Interview by Teresa Hopkins
In learning much, yet what I believe is only a fraction about the guys in this band, COLORSTONE, I can think of no more fitting a name. Its members bring with them quite impressive, colorful resumes. For starters, they’ve collectively played on more than 50 albums, including individual stints with bands such as Time Gallery, Silver Mountain, Tricky Track, and Wasteland. Running record labels and recording studios later on must have been an easy progression. Each of them possesses many talents and gifts not limited to music and all that it encompasses: their various endeavors also include but are in no way limited to film, video, sound and media production; web design; computer programming and operation; social media and networking; graphic and media design; photography; and, in teaching the next generation the virtues of these arts as well. This is good to know, as they all have growing children of their own.
There is a saying that “birds of a feather flock together”. It seems natural, then, given their backgrounds, that they would unite in a format that allows for great creative expression and collaboration in influences, personal talents, preferences, and experimentation. The results of all this? So far: two impressive collections of songs, Into the Garden and Steam.
COLORSTONE is a musical kaleidoscope of elements and styles, combining in melodic harmony and strength. There is a sparkle, a certain something, that shines even beyond the infectious hooks, grooves, insightful lyrics, and little surprises throughout the songs that delight the ears, mind, and spirit. This, it seems, they do so well—not because they have to, clearly (see above!)—but for the sheer love of it.
Is theirs a mission to change the world? Perhaps not, but there is a clear message in the music: Do what you love, and love what you do.
In preparation for a gig on February 1 to celebrate the release of Steam at the legendary nightclub Kulturbolaget in Malmö, Sweden, where a large, loyal following comes regularly to support them, it is not enough to don a pair of old jeans and a sloppy t-shirt. The members of COLORSTONE have taken great care to dress to the nines: silk shirts and ties, long tuxedo jackets, freshly-shined shoes, perhaps a pocket watch chained to tailored trousers, and, to top it all off—a top hat. They take this “having fun” thing very seriously!
I found out about COLORSTONE serendipitously after choosing their album from some others up for review at Metal Shock Finland back in February. I liked their music right away and thought they really had something special that the rest of the world ought to know about too. After praising them in what I hoped would be perceived as a favorable review and we’d published it at the website, guitarist Fredrik Bergengren wrote to us. I was happy that he was pleased with the review, but saddened to learn that the next day, his mother had passed away after a long illness. It would have been a lot to deal with all at once for anyone—but Fredrik handled the great life balance with grace and much support from his loving family and friends.
I came to know him and the rest of the guys more over the last few months, and I have to say their character is every bit as impressive as their music.
Participating in the discussion were Fredrik Bergengren (guitars), Olle Nilsson (drums, percussion), Johan Dahlström (vocals), Tommy Falk (keyboards), and Samir Dounas (bass guitar).
It’s a privilege to share with you my recent interview with COLORSTONE.
For fans such as I who are curious about your history, please tell us how you all met and began playing music together.
Fredrik: Olle and I met back in the early school days of 1973!
Olle: Music brought us together. We became friends at the age of 13. Our favorites were bands like Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, and Deep Purple. Later on we became big fans of Thin Lizzy, and we had the pleasure to meet them several times when they were playing in Sweden and Denmark. Fredrik is like a brother to me!
Fredrik: We started our first band in 1976 called Montezuma’s Revenge. With that band, we did a song on a vinyl compilation album in 1979. I remember when I got the call from the record label. Better than any drug in the world!
I can only imagine! I understand that you and Olle were together in a band called Tricky Track also.
Olle: 1982 was the year we started Tricky Track and we got a record deal after our first successful gig. The album Swinging Boys was released in Japan, Scandinavia and some European countries. In 1984 we recorded a single with Mikael Rickfors as producer, and 1986 we got the opportunity to record a single in the famous ABBA studio in Stockholm with Mauro Scocco and Johan Ekelund as producers. And yes… we met Björn and Benny in Abba!
Fredrik: We actually stopped studying and working to do that full time. We were in our 20s, got a record deal and thought that we were going to make it. The record company cheated us and the band split up [in 1987].
This was getting close to when Time Gallery began.
Fredrik: After Tricky Track, I still had the dream of doing only music. As I had stopped studying and didn’t want to go back, I had to find some guys that were on the same path. I found 3 guys, slightly younger, that shared that dream, and we formed Time Gallery in 1985. We got a record deal with EMI in Copenhagen and started the recordings of the debut album 1986. Keith Olsen [Grammy-winning record producer and sound engineer who’s worked with bands like the Grateful Dead, Foreigner, Journey, Rick Springfield, Pat Benatar, Ozzy Osbourne, and Fleetwood Mac] came to help us in early 1988, and we did the mixing with Keith and engineer Brian Foraker at Goodnight L.A. Studios in Los Angeles. It was released worldwide in 1989 by Atlantic. We had a whole page feature in the US magazine Billboard and were to go out on tour with Rick Springfield, both as supporting act and as his band. Time Gallery did a second album in 1991 [Kaleidoscope, released the following year]. We sold around 60,000 records, mainly in the US. But when the A&R man at Atlantic got fired, all his bands got fired too. We started to work on other projects, and the band was history.
