WOLF is a Swedish band, founded in 1995 and with their eighth album ‘Feeding The Machine’ they released their best work so far. With a partly new line-up and a six year gap between ‘Devil Seed’ and the new album it was high time for an update so HeadBangers LifeStyle’s Ron Willemsen contacted guitarist, producer Simon Johansson and the first question was: why did it take you guys six years to come up with a new album?
,,Well, there´s a lot of different reasons why it has taken so long. First of all, we were doing quite a bit of touring and shows the first years after ‘Devil Seed’ was released and for us it´s quite hard to jump between live mode and song writing mode. Besides that, we all have normal day jobs, also because it´s impossible for us to live on only Wolf so we have to keep working to be able to eat and feed our families and that makes that the process of writing songs takes a bit longer.
I have also spent the last 2,5 years building a professional studio in Stockholm, where I live, so basically I have been working 18 hours every day. First my normal day job from 06.00 – 15.00-15.30, then directly to the studio building and continued there for another 6-8 hours. I was only free from work 4 days in those 2,5 years. It was a pretty tough time but the result is extremely good and I couldn´t be happier with how the studio turned out. The only thing is that the building took much longer than I initially thought which also led to the recording of the new album being pushed in time. During this time Niklas [Stålvind, singer and only original member] and the guys continued working on the new songs while I was finishing up my studio. The last thing that made things take time is that we lost 2 of our beloved guys Anders Modd [bass] and Richard Holmgren [drums] in the middle of the recording process. They left Nik and me in a bit of chaos about how to solve this loss. We talked a lot on how to proceed with finding new members, we talked about doing a post on social media and just have regular auditions, but we felt we wanted to try to avoid that because it involves a lot of work and we were already stressed about things taking so much time. Then all of a sudden, my friend Mike Wead said…. ‘have you thought about Johan Koleberg?’. Johan is a guy I knew as a really good drummer but I didn´t really know him as a person. We decided that Mike should call Pontus Egberg, who is a long-time friend of Johan and ask him a bit about Johan. During that conversation Mike also mentioned we needed a new bass player, but he also said that ‘you are probably too busy Pontus?’. The result of that one phone call was that we ended up finding us both a new drummer and a new bass player. Pretty important phone call if you ask me.
So…that are pretty much the reasons why things have taken so long. But I promise, we won´t wait another 6 years until the next album. Now my studio is totally finished and we have a full line-up so we are really eager to start the work on it as soon as possible.’’
Simon Johansson in the studio photo from his Facebook page
‘Feeding The Machine’ is the first album recorded in your own studio. What makes this studio so special? ,,That´s correct, it is the first recording I did in the studio, I was actually doing the last connections in the control room while the drums where built up in the studio, pretty stressful…hahaha. I have had a studio before this one but that was more of a “home” studio standard. This time I found a really great location and took the decision that this studio would be a full-blown professional build one. I started by contacting one of Sweden’s most legendary studio acoustic guys named Ingemar Ohlsson for help with the actual design. Ingemar is known all over the world for his designs, he is responsible for most studios here in Sweden and has been doing this for a very long time. So, with his design this couldn´t be anything else but amazing. All the rooms in the studio are acoustically separated and built as separate floating constructions. So there is no audio leaking between the rooms. I can have a drummer playing in the big studio room on the other side of the window in the control room and if all doors are closed, I can’t hear it when the speakers are turned off. Pretty cool I must say. But beside those things the acoustic in the rooms is so freaking good. I don´t think I have been in a better sound studio before. Beside those things both me and Mike Wead (who also works in the studio) have many years of experience and have been involved in countless productions over the years. So…anyone in need of a professional studio for their next recording, don´t hesitate to get in touch.”
It is your second album with Wolf. What made you decide to join them when asked in 2011? ,,My history in Wolf actually started 2009 when I joined the guys as session guitarist on a tour we did with WASP. I got to know Niklas around the beginning of 2000 and has always liked him as a person. I have also been a close friend to Anders Modd since the 90s so I was pretty close to the band even before they asked me to do the WASP tour.
We only had like 2 evenings of rehearsal before doing that tour but from the very first second on stage it felt like we had played together for years. Then something like 2 years later I got the call where they asked me if I wanted to join as a fulltime member. I didn´t have to think at all, of course I wanted to join. I love the guys and I love the music, so the answer was of course yes.’’
Already in 2004 you played live with Wolf. Why didn’t you become a member back then?
,,It was in 2009, not 2004. The reason for that was probably because Johannes [Losbäck] was still in the band. The thing is that he couldn´t get time off from work for that tour and I just filled his spot on that tour. I know they were really happy with that tour in 2009 but this was the way things progressed and the spot wasn´t available until 2011. Niklas has told me that he actually had me in mind before Johannes joined back in 2003/2004 and was about to ask me but somehow it never happened.’’
When did the actual work on ‘Feeding The Machine’ start?
,,If we are talking about the actual album recording we started in December of 2018. If we are talking about song writing I think we started it maybe 2016, not sure, but some of the new songs we started working on some years ago.’’
