “To Mega Therion” (THERION) or “The Serpentine Offering” (DIMMU BORGIR) and much more, in a truly theatrical way.
Just a couple of days ago, Tarja Virmakari had a chance to interview SNOWY SHAW, talking in detail about the upcoming “The Liveshow” DVD/CD, but being the vastly versatile artist SNOWY is, the topics also extended to other fields. To know more about this and much more, read the interview below.
1. Hi Snowy, I’m Tarja and welcome to Metal Shock Finland! It’s my true pleasure to interview you! :) so, what are the first 3 words that come into your mind right now?
How about, “Hello there Tarja”.
2. lol, nice ones, approved! ;) … You’ve been a member of such legendary bands as MERCYFUL FATE, KING DIAMOND, THERION, DIMMU BORGIR, MEMENTO MORI, DREAM EVIL, NOTRE DAME, SABATON and others… so it’s fair enough to ask, what are your best memories of these acts?
My best memories? How much time do we have here, a month? Hahaha! Well, I guess you have wait to “read all about it in the Book of Heavy Metal”. All I can say is they’ve all been great and I’m immensely grateful for the opportunity I’ve had to play with them all, and it’s been an invaluable good learning experience for both good and bad.
3. What about the other artist co-operations? I know there are many of them, so go ahead, please tell me about your most significant moments…
Yeah, it’s been quite a few over the years. More than I can remember actually and for the most part it’s fun and rewarding hooking up with good friends playing music, but there are a few nasty exceptions of course. One that sticks out among the rest as one of the more bizarre ones was an album recording I came to do with Nicolas Cage’s son Wes and his band Eyes of Noctum I think there were called. Me and my then girlfriend were doing some late Sunday evening grocery shopping when producer Fredman rang me up and asked me to come down to Studio Fredman the next morning to coach and assist some drummer who’d spent a week in the studio without getting anything down on tape. Why the hell would I do that, what’s in it for me? I said. Name your price, money is not an object. It’s Hollywood celebrity actor Nicolas Cage’s son and his band who’ve flown over and booked the studio for 2 months says Fredman. Ok, for 800 € a´ day I can be there to give advise and coach him, see you in the morning I said and hung up. When I arrived the next morning the studio was crowded, because their entourange included a private chef and two drivers, managers, an assistents and another assistent to the assistent, 6 guys in the band and Shagrath from Dimmu who would be the co-producer and was dating the mother/manager who was some sort of actress with the most notable role being the blonde who gave Jim Morrison/Val Kilmer a blow job in the elevator in the feature film The Doors from the early 90s. Anyway, I had no clue how this coaching thing would be done but since the drummer was short on ideas I sat down behind the drums and they put on the music and I just played along to what I heard, coming up with a number of suggestions, variations and ideas on the go. Perfect! that’s a keeper shouted Fredman through the talk back – Next song! And so it went on that we patched ourselves through each song. I had never heard the songs before or the outro when I was recording the intro. At first I thought we were just making sketches for the drummer at that point but then I heard they were gonna keep it like that with me as a ghost drummer. Fine by me, I was just a tool and would sit there and wait while they had long discussions whether there should be a ride or hi-hat beat on various sections, or a splash or china cymbal here and there and so on. Take your time I said. I was in no hurry and would leave at 6 O´clock everyday after a day’s work regardless. When the songs weren’t good enough, they just said “play the fastest kickdrums you can muster and it’ll be cool”.
I spent maybe 5 or 6 days in the studio and then they flew in Hellhammer from Norway too who recorded his versions on two of the songs I had already done. I was kinda fun and very casual and the financial back up was no issue apparently. I just wished I had renegotiated the paycheck since I was later on listed as the drummer, but it was good easy money anyway.
I guess in a way it evens out the scores if you think about all the times you’ve done session jobs with a promise of getting paid once the album is released, money that I’m still waiting for with recordings done in 1997 and shit.
4. By the way, when did YOU find the music and all these instruments in your life? And, if it’s possible to choose, which is the favourite one?
Oh that’s a long story..
it was KISS Destroyer that destroyed me. Blame it all on them! Hahaha!