Johan, how did you get your start in music? And what were you up to before COLORSTONE got together?
Johan: I started singing with with more serious musicians when I was about 18 to 20 years old and had some minor local success with one of these bands that made it on the local radio charts. We also got some interest from the States. BMG and Warner contacted us, but it never came to a record deal. We were in many ways young and naive. We didn’t want to change for anyone.
I actually sang on a couple of tracks for Yngwie Malmsteen’s demo when he was leaving for the US. One of them was entitled “Riot in the Dungeons” (it appears later on the album Odyssey with Joe Lynn Turner on vocals). We were recording it in the basement of Anders and Jens Johansson’s (ex Silver Mountain members) house in Malmö, I remember. The other tracks were recorded in Stockholm with the singer Joey Tempest from Europe. Yngwie got a record deal with that demo!
I played with a couple of other groups, always with the ambition of writing our own material. Then later on it became more and more party/cover bands to make an extra buck and have fun. For a while I also joined a band playing acid jazz, reggae and soul covers! It was a great challenge, and an opportunity to broaden my musical influences, that I liked. We had quite a lot of local gigs, and even went to Spain for a small tour playing at festivals and clubs.
I made only one record with Silver Mountain. I felt I was never really part of the creative process with the band, as much as I wanted to be. I felt more like a studio musician. And the musical style wasn’t my cup of tea either, to be honest. But it kept me going and I had fun doing it.
Olle told me that after Tricky Track split up 1987, he began work as a music producer in Swedish Radio. He got married and they had “2 lovely kids, a girl and a boy”. He took care of his mother, too, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease at only 50 years old. She died in late December of 1999.
Tommy started out in a band called Talking Terms. Fredrik, who was in Time Gallery then, lent his expertise as producer and engineer. Later, as a result of not finding gigs playing their own material, they formed the popular Malmö cover band Colorboys in 1993. The band became very tight as live musicians, playing a lot of soul, funk, and R&B music—everything from Tom Jones to Jimi Hendrix!
Johan said that for a time, he was a substitute for the lead singer of Colorboys. At the same time, he, Olle, and Fredrik were working with their own project (which later came to be COLORSTONE), writing songs and recording. He added that when Jonas joined later, the four of them also had a cover band on the side to tighten up the band and to play as much as possible.
Tommy preferred to be part of a band with their own style and to participate in songwriting. But it was no easy task to put a new band together. However, he continued to work in music in some capacity. He stated: “Personally I have no interest in playing covers in that way. But when I did not find the right band, my salvation was cover bands and doing studio-work in other bands.” Colorboys played their last show in 2002, after 8 years and 700 gigs together.
Fredrik had this to say: “I was a professional musician for 13 years and had to make a living out of it. And even back then, it was so difficult. When our children came, in the mid 90s and forward, we as a family took the decision that I had to have a steady income. That’s why I started as a sound engineer at a film production company. In 2001, two others and I started the film production company Smartfilm, which now has 11 employees.”
For those who don’t know, please tell us how COLORSTONE came to be. What occurred to bring each of you into each others’ lives and into the first official lineup?
Johan: I was constantly looking for musicians with the same ambition and musical taste as me. All this time I knew Fredrik and Olle and had great respect for them as both musicians and friends. They contacted me, as I recall it, and ask me to join as the singer. We had at that time no songs but loads of ideas, and most importantly a burning passion for powerful pop, rock and soul music and songwriting.
We had to take a break at a point in time when the harsh reality with kids and old parents took its toll. I was working with different art and theater projects besides the music. It all tends to get a bit tiresome when you want to start a family. So I was looking for a more steady job at that time as well. But we never lost contact, though, and we strangely enough kept our focus. It seemed like just a temporary pause. When the other members joined later on, when we got things together again, we were pretty sure of what we wanted musically.
Fredrik: The core of COLORSTONE is Olle, Johan, and I. Olle and I have played together on and off since 1976. We became friends with Johan in the late 80s. When Time Gallery split up 1991, we began writing songs very slowly. After this on-and-off thing, we decided around 2007 to form a real band. It took some time to find a bass player, but we got together once a week and started rehearsing and writing songs. After 2 years of this, the bass player left the band. I then remembered my friend Jonas Sandquist, who joined in late 2009. We now had a great lineup and started to rehearse seriously, finalizing and altering already written songs. The recordings for Into the Garden started shortly after that in 2010. It took some time to record! We had around 60 songs to choose from and that took ages. We recorded maybe 25 songs and narrowed it down to the final 17. Into the Garden was unofficially released during a gig at the well known rock club Kulturbolaget in Malmö, Sweden in the beginning of December 2011, and it was a huge success. We all then understood that this was the way to go!
It sounds like you were all born to play together. Did you have to work at this or did it all seem to come about naturally?
Olle: For me, COLORSTONE is a result of long-lasting, close friendships and a lot of good and bad life experiences. As I said earlier, Fredrik is like a brother to me. So is Johan. We have been good friends for more than 25 years. I’ve known Tommy for many years as well, so it’s only Samir who is my “new” friend in the band. If you put all this together, a lot of things work and come naturally.