You and singer Niklas Stålvind are working with a new rhythm section. Pontus Egberg (King Diamond) on bass and drummer Johan Koleberg (ex-Therion, ex-Lion’s Share). Did they have any influence and if so, how did their input influence the total sound of Wolf? ,,Yes, brilliant guys….couldn´t have found better replacements to be honest. They didn´t contribute to any song writing, all songs were already finished when they got onboard. But of course they have made their mark on the sound with their playing. To be honest I don´t think Wolf has ever had a line-up this strong, both Pontus and Johan are such amazing talented guys and they really understand what Wolf is all about. On the next release I´m pretty sure they will be involved in the song writing. Pontus has already presented 2 song ideas so I´m pretty positive about the next album.’’
Why is it so difficult to keep a steady line-up?
,,Tough question, but, as I mentioned we don´t really make any money with Wolf. Still, we try to tour and play live as much as possible. This is not an easy way of life. You really need to be a special kind of person to stand this way of living. When Anders left, he told me he was tired of it and didn´t feel the joy anymore. He has a new band in a different genre and he felt like that was where he wanted to spend his time on. We are still very close and talk very often. The situation was pretty much the same with Richard, still good friends there as well, so no bad blood at all. Just pretty much life getting in the way.’’
,,We are not afraid to evolve.”-Simon Johansson
Niklas is the only original member left. You are a member since 2011. How have these continuous changes in the line-up influenced the sound of Wolf? ,,Niklas has always been the main song writer so his way of writing has always been a solid red thread in the Wolf sound. But of course, I think that different song writers influence the sound in some way. Also, the fact that time passes and you change as a person will effect the way new material sound. We always feel very strongly about keeping the Wolf vein in our music but still we are not afraid to evolve. We aren´t really interested in writing the same album over and over again. As long as it has a Wolf vibe and it´s a good song then we will use it.’’
,,It´s the pure joy and passion that keeps us going.”-Simon Johansson
Do you know what kept Niklas going all these years?
,,I haven´t really asked him, but I know it´s because his love for the music and his passion for Wolf. It´s the same with me, I have been recording albums since 1994, not with Wolf of course, but with other bands and it´s the pure joy and passion that keeps us going. I have never had any other thing I wanted to do really, it´s always been about the music. One thing that´s really great is that Nik and I share that passion and we think very much alike when it comes to music, touring and the band. So the short answer would be passion! ????”
Is there something like a typical Wolf sound and who is guarding that sound?
,,I think there is but it’s really hard to put the finger on exactly what but Niklas’ voice is one thing as I see it. We always strive to write quality songs and would never put a song on an album we aren’t 100% satisfied with. I think Wolf’s music is always very straight forward and easy to appreciate. We aren´t that interested in making things too complicated and introvert. I think the members are the guardians of our sound.’’
What are the ingredients for a typical Wolf song?
,,Pure straight forward heavy metal I would say. We are heavily influenced by the 80s kind of heavy metal and when we write I think that can be heard. Also Niklas’ voice is a strong trademark for Wolf.’’
What can you tell me about the writing process? ,,On ‘Feeding The Machine’ the songs where written by Niklas, Anders Modd and me. Niklas is the main composer but everyone can contribute. It mainly starts with someone having an idea that we present to the other guys. Most of the time Niklas brings it home to his studio and works on vocal ideas. But for a song like ,,The Cold Emptiness’’ on the new album I had written the entire song and sent it to Niklas who added his vocals to it.
So…there are a couple of different ways we work and no specific way it has to be. As long as the end result is a good Wolf heavy metal song.’’
You are the producer of this album. What was the starting point? The plan? ,,Yes, that´s correct. Well, it all started with us deciding to record the album in my new studio SolnaSound Recording. Then it kind of naturally ended up with me producing it since we were working at my place. I spent a lot of time on my own, making small additions and adding detail in the guitars etc. and putting things together. But song wise we all had a big part in the end result. One thing that we took a decision on before the recording started was that we wanted to have the new album a bit more organic and straight forward sounding than ‘Devil Seed’. We wanted to take a step more towards the older albums in sound and also song wise. More fast songs, a bit more aggressive. For the next album the plan is to continue record in my studio and try to do as much work as possible ourselves without involving any outside people. But who knows…it might change when we are there.’’
If you had to describe the album in one sentence, what would that sentence be?
,,Straight forward, aggressive heavy metal the way it´s supposed to be done. ????’’
Wolf makes 80s influenced metal. How do you manage to keep it modern?
,,Well,I’m not sure, I think our sound is one part of this. We really love the traditional 80s metal and when we write songs that´s what we write. But looking at myself, I also listen quite a lot to different kinds of music, like everything from old 70s rock to modern metal. So, I guess I might bring in some of this into our music. But we always try to evolve sound wise and I guess that´s one of the things that keeps it relevant and modern in a way.’’
Which song on the new album stands out in your opinion and why?
,,At the moment I really love ,,The Raven’’. It´s a fun song to play and a lot of small things happening all the time. I also love ,,The Cold Emptiness’’, it really stands out and has its own vibe. Sorry…that was 2 songs…hahaha.’’
In March you started touring as special guest with Grand Magus but that tour was cut short. ,,Yes, we went on the tour with our friends in Grand Magus, unfortunately because of the Corona we only got to do the first part of the tour before everything was cancelled. So, we played 9 shows in England, Ireland, Northern Ireland and Scotland before the cancellation. Those shows were really great, a lot of metal heads and awesome touring companions. So sorry we had to go home but still it was the correct decision. The remaining dates for the tour will be rescheduled for a later date when all of this shit is over so keep your eyes open for those dates.’’ — Wolf Facebook Page here