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Mick van Slowfoot and JJ Rockford
After the CD Review I was burning to do an interview with the Swedish band VII Gates about their new disc "Fire Walk With Me". After a couple of times trying to find a suiting date with JJ Rockford, we decided to do an e-mailer. Here is the result answered by Mick van Slowfoot and JJ Rockford.
Ok...let's start where everybody starts with a new band. How did you meet, which struggles did you have at the beginning and everything else you think our readers should know about you.
JJ: Autumn 1999 I moved to a town called Halmstad (located on the Swedish west coast, half way between Gothenburg and Malmö) for my studies. I have "always" played in bands, so I was looking for potential band members here too. Pretty soon I met a guy called David Angsviks, with whom I got together very good, we seemed to share the same taste of music, as well as the same ambition. Rehearsed on some songs I had done, first with David's class mates (he studied on a music school), and when they got bored, with a drum machine. Kept our eyes open for drummers, and so we found Mick (van Slowfoot). Mick is a pretty experienced musician, so it was just a few phone calls, and we had a complete line-up, with Criss Blackburn (vocals), and a guy called Niklas Cederfeldt on guitar (Mick knew them both from before). I suppose the rest "is history".
Mick: Hehe...JJ always forgets about how I showed up in the band...or maybe he's just a bit kind to one person, but now its the time to tell everyone how my entrance really was!!!!!
Well, it was by the time when I had absolutely no thoughts about playing drums again..it was 9 years since the last time...well almost, 'cause I had a small comeback with a band for about 3 months, a couple of years before this time (maybe it was '96), and I was buying a new double pedal and some other stuff...ehhh!! Complete shit, this pedal by the way...hmmm...a Gibraltar pedal. Anyway, I was going to a rehearsal with a friend (that I actually had been teaching some beats), and here comes the tricky part of the history....VII Gates actually had a living drummer a short time before me...between the drum machine and me...Ok, I followed my friend to this rehearsal, and I had to promise to not play any drums...it was pretty obvious why, and I told him not to worry...does anyone ever think that I will be playing anything after 9 years almost???
Noops!!! But as soon as I started listen I became a bit like...shiiit, maybe I should start play again...hmmm...well, they were playing a couple of Iron Maiden covers, well at least I sounded like them, but I can tell ya ..it wasn't JJ and David that sounded totally out...it was HIM...my friend!! They played Aces High....after a while my friend wanted to take a break, so I asked him "pleeease let me try the drums"...and YES, he allowed me to...so I told the boys to play that Aces again (I wonder what they were expecting from me, an old fat man with no hair and about 16-17 years older), but I really took that beat to the maximum level and did what I could out of it...and my friend did get a LITTLE bit black in his eyes...and then after the rehearsal JJ and David asked me to give 'em a bit back up if they were going to play live someday...I told them I can't do that to my friend, but when I came home I called my friend and asked him for a replacement (after all he was more like a TOTO drummer) and he said yes...IF I could get him another band to play with...so I called his old band and told them that he needs a band to play with, and they started play again, well, for about one month or so....and I'm still beating the skins in VII Gates....that's the complete story about the drummers in this band...so far, all right!!!!
JJ: Hehe, Mick is absolutely right about our expectations about him as a drummer. Big stomach, not much hair, a t-shirt stating "We're only in it for the vegetables" (probably inspired by the famous Swedish punk group Ebba Grön's song "We're only in it for the drugs", Mick was delivering vegetables to restaurants back then), shorts, and on his feet "loafers"! (Don't know if anyone outside Sweden knows what that means?). Anyway, he took seat behind the drums and I thought that he maybe had played in a Swedish dance band (the worst music you can ever imagine!) or maybe a marching band. Then he started to play (which I realized later, since I didn't know about Sweet back then) "The man with the golden arm", a song by Sweet which just is a long drum solo. That was it...But as Mick told, I am a very weak hearted boy, so we didn't have the guts to tell the other drummer to leave immediately. But Mick took care of it himself.
Please try to describe your sound. Can/may we compare it with something?
JJ: I suppose it comes from a lot of influences. If you ask every band member what they listen to, you will have pretty different answers. But basically it's (what the record label decided to call it) "classic heavy metal". Judas Priest, Rainbow, Savatage, Iron Maiden and Heaven's Gate are probably the names which we have read most as "similar bands" in the reviews so far. But also a lot of other bands, even several which we have never heard of before! I think Scream (Norwegian magazine) made a somewhat good point, as they wrote that "it's not original" but later, "can't compare it with something else".