Fredrik: It’s totally natural roles and balance in the band. Match made in… (smiles)
Tommy: For me it has been easy. COLORSTONE was already going when I joined. I already knew everyone. The [initial intent] was for me to help out only with the release gig in February. After a few weeks with rehearsals I just got stuck, and I love it. These guys are so nice to be around.
WHAT’S UP WITH JONAS SANDQUIST?
As you might remember, Jonas was the bass player for COLORSTONE’s Into The Garden lineup, but we’d heard that Samir Dounas was now the bass player on Steam. Then we saw Jonas—and Samir—in two of the band’s three new videos so far. And Jonas was playing bass for the big Steam release fest this past February at Kulturbolaget in Malmö. So is Jonas with the band—or not?
According to Jonas, “I was the one who brought Samir into the band, because at that time I wanted to play guitar!” Samir says, “I joined in the spring of 2012, a couple of months after the release of Into the Garden.” Fredrik adds that they were lucky to get Samir, because he, like the others, has a lot of projects going.
“Since Jonas lives an hour drive from the rest of us and due to the fact with so many other commitments, we all together decided that it was better to go separate ways,” says Fredrik.
After all, Olle shrugs, “there are only 24 hours in a day!”
Fredrik and Jonas emphatically state that they have parted in the best of ways– “No hard feelings whatsoever. We are truly the best of friends!” Jonas says, “I really miss them a lot. I’ve recently graduated from Music University as a Producer. I’ve built my own studio and wanted to give it a go—and the only way is “all in!”. I’ve already done several recordings in a wide area of different styles, and it’s so much fun!
The BESS Studio is where I exist the most of my time, recording, arranging and working with all kinds of music. It can be a classical quartet, a rock band, a singer-songwriter, choirs, my family as well. All our kids are playing, and my dear wife is a musician too, so the family meets in BESS quite often.”
Jonas, who has known the guys since the days of Time Gallery and Candela, has many things filling that schedule. He’s a music teacher too: “It’s a blessing to teach kids. It’s ever so rewarding. I really like this type of work. Keeps your mind fresh and ‘on the edge’! I teach kids from ages 13-16.”
He adds, “Now I’m also working as a live sound engineer in a group called Vocal Six. We tour around the world. It’s so much fun to ‘create’ a live sound as well.”
As if all that weren’t enough, Jonas also has his own food and wine course, stating that this is another passion of his. “So yes, the schedule is pretty full!”
“There’s still so much I want to do and achieve…I don’t know where to start! There are many people I want to play with, many people I want to record, many people I want to work with, many records to do and so on! This list is long, but I’m happy where I am right now. I’m really enjoying my musical life!”
THE MAKING OF “STEAM”
For Into the Garden, you said that you had about 60 songs to choose from, finally narrowing it down to 17. Wow… that’s a problem many songwriters would like to have! For a first album, it’s a daring move to put so much of yourselves out there. I’ve read a lot of good feedback about it though. For your latest album, Steam, did you already have some completed songs in mind, or did you approach it this time with a clean slate?
Fredrik: Some songs did not simply fit in and some songs weren’t good enough. It wasn’t a clean slate when we started to make songs for Steam. We used a few old songs and some ideas from earlier but developed them into Steam. Maybe, someday, we will release unreleased material…
Johan: As I recall it we thought we were going to use a lot of the songs that we didn’t use for Into the Garden. Instead, we just came up with new ones. It seemed like we already had passed that state of mind and we were on to something else. I got the same feeling when we finished the Steam album—I wanted to start making new songs right away, but different ones. If we will use something of the older material for our next album, we will probably totally transform it into where we are that time.
About how long was the entire process from writing to final copy of Steam? Did it differ greatly from the time spent on Into the Garden?
Johan: The process of writing Steam was less tiresome than with the album Into the Garden. We had refined it a lot. The song ideas seemed more natural in their structure and that was very inspiring. It all went faster.
Fredrik: It took about 18 months to complete Steam. Into the Garden took about 3 years.
Olle: You know, if you’ve got a full time job, family, and kids, it’s sometimes hard to get us all together. The good thing is that we are all in the same life situation.
Where and what is Papa’s Place Studio?
Fredrik: Papa’s Place is my studio in my house. So happy to have the opportunity to just go down and record whenever I’m up to it!
Who handled the production and/or mixing on Steam? Was this the same strategy you used on Into the Garden?
Fredrik: Since I have a lot of experience from earlier work, and since it is my studio, I’m doing most of that work. But it is a group effort!!
Olle: Fredrik and I are nearly neighbors, so it feels naturally that we take care of most of the recording and mixing. But the whole band must agree with the result!
Do you record direct-line or do you all do it “old-school” style? Which do you prefer: digital or analog?
Fredrik: I still prefer old-school recording with microphones, tube pre-amps and so on. But the flexibility with ProTools is amazing, so it is a combination of the two worlds.
Olle: I think we prefer the best of both worlds. We record our songs in ProTools but we use real instruments and microphones.
I like that on some of Fredrik’s solos, the guitar is front and center rather than panned left or right. I notice too that on every song, I can hear many different layers of guitars. It adds so much richness to the sound. All of the instruments come through very well—nothing is buried in the mix. The bass lines are fluid yet rhythmic, and Olle’s drums are tight and snappy. He has a way of making his kit sound bigger than what it is. The mix sounds balanced yet not overly compressed. How many guitar tracks would you typically use for a song?