I discovered that album as a 7 year old fan of horror and superhero comics, and from that moment on it changed my life sorever although it would take several years before I actually put a band together by more or less forcing some mates from school and we would all pick an instrument each to learn. What previously had seem completely inconceivable and unattainable was made a little easier at the time around 1980 with the new wave of rock/pop/punk bands singing in our native tongue swedish. Bands like Noice, Gyllene Tider, Snowstorm, Magnus Uggla and so on. You gotta start somewhere and since I couldn’t speak english I saw this window of opportunity and jumped to it and started my band and began writing lyrics for songs. None of us could play a single note, didn’t own any instruments, or for that matter had barely seen any in real life. But you gotta start somewhere and one thing lead to another, and once the word got around I met other aspiring musicians and soon replaced the ones that wasn’t as dedicated as I was and soon we got the band going, played gigs in school and in the many youth centers around Gothenburg, won a couple of bandstand contests and built a reputation and a following locally. We weren’t more than 13-14 and were like the local mascots with a promising talent ahead. However, me and lead guitarist Mikael Myllinen wanted to play heavier music and somehow foolishly decided to break up the band to form another, went through a number of constellations without much success, and we both started playing with others separately and soon drifted apart. Later on he ended up in King Diamond as Michael Moon for a short period in ´87 and I joined two years later.
In my teens I surrounded myself with aspiring musicians who wasn’t always as driven or had any song ideas, so I used to hum or voice out the ideas from behind the drums. Eventually I got tired of it and picked up the guitar or bass just to show my ideas and gradually I got a little better at it. I soon realized that drums wasn’t the ideal choice of instrument if you wanted to write songs. Finding good instrumentalists was never a problem, but finding a proper singer seemed impossible. So every single band I formed with great ideas, songs and concepts would invariably soon start deteriorate because without a singer one couldn’t take it to the next level of playing shows or make recordings and this was very very frustrating for me.
Had I not been the drummer I would most likely have tried singing myself, but it never even crossed my mind until I was in my mid 20s. Because who wants a singer in the back who can’t really interact with the audience. Not to mention the difficulties with leekage from the drums and so on. So that too originally came out of necessity rather than desire. Above all I’d say I’m a creative visionary and all I’m interested in is writing music as well as every single aspect of the concept and presentation. The whole multi instrumenatlist is a bit blown out of proportion I must say. Don’t get me wrong, I like playing guitar, bass, drums and singing but you’d be surprised to know how little I actually get to play due to everything else I’m doing with administration, organizing and whatnot. Again, not by design as much as by necessity, I could very well be the ultimate posterboy for the D.I.Y mentality.
5. After these experiences, it was time to return to your original plan: solo career. So, please tell me what’s blending in your head while writing new music, entitled “Snowy Shaw”?
As little as possible actually. I’ve found out long ago that the best ideas pops out when I’m just there in the moment without any pre-conceived ideas for direction or whatever. Disconnect your brain, play with your gut or crotch and just sorta “be it”. At least that’s what works best for me cause I’ve learned that if one try to construct songs after a given pattern or specific mold it tend to end up contrived and unnatural. I also get a pretty good feeling of the overall arrangement on the outset for all the instruments, which is of course something you can work on trial and error style later for at the actual recordings. Normally I always sing or grunt along the vocal lines in some sort of non language and in the best of cases I come up with the title and parts of the lyrics right there, and then the rest of the lyrics I can polish, write and rewrite later on until I’m satisfied based upon that first initial title or chorus line I came up with. Like Book of Heavy Metal for instance, Hmmm, I wonder what could the topic of that lyric possibly be about? Well, that’s usually how I work when I write my own music.
Influences and topics vary vastly depending on the song and style in question. Everything from ABBA to Entombed to Uriah Heep to Rammstein to Satyricon to Danny Elfman and John Barry. Furthermore, that “return to your original plan: solo career” was phrased a little unfortunately and taken out of context in a recent press release, as if I’ve harboured that grand idea all my life, which is not the case. The return was after my year with Sabaton, who contacted me offering me permanent membership as a drummer in September 2012. I had by then quit Therion and everything else in order to concentrate a 100% on my own thing, so naturally I also turned down the offer from Sabaton, regardless of how utterly retarded that decision may seem from the outside with Sabaton being the fastest and biggest rising star in metal since Metallica or something. I told Joachim that as tempting as the offer is I must say no, because I really need to do my own thing before I get too fucking old, which he fully understood. But after some coaxing I agreed to sit in as the live drummer for 6 months, as the offer was really too good to resist. Then we got along so amazingly and had a tremendously great time together that I extended the contract for another 6 months. To be completely honest, I was actually quite sad when I left knowing that I would probably never again be with such a great band of brothers.. and I cursed myself for having all these ambitions to make my own music. Otherwise I could have taken the easy way, surfed along and had a perfectly good and convenient life among some of the best people I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with, or having meet as a matter of fact. But!,.. there’s always a but isn’t there? Like the saying goes, A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do.