Fredrik: Top secret! No, just kidding. The foundation is always one guitar part, which I then do an identical dub to panning them hard left and right. Then I just play around, finding some ways to make it more interesting. And big thanks for appreciating the mixing work.
Olle: I work a lot with my drums and my sound. It’s so important that your music really groove!
I’ve gathered a bit of information just from what I am hearing, but I’d love to know what equipment you all are using, and if this has always been your choice or if you’ve experimented much with that as you have progressed.
Fredrik: Well…I’m using both Gibson and Fender on the recordings (I have them all). However, live is another story. I then have to combine these two worlds, and the best option so far is a Music Man guitar with EMG pickups (because they are silent). I just got a new Fender Stratocaster custom built for me which I really dig! Two single coils and one humbucker. For the amps, I’ve used several for the recordings: 1 modified Marshall from 1973, a Custom Audio Amplifier PT-100, Skrydstrup TD-50, and actually also an AXE FX 2. For the live shows, I use a custom built wet-dry-wet rig by Steen Skrydstrup (David Gilmour, U2, Scorpions, Rammstein and so on). For smaller gigs I use a Soldano preamp, TC Electronic, VHT and two 2×12 cabinets.
Olle: I’ve got two drum setups: One is a Tama new “vintage set” with a 24” Bass Drum, 14” snare, 14” and 16” toms, and a Paiste hi-hat. On the set is my old 20” Zildjian ride, bought in Austin, and 3 different crashes from Sabian. I also have a small Gretsch vintage kit in white sparkle with an 18” bass drum, 14” snare, 14” and 16” toms combined with my cymbals. They are so beautiful!!
Samir: I play a 4-string bass, stringed for a 5-string bass without the G-string. I’ve never felt comfortable with a 5-string bass, so that was the best solution for me. On the record I play my old Blade jazz bass that I’ve had for a long time, but I’ve just changed to a black Warwick Steamer that I realy like. My rig is an Ashdown ABM with 4×10” and 1×15”. I have some stomp boxes but I rarely ever use them—I like it straight into the amp.
Tommy: I use an M-Audio Axiom Pro MIDI keyboard and Apple’s MainStage. It’s a live performance app with an enormous sound library. The Hammond organ that I use the most sounds so great that I doubt anyone will hear the difference. I have done my time with carrying Leslies!
ABOUT WRITING: THE LYRICS, THE MUSIC, THE PROCESS
I have always been one to pay great attention to lyrics in music. They don’t always have to mean something, but I like a good story. The music of COLORSTONE draws us in, but the listener is invited to look deeper than what’s on the surface. There were certain things, certain phrases, that really stood out to me. After listening to the albums a few times, I went through the booklet included with Into the Garden and also transcribed the lyrics for Steam so that I could take a good look at them. Johan Dahlström’s lyrics read more like poetry and could stand alone even without music. Subjects range from love, anger, vulnerability, bitterness, encouragement, victory, and imminent death, to name a few, all with a rocking soundtrack from the rest of the band. I see great use of metaphor and insight in them; I think Johan Dahlström truly paints a picture with his words. I sensed though, that he might be the most private personality in the band. For many artists, music provides a kind of healing, and an opportunity for creative venting to which nothing else compares. I asked Johan if music was truly that outlet of expression for him, and if it helped him, too, to work through issues of life.
Johan: I don’t write lyrics or, as a matter of fact, any text, easily. The music always comes first—the melody and then the right amount of syllables to emphasize the rhythm. I work a lot on intuition in the first stage. I just sing some crap quite automatically that feels good and sounds like English—I never write in Swedish first. I don’t think I’ve ever tried that. I sometimes use the words that I improvise, and then I gradually provide them with a frame story. If the words don’t fit the idea or the atmosphere of the song, I look for similar sounding ones that mean something else to fit the story line. I love the sound of the right word/words.
The chords and the riffs create a special atmosphere that projects different kinds of colors, pictures, and melodies in my mind. My job is to catch those images and try to put them on paper without ruining the mood of the initial idea. With the words in some way, I also determine the melodies. Sometimes this is a somewhat tricky task. The lyrics and the song have to merge successfully, like a happy marriage. If they don’t, the song isn’t finished. My ambition is to write something more than a typical rock lyric. If that doesn’t work I let the song decide. I don’t wanna force some arty stuff on a straight rocker. But yes, writing lyrics is a great therapy and a true outlet of expression to me.
I do of course use a lot of material from my own life and from the lives of my friends, relatives and random people I meet. Other sources of inspiration are the news, poetry, art, literature, films, TV series and… Mother Nature. I collect words and phrases that I like and I think will come in handy for future lyric-making. I write them down in a notebook.
There is a warm, soulful vibrato in your voice that adds conviction to what you are singing. It makes the listener want to join in. Did you always want to be a singer?
Johan: I’ve always been quite a shy guy really—but inside of me in some way I have always been craving for attention! Attention for doing something I’m good at, not just attention, mind you! Continuously I’m working on finding the balance. When I first saw the lead singers of the great rock bands of the seventies, [I thought] there just couldn’t be a better way of getting attention.
It continually fascinates me that artists for whom English is not their native language can write it so poetically. I dare say that many times, it is spoken and sung more properly than those for whom it is inherent. Do you feel that the result fully conveys the meanings or emotions you set out to project?
Johan: The music that I loved when I was a teenager mainly came from the UK or the States. Consequently you wanted to sound like it when you were making your own music. Also, I always been in love with the English language (my father was a real Anglophile and a Shakespeare fan). English is simply made for singing rock music, just as Italian is made for opera.
“Like A Whisper” is one of my favorite COLORSTONE songs. I love how inspiring and encouraging it is. I guess it spoke to me at a time that I really needed it! Just before the solo, I hear you sing, “Josie, hold on!” My impression is of a father encouraging his daughter to find her wings and follow her dreams, and to remember he will always be there for her. So is the mysterious “Josie” your own daughter?
Johan: Yes, Josie is my oldest daughter Josefin. She´s 16 years old. The lyrics are about a father-daughter separation (I just love “She’s Leaving Home” by the Beatles). It’s something we all as parents have to deal with at some point in life, with the mixed feelings you get from wanting to help—and always being there for them on the one side and trying not to limit their freedom on the other. The true mission of a parent is obviously to make your son or daughter independent.
I can add that this song was really a tricky one to record! I think we made three or four versions of it. We didn’t get the groove right or the atmosphere. The idea was to make it both snappy in rhythm without losing the airiness of the song. I also worked a lot on the vocal arrangements.
I want to talk a little bit about the lyrics of a few of your songs. I’d love to know your thought process in how they came together and what they mean to you.
From Into the Garden:
Johan: The lyrics were inspired by the TV series Mad Men, where the main character is leading a double life not knowing who he really is (and nobody else does either!). It’s about being trapped in a life you actually loathe and wanting to start a new, with a clean slate.
“How Do You Feel”
Johan: This song is a bit special to me. We are doing a great live version of it that I really love—and and so does the audience, we’ve been told. I wrote the lyrics when my father died. Just a year later, my sister died from breast cancer.
The lyrics have a strong cathartic effect on me, and it still has when I perform it live. I’m truly fond of the line “It seems sometimes love is the weight of the world”.
Johan: It’s just about the sad conclusion that you are alone. No matter how many people you surround yourself with, what places you go to, you’re sadly on your own. Still you wait for someone/something to prove that its not so.
And from Steam:
“Don’t Just Dream About It”: I didn’t realize this the first several times I listened to it, but when I transcribed the lyrics, it impressed upon me someone dealing with devastation and ready to cave in.
Johan: It’s really about all of us living in our own self-created prisons. We are so afraid that we don’t live our lives fully. The door’s been open all the time, but we just don’t dare enter. I’ve also met some teenagers, especially girls, having devastating thoughts sometimes about themselves and their abilities, and it’s just so damn sad.
“Fighting for a Cause”: You seem to say, “You’re right on the verge of greatness. Don’t give up. You don’t have to fight the world—it’s already yours!”
Johan: This song is really a go-and-get it chant. A positive mantra for the disbelievers. And we’re all there sometimes.
Now that we’ve gotten to the core of some of the subject matter, let’s talk about the instrumental areas of COLORSTONE’s songwriting. Olle, Fredrik, since you two have had more of a history together musically, are you the main writers of the music score for Johan’s lyrics, or does everyone contribute ideas? Or—do you have the music already planned out and then see what Johan can do with it?
Fredrik: Most of the times I come up with a foundation to a song during the rehearsals. We then play it, alter it and record it on a mp3 recorder. Then Johan starts his work with the lyrics. But there are of course exceptions. Sometimes I have recorded whole songs in the studio which I present for the rest of the band, and sometimes Johan has an idea.
Do you set aside specific times for writing, or do you approach it more open-minded and casually, just playing and finding what seems to naturally form?
Fredrik: I definitely don’t plan to write. An idea can pop up at any time—when I watch TV, read the paper, or of course when rehearsing with the band.
I’m hearing that in quite a few of your songs, the intro is not necessarily an indication of what direction the song will go. You aren’t afraid to experiment.
Fredrik: This is the charm of not having a record label “telling” us what to do, and not being forced to think in “hit single” terms.
I read about some of the band’s influences. You’ve mentioned Foo Fighters, Led Zeppelin, U2, Jimi Hendrix, and Black Sabbath. I can hear a little Foo Fighters now and then, and I particularly enjoy the little surprise Hendrix-like fills interspersed within the songs, especially those with a more bluesy feel to them. My personal favorite from Into the Garden is “Soul Generator”. I think it has a terrific groove and one of the best hooks ever: “Though I’m not the losing kind/I’m losing my mind…over you”, with this sweet little Hendrix-sounding E7(#9) for emphasis. I hear a lot of funk and jazz stylings in your music as well.
Janne Stark of Stark Music Reviews says: “Although some of the songs can seem a bit slick, what sets COLORSTONE apart a bit from your general AOR band is that Fredrik experiments a bit with sounds and effects you’d be more likely to hear on a Robin Trower album.” How do you feel about that comparison?