And besides, I’m not exactly known for taking the easy road in my life, in the past, so why start now? Needless to say I’m not in it for the fame and fortune, and I’ve reached a point in my life with a tremendous desire to create my very own thing if so it’s the last thing I ever do. What my music will sound like under the flag of Snowy Shaw?.. well, that’s for me to know and for you to find out. In time you’ll see, or hear :-)
6. Yeah, and I cannot wait :) but please tell me, how would You describe your gengre?
I know it sounds pathetic when artists get that question and answer something like ” Oh, it’s hard to describe what kind of music we play and to put a label on it” but believe me, with the very special musical projects I have up ahead it really is. Each individual style yes, but just as impossible it is to describe all of my former bands with just one comprehensive overall genre. Hell, it’s even impossible to describe the music of Notre Dame in itself. I know I must sound a little vague and cryptic here, but trust me, the fog will clear eventually when I released the albums(s).
7. Your digital single “Dusk” came out on July 22, it’s taken from the forthcoming live DVD/CD package titled “The Liveshow: 25 Years Of Madness In The Name Of Metal” which will come out in September… so please tell me what has been the feedback from your fans and critics, so far?
It reached number 1 on Itunes rock charts. Normally I don’t pay any attention whatsoever to that kind of thing, but I must admit that it made me pleasantly surprised and very happy.
8. The DVD/CD will be released in limited edition of 666 copies… nice numbers ;) anything that you would like to add to this?
That’s a bit of a misunderstanding. The 666 limit was actually just for the super deluxe Fanpack offer that one could pre-order through my webshop. From September on the DVD/CD box can be ordered separately through my shop and in various other stores and places in the world, hopefully. We’re still under negotiations with a number of distributors for various territories all over the planet. As you know it’s incredibly hard to sell physical products these days, and every day a record store goes belly up and shuts down. These days record companies are extremely anxious and cautious because if they make the slightest wrong decision it might cause them their job and what brings food to their tables. So eventually I decided that sooner or later I’m gonna have to grab the bull by its horns and take care of it all myself, like I always do in a D.I.Y kind of way. it’s inevitable unless I’m gonna settle to be a slave without any creative freedom, so I now run the operation with a little team of my own. In the present moment I’d say the safest and best way to get hold of my DVD/CD box is simply to order it from the source/artist itself, in other words my well-stocked webshop, where you can also have your copy personally signed among other things. Pay a visit to http://www.snowyshaw.net/webshop
It’s also available at the Hellsinki Store & mailing order in Helsinki, I might add since I’m talking to Miss Finland right now :)
9. The DVD/CD includes more than 3 hours of high quality material, recorded on two special theatrical shows… having a huge amount of material, was it a tough job to choose the songs to this release?
Yeah, I must say it was a tough bit of “Kill your darlings”. We edited it all but then had to make a selection where we weight in all aspects for best entertainment value. The shows themselves were much longer and we had probably 5 hours of filmed live material but you just can’t put out a 5 hour DVD, so I decided to make a good varied selection. That goes too for the planned audio CD, this whole “Kill your darlings” operation I mean. My initial plan was also to release also a double vinyl album including several songs that couldn’t fit on the DVD/CD. For example, Heathendom alone, a song I wrote and recorded for Memento Mori 20 years back was now performed live for the first time ever, and in its entirety. It’s over 12 minutes long, so like I said I had to make a choice and choose instead to include 3 other songs of normal length.
10. It’s featuring special guests from KING DIAMOND band,MERCYFUL FATE, THERION; MEMENTO MORI, ILLWILL, OPERA DIABOLICUS, what can you tell me about these co-operations?