Fredrik: I simply LOVE that you hear that!!! Makes me so happy! Roots but still modern.
What we enjoy listening to doesn’t always have to come out in our own music; keeping that in mind, we don’t necessarily have to analyze COLORSTONE with the intent of finding a hint of Sabbath here or there. But it is inevitable that especially in music, people do compare, if for no other reason than to give others an idea of the general feel of the music. With consideration to those references, I think you’ve forged your own personal style as well. What we hear now is not just Fredrik attempting to emulate this player or that player; instead, we are hearing what’s surely developing as the COLORSTONE Sound. It’s more than simply playing chords, leads, or fills. Blues guitarists, for example, have a way of playing that is almost conversational with the singer, and I think you do this in your own signature way. You set an initial mood for a song, but you explore different facets of the same emotion and feeling. There is variation within and the bridges of the songs stand out. We hear a certain flair in your playing that doesn’t take over the song or compete with Johan’s position as the vocalist. Rather, it brings all of the elements of the band together and makes the song stronger as a whole. I think it shows your maturity and discretion as a guitarist and reveals your talent as a composer also. It keeps listeners engaged.
Fredrik: You really nailed it Teresa!!!
THOUGHTS ON RADIO AND THE MEDIA
What kind of response have you been getting from radio airplay? On average, what song or songs are you finding that they favor?
Fredrik: I would say “Never Too Late”, but it will be interesting [to see if that changes at all] after the video for “Stone Temple” has been released.
Tommy: Being a new member but not to the industry – I am just overwhelmed by all feedback.
Do you find that radio has changed—that it might not seem as receptive to independent artists or new artists as a whole? Here in America, aside from college radio, most of them are bought out by bigger networks and then become monopolies. As a result, most of radio is homogenized. It is as if they, rather than their listeners, dictate what will be heard. I think this has negatively affected artists. How is the radio scene over there in Sweden and all of Europe? What do you think has changed with the advent of internet radio?
Fredrik: I think it is the same here in Sweden and Europe. The national radio does very seldom play hard rock, the commercial radio stations only play hit songs and the web radio stations play whatever they want. To reach out to as many internet radio stations in our category must be the way to go for now. And so far, I think we are on our way.
Olle: A difficult question to answer. I think there is a big difference between all countries’ public statement, but generally I think that bigger commercial stations sound more and more like each other, which is very sad and devastating for generating a healthy music industry.
With consideration to your skills and experience in film production, is this an easy endeavor? Do you make your own videos?
Olle: We make most videos of our own together with Smartfilm. Smartfilm did the DVD that was included in the Into The Garden CD package. But there are exceptions! For instance, “Gotto Groove” was made by the very talented and experienced photographer Peter Carlsson and Smartfilm’s editor Dan Persson. And they also made the “Stone Temple” video. “Never Too
Late” was done by Samir and his company Samumba Music. We will make two more videos for Steam later on this year—one that Samir is doing, and one with Smartfilm.
Are all of you involved with not only the performance but also the design, editing, and production?
Fredrik: Since I own a film production company [Smartfilm] we of course use the skills, equipment and contacts that it has. Samir is also in that business, and he was the most responsible for the video to “Never Too Late”.
Olle: We make everything on our own. Samir has his own company as a photograph and movie maker. Tommy is our web guru. Johan works as a teacher with photos, painting, and IT. And I’m the music producer with lots of experience from national radio.
Tommy: We all have something to say when it comes to the creative part of it. For me, it’s nice to rely on others here. I work with the web page, shop, graphics, posters, et cetera.
I’m impressed that you all can do so much and evidently do it all well! In addition, you’ve got some good story lines for the new videos from Steam. But there’s something I can’t quite figure out. In the plot line for the video for “Never too Late”, are you playing the hired assassins? If so, which one hired you—the man or the woman?
Olle: Mmmm… Maybe our little suitcase.
Fredrik: It was the vintage bag.
I like that you show some symbolism of “the passing of the torch” to the young fellows in “Gotto Groove”.
Fredrik: The idea was to tell the story about life. You “got to groove” to have fun and reach your goals. The [younger generation] bass player and drummer are two of my three sons.
Well it sounds like your families have been supportive of your music and your dreams.
Fredrik: I have the most understanding wife and sons. As I’m heading down to the studio, no one and I mean absolutely no one, comes knocking on my door. They all now that this means the world to me and makes me happy. I’m so grateful for that!!!
So your sons appear in the “Gotto Groove” video, and I think there has been mention that your family have contributed in other ways to COLORSTONE as well.
My son designed the original COLORSTONE logo and my wife is a clothing designer, so she has styled us during the years.
And now you’ve recently released a video for the song “Stone Temple”. Can you tell us a little about this one?
Tommy: It was recorded [in April of this year] in a nice area in the east of where we all live, in an old house in Österlen that’s been “frozen” since 1925. It was owned by a woman with poor finances, therefore it’s not in very good shape. But good for us—the interior is… romantic, in a sense.
Johan: On this song, Fredrik had a rather clear picture of what he wanted to express. He had some keywords in the song. He also came up with the title “Stone Temple” (that I love!). I changed and added some words to the lyrics. I do hope I kept his initial feeling in the song. To me it’s about in fear, letting the material world take over until it nearly suffocates you.
Fredrik: It was a collaboration between Photographer Peter Carlsson (who is a freelance, mainly still image photographer) and editor Dan Persson from Smartfilm. Ulrika Grönlund did the interior styling for her own company (Tant Grön Design) and my wife styled COLORSTONE for her own company, Christina’s Atleljé. Actress Sofie Drené was a part of it too. It was very important to me to capture the solitary feeling of the lyrics. I hope you will find it a beautiful video and that you will feel the song in your heart.
I certainly do. The music itself has a depth and richness that you’ve accomplished with only an acoustic guitar and the vocals. The lyrics, are poetic and simple, yet they say so much. I was intrigued by the old house and its story and I wanted to know more. I was pleased that you anticipated this and provided some information about it on your website with a link to its history (read HERE).
What kind of response have you been getting from it so far?
Fredrik: We’ve really gotten very positive feedback, both on the song and video. A very famous music and fashion journalist (in Scandinavia) wrote: “The band COLORSTONE never stops to surprise you! Check out the great looking video to their new single ‘Stone Temple’! Choirs like Crosby, Stills and Nash and an environment worthy of The Rolling Stones during the time of ‘Beggars Banquet’!”
ON THE ROAD
Please tell me a little about one of your favorite venues, the Kulturbolaget in Malmö, where you held your official release party for Steam back in February. How did that turn out?
Olle: It turned out really great! Kulturbolaget is a very famous place in Sweden. Nearly all good and famous bands and artists all over the world have played there. So it feels really good that it was a big success!
Tommy: It was a great night. I felt it was a clear statement that COLORSTONE is a “real band” (as someone in the audience put it) and is here to stay. The response in social media was enormous.
Fredrik: It was great fun and there were more people than we could have hoped for. This is why you keep on going!
Having had such a great reception for them in 2013, Blue Desert Music talked up COLORSTONE with much anticipation and excitement for this year’s International Record Store Day on April 26 in Malmö, saying in so many words, “If you miss this one, you’ve only yourself to blame!” The band played an acoustic set of some of their recent songs for free to the customers who came to see them and they certainly did not disappoint!
Later, that evening, they attended a large informal gathering at a dear friend’s home, joined by Dan Reed of Dan Reed Network. Fredrik expressed with much enthusiasm:
Fredrik: Dan Reed Network were one of the most innovative bands in the late 80s! I saw them twice. [One of those times was in] 1987 at a very small club in Copenhagen. There were only 60 people in the audience! It was a great gig and they gave everything in spite of the small crowd. I also saw them as supporting act to Bon Jovi 2 years later at a big venue, also in Copenhagen. I was really into their music at the time. This night (April 26) was a surreal experience! We played a couple of songs together. Dan is a really down to earth guy and we had some good talks and laughter. He actually said, as we played a set before he entered the stage, “How am I going to follow up you guys?” Great to hear that from him!! (big smiles)
It sounds like you all get a great response from the audience at shows. What are some things you love most or least about playing live?
Olle: After working so hard, getting all positive responses on our own material!
Fredrik: Love to meet the audience and feel the power of interacting with them. But traveling is boring!
Tommy: I love being on stage – simple as that.
And how long is a typical COLORSTONE set? Obviously you are promoting your most recent album, Steam, but are you also playing some song from Into the Garden? What songs might you find are crowd favorites?
Olle: It depends. Normally, the set lasts about an hour, plus the “one more time-songs”. And yes—we play songs from both albums.
Which songs do you most enjoy playing live?
Olle: My latest favorite is “How Do You Feel”.
Fredrik: We are trying to mix songs from the two albums. But if I should mention a couple of favorites, it would be “Silverspoon”, “Intoxicated” and “ Flowing” from Into the Garden, and from Steam, I would say “Never Too Late”, “Gotto Groove” and “Breakdown”.
Tommy: “Gotto Groove” is working well. It’s a groovy song that everyone understands. But every song has something to them that I like!
When you look back at your time in previous bands and the material you created, what might each of you consider important things you learned from those experiences, and what knowledge from those did you feel was helpful when getting COLORSTONE together?
Tommy: I think it is important that you do what you believe in without too much compromise. Even if we all have big ears and are humble in front of our listeners, we always do what we want. That fact will never change. If it goes wrong, at least I/we have the full ownership. If it goes wrong and someone is behind my/our decisions, it’s all fake.
Fredrik: This is my life lesson: Do what you love, don’t sign away you rights and dreams, and have a steady income so you don’t have to play music you don’t love!
Olle: I’ve learned that you must split everything. All for one, one for all.
Johan: I think the hardest thing when starting a band is to find equals concerning both ambition and musical taste. Most bands don’t last very long—they nearly break up before they start. Being in a band isn’t the easiest thing in the world.
It’s like painting a picture with 4 other guys. The band is your second family, so you’ve got to take care of it. You’ve got to keep your focus if you want to get anywhere. Yes, all for one, one for all!