It was just great and I’m delighted they wanted to join me on stage as guest stars. That feeling was very mutual by the way. I can tell you it sure wasn’t easy organizing all this though. Most musicians aren’t the typical orderly 9-5 guys and to try to logistically arrange it all was a pure nightmare. My old buddy Sharlee D´Angelo for example, who should join me on stage doing an old illwill song, but he never showed up. But what else is new? In our teens when we grew up, I don’t think I’m exaggerating if I claim that I’ve waited for that guy for a full year if you put all the hours together. It’s pretty much common knowledge by now, so I dare say that Messiah Marcolin was just his normal difficult self and neither did I have the time nor energy to deal with it, so I just let it slide. But for the most part, with all who showed up, it worked beautifully. Doing the encore of the M.F classic Evil with all of the guests up on stage is a memory I’ll cheerish all my life. It was unbelievable. Surely a night to remember, times 2 :-)
11. Let’s talk about the title, “The Liveshow: 25 Years Of Madness In The Name Of Metal”… what this “madness in the name of metal” means to you and your everyday life?
My life’s been one helluva crazy ride of ups and downs, not to mention my professional life with all those bands and projects for the past 25 since I joined King Diamond in the summer of ´89. I think it’s safe to say that most people consider me a bit crazy, and frankly I don’t mind it at all. It’s all probably for the simple reason that I do things my own way and I’d be lying if I say I lie awake at night worrying about what others may think. I don’t seek the approval of others and I’m not afraid to try my wings, or to make mistakes for that matter. To some people that equals madness I guess, while in my book it’s ,..strength, for lack of a better word.
12. Hypotetical question, what if, for some weird reason, Metal wouldnt exist in your life, how would you spend your time?
I assume to mean music and not just metal. Something creative I’m sure. Then I would definitely have developed and finetuned my skills for art, drawing and paiting which I had natural from childhood, and sadly for that reason I disregarded as in “easy come easy go” kinda way ya know.. Yeah, I would definitely have engaged and devoted my life to that, and also worked with animals in many ways. Then on the side, I would probably be doing MMA. Generally I’m not at all into sports, but some individual branches has begun to attract and move me in later years. Guess I’m a lonewolf and not so much of a team-player generally speaking, and the older I get the more I prefer the company of animals.
13. I read that you also work as a photographer and designer for bands and artists… so I just gotta ask you to tell me more about this, and please give me some links where we can see your designs?
Apart from my own stuff you mean? Since I have this very clear and distinct vision of how I want things to look, I realized that it would be a lot easier if I somehow learnt how to operate these type of programs and stuff myself. More work definitely, but also less teeth grinding, arguing and disappointment. Again, this old Do It Yourself kinda thing. People liked what they saw and started contacting me to do photos for them, design logos, artwork, props and all kinds of stuff. It’s so extremely hard to make it the music biz and people would always turn to me for advise and connections. It suddenly occured to me that I possessed some sort of gift and the kind of knowledge that could come handy and be benificial to other bands and artists and began offering that service as coach, stylist, designer, illustrator, photographer and together with a collegue we even started a company for it in 2008-2009 something. We did album covers, video trailers and arranged photo shoots etc, but it was just too much hassle for the money and my heart wasn’t really in it, so before too long I pulled out since I was anyway too busy touring and with my own stuff.
So it’s now been several years since I provided this kinda service for others, but occasionally I do help out if there’s anything that interests me (or if the paycheck convinces me ;-).
I also designed stage props and decor for myself and other bands. You can see that on my new Live DVD as well as on Live Gothic with Therion for example. Before I even joined Dimmu Borgir as a musician they were gonna hire my services to take care of the visual presentation on stage and to some extent their image. But once I joined the band I’m afraid their manager saw to it that I had no say in anything in that area…