Many band disagreements have to do with who gets the credits in the band and who doesn’t. Even if Fredrik mainly contributes with great riffs, chords and musical parts, and I with strong melodies and lyrics, and Olle is the king of the rhythm section (and a real sound hound!), we all know there’s a lot more to do in a band besides the music. In the end, I think every member contributes equally to make the band as good as it can possibly get concerning the final music, artworks, videos, marketing…all of that.
It’s so nice to have Samir and Tommy with us now. It feels like the perfect lineup—the Dream-Steam-Team! They will have a lot more to say about the music on the next album, for sure. But I also do think that me and my “brothers” Fredrik and Olle will have the final say. We all are a creative bunch, and we aim to do it all mostly on our own, if possible. We like to be in control. We present ourselves as a unity—COLORSTONE—so of course, our previous experiences in other bands was a reminder of what to do and not to do this time.
All right. Let’s break up the seriousness for a bit and play a little game I’ll call “Wild Card”. I’m going to ask you a few simple questions. Try to answer them without too much contemplation, and let’s see who most agrees.
Practical joker of the band
Fredrik and Tommy: Olle.
Johan: Olle, no doubt!
Olle: Me and Tommy.
Most serious member of the band
Johan: We’re all dead serious about our music and the band. If you mean like getting order at the rehearsals and being most disciplined. I have to say Fredrik. But if you mean like getting deeper meaning into the songs and pushing us as a band to find whats truly us…I’d say me!
Wisest member of the band
Johan: I would like to say it’s me! But it’s probably not…
Olle: Must be me!
Olle: Probably me. No, it’s Tommy!
Johan: I would say Olle (his jokes are sometimes so bad it’s crazy!), but Fredrik can really do unexpected things when he is in the right mood…
Grouchiest member of the band
Fredrik: I don’t know what means. Sorry!
Olle, Tommy, and Johan: Nobody!
Which of you is the hardest to pinpoint in any category?
Olle: Must be me.
Johan: The hardest for me is probably both Samir and Tommy. I’ve known them for a long time, but not as close as Fredrik and Olle who are really as brothers to me. I know both their weak and strong qualities and they know me the same way. Samir and Tommy bring a very positive and enthusiastic feeling to the band. They seem like true problem solvers to me and that’s great! It also makes the band more balanced as Olle, Fredrik and I sometimes tends to lose energy on obstacles coming in our way.
What is something each of you enjoys that might surprise people?
Tommy: We are nice guys. Really (winks).
Olle: Cleaning my house. I hate when it’s messy!
Johan: Colors, painting things, layout and typography! I just love painting something like a piece of furniture, a wall or a fence in the garden. It’s so relaxing. Mixing the colors, getting the exact right hue for the chair or the garden table…I’m a bit of a nerd in that sense. Colors have a big effect on me.
The music industry has changed so much in recent years, technology being the culprit for a great deal of it. Artists do things differently now. From one perspective, they don’t have to wait for a large record label or studio; they are making albums in their homes, in their basements, putting them out independently, and relying on social media and the internet to help get exposure. On the other hand, though, it can be difficult to live that lifestyle, especially if it is one’s main source of income. Monopolies and music piracy only makes it harder to do so.
It’s a good and even smart idea, then, to have alternate support in place. Clearly you all have that. But I have to wonder: Once people get turned on to your music, what happens next? You all seem to be enjoying where you are now. The radio stations are playing COLORSTONE’s songs, fans are enthusiastic about your shows, and your albums get good reviews. Do you have a vision for what you wish to accomplish with COLORSTONE? Do you feel you’ve achieved it?
Fredrik: I personally can’t let go of the dream! When I do that it is over! And I really mean that! The journey has not ended and the goals are not completed. We are on our way…
Olle: It’s always a dream to take COLORSTONE a step further. Touring with Foo Fighters is my dream!
Tommy: We have just started our journey. I love the digital world and the fact that we can reach out and get people to listen to or music all over the world. It wasn’t always like that. In 1993, for instance, I worked extra for a record company and sat with the phone, making calls to mostly German labels to try to get a deal. It was actually for a new band called Billionaire Boys’ Club, with Jörg Fisher from Accept and Anders Johansson from Hammerfall.
I would not have been sitting here and answering questions from a woman in the US (you) if we were in the hands of a record-company. I think that we are still a little surprised of all the feedback, but one thing is for sure: All we want is to play our music in front of a crowd, big or small, and continue to write new songs.
And how do your family members feel about your music and your imminent success?
Olle: They really support me and think it’s great!
Fredrik: They have been very supportive and understanding, letting me do what I love!
Tommy: My wife is both proud and happy for me, and at the same time worried that it will take all of my time. She does not have to worry. My family comes first.
What do you all see in the future for COLORSTONE?
Fredrik: To continue letting the world know about COLORSTONE and of course get out on tour and meet each and everyone!!
Samir: It would be great to do a tour in the US and Japan with COLORSTONE. Let’s make it happen!
Tommy: In my dreams we will all pack our things and get out there to give a lot of concerts. I personally look forward to establish my role in the band and on future albums with my sound.
Olle: Music, love and adventures!
It was such a pleasure to get to know all of you better and to put this together so your other many fans can see what you’re all about, too. Thank you so much for this opportunity! I wish you every success and happiness in life.
~ Teresa Hopkins