14. Would you like to tell us more about “Snowy Shaw against animal cruelty”…?
I suppose you’re referring to the image I posted on my personal Facebook page, that immediately took on a life on its own and was shared by hundreds, if not thousands of people. Right away people asked me to print posters, wallpapers or banners of it. I wasn’t prepared for that reaction and was overwhelmed by it. To say that I’m against animal cruelty is like stating the obvious. I was raised to be kind and show respect and compassion for every living thing in the animal kingdom and nature. Not to take advantage of the smaller and weaker like animals, kids and women. Many people meant that it was admirable for a public figure to make an active standpoint for the animals and a nobel cause like that. I was sick to death of seeing the internet and facebook flooded with clip after clip of all the cruel and sadistic acts against poor animals, the meat industry and neglected, mistreated pets by dumb asses who should never have the right to owe any in the first place, and how they get away with it without any consequences whatsoever, due to the lame laws and rights system. So I just took a wicked photo of myself holding an axe and put the text ” Be kind to Animals – or I’ll kill you” on top of it. Then I just posted it my personal FB page with no intention of being some sort the posterboy for that or anything, but at the same time I certainly don’t mind it.
So eventually I did arrange to have some T-shirts made of it and sold through my webshop. I’m now contemplating donating the profit to the right kind of Animal rights organization. Just haven’t decided which yet.
There’s a biker gang in the US that not only help and support a shelter for dogs and cats, but track down the sadistic assholes and have them persecuted or just beat the shit out of them. As far as I know there’s no gang like that here, or in Scandinavia or Europe. Too bad, if I had the time, I’d love to join them.
15. What is your opinion about the general status of today’s heavy metal scene? And how do you see it’s developing in the near future?
Not to be a pessimist BUT,… Hahaha! Just kiddin´. I’d say that in Europe and Scandinavia it is still blossoming, and the metal fans are generally very loyal compared to other styles of music I think. If people don’t start supporting the younger unestablished bands by buying their stuff it’s gonna be even harder than it is now for the next generation of bands. Also because if everything is so easily accessable and can be downloaded for free, it falls under the “easy come, easy go” principle where few bothers to take the time to listen to a full album and instead just go cherry picking the songs on the top list among the mass of bands.
I’m convinced however that rock music or metal if you prefer always gonna survive in one form or the other. There’s an essential need for that kind of primal rebel attitude and expression. At least I hope so.
16. What would be the question, you would never want to hear to be asked from you?
Wow! Impressive Tarja, that’s a very good and creative question that I’ve never ever had before. But for obvious reasons I’m not gonna answer it either.
17. lol, fair enough :D … so what can you reveal me about the next things to happen in your musical life?
Now once the lion share is more or less done with all the hard work of the live DVD, then finally at last I can start preparing to start recording all my new music. In the near future I will also record two other albums, namely the sophomore opuses of Opera Diabolicus and Mad Architect.
18. When we’ll see you on stage next time?
If things go according to plan I’ll be starting off by doing some summer festivals next year.
19. Who are the artists/bands with whom you would like to co-operate in the future?
There’s a bundle of people I admire and have high respect for, and that I’d love to work together with on some kind of project or something but for the moment except the ones I just mentioned the only artist I’d like to collaborate with is me, myself and I. However there’s a number of good producers that I’d love to collaborate with on my own music. There’s actually quite a few super talented swedish musicians/composers that I’m a secret admirer of and that I’d like to get to know and work with some day, like Niklas Frisk, Sonny Boy Gustavsson, Nicke Andersson, And of course, if I had a time machine I’d sell my soul to go back and work with Bob Ezrin in the mid 70s.
20. Ok, I guess this gotta be the last question… so how would you like to finish this interview? And what’s your message to your fans and Metal Shock Finland readers?
Well, I’m not trying to kiss up or anything but I love Finland and finnish folks which always strikes me as tougher, more genuine than most swedish pussies. I really wish to bring my show to Finland and play festivals next year, so listen up all you festival promotors, ok? In fact I wouldn’t mind moving there permanently and I’ve already starting to improve my finnish a little further than the standard phrases like Kiitos, moi, Vittu, Kyrpä, Koskenkorva and Satana Perkele of course, how about this ? Hakkaa päälle suomen poika! Verta hattuun! ;-)
Hahahahahahahah, and I could say that’s the basic Finnish ABC everybody should know :D …Snowy, a big thanks for this interview and your time! I wish all the best for this year and to all what this release will bring along! and no need to say, but i wish to see you soon on stage, also here in Italy :) Cheers, and take care! \m/
You too, and it was a pleasure. Thank you.
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