Mick: I think that the sound becomes what you are listening to, if you can describe it like that...at least if I'm going to describe it...I mean that if I been listening to band and artists like Sweet, Whitesnake, Vinnie and Carmine Appice and Black Sabbath for example its pretty hard to get another feeling in the way to play...at least that my thoughts!!!
JJ: Definitely another way of thinking there, a more living feeling, today's music can often be to "stiff".
Why did you choose VII Gates as band name...isn't it already used too often?
JJ: When we discussed about the band name, David suggested "Heaven's Gate", he didn't know there already was a band with that name. Then Mick said, "why don't we call ourselves Seven Gates?" and we were, "yeah, that would fit a band like ours". And when we started to work with the logo, we changed "seven" to roman numbers, because it looked better. Later, due some internet research, we have found a few other bands called "Seven Gates" (but no known bands), so I don't know, maybe there will be trouble in the future. But we have talked to people who are working with registration of bands, and they say, if there are not other bands who spell it like we do, we won't have any trouble. Only time will tell.
Now to a more uncomfortable question. In august 2000 the founder member David Angsviks unfortunately died in a car accident. How did you deal with that. How did this tragic event influence VII Gates?
JJ: No problem with such questions at all, we have been through the really hard things about it a long time ago. Anyway, I was visiting my parents when it happened, and was about to call David and talk about the next rehearse when Mick called and told what have happened. By then he had already talked to Criss, and they both agreed that we should continue as a group, and I agreed too. Even if we just had rehearsed together for a few months, we had noticed that we already had some sort of "sound". But I guess we all were more shocked than we understood ourselves. Personally, even the funeral felt very unreal, and it was until I was on my way home from the first rehearsal with our new bass player (several weeks later) when I really understood what had happened. But we have supported each other very good, and also got help from other friends. Best medicine was probably writing a song about it, which we did, it was called "Memory Of A Friend" and appeared on our first demo.
Mick: It's really strange this thing with David, I have lost a couple of good friends through the years, but David is always the first I'm thinking of when I look back, not that my other friends were not important, but there was something really special with him...I think he was one of the most positive persons I have ever known.....everything was so obvious with him... hard to explain!!!
You already recorded three demos. How did you do that?
JJ: Demo #1 and #3 are actually recorded in the same studio where we recorded "Fire, Walk With Me". Demo #2 is recorded in a "cheaper" studio, the only reason why we recorded this was to show a German record company that we had more songs in about the same quality as on our first demo (actually got an offer back then). So with the third demo, which was a little like "now or never" we got back to Slaughterhouse, where we knew we could get a good quality recording.
I had no chance to listen to those demos. Did VII Gates change their style through the years ("When Gates Are Opening" - 2001; "A Dark Room Of My Mind" - 2001; "The Madman Inside" - 2002)?
JJ: I really hope we have improved in a lot of ways since the first demo, but the basic sound is probably the same. On "Fire Walk With Me" we have one song each from WGAO ("Under The Crossed Bones") and ADROMM (the title song), and all six songs from TMI (and also two new songs which haven't been recorded at all before). And I guess that's how it will be on the following albums too (the contract with Sound Riot is on three albums), we will keep our basic "classic heavy metal" (I hate putting music into certain genres) but add new elements here and there.
Mick: Don't you think JJ ise describing all the demo titles just like how Savatage would have done it...hmm!!! Or maybe I'm just thinking about NKOTB...hahaha!!
JJ: Haven't heard any of Savatage's demos!??! But I've heard about some "lost recordings" from "Streets", would be interesting to hear sometimes.
After the second demo "A Dark Room Of My Mind" a record label approached you. Why didn't you just take the deal? Have you been already that confident, to be able to wait for a better deal?
JJ: Something like that, yeah...At that time, we didn't think we could do a good album with that amount of money we were offered, plus a few other things. For example, we knew from some other bands we talked to that this record company had a pretty bad reputation, so it didn't feel too good to be "locked" with them for three albums. We tried to negotiate it to be one or two albums, then maybe we would have signed anyway, but we turned it down. And today I am very glad we did so, because I think "Fire Walk With Me" will give people a much better first impression than something we might have recorded back then.
Mick: Actually it was after the first demo, and that's the reason we recorded "The Dark Room"- thing......I think there's a pretty funny thing to tell about that first demo....of course we were proud of it, but Richard told us that we should not expect very much of it...he thought that we sounded a bit like amateurs...so we waited actually several months before JJ said...Hey, god damn it...did we not spend some money on this demo or what.....and then he sent away about 10 demos, and it took only about two (2!) days before a record company wanted us!!!
I remember the first thing I did...I called Richard, and he said something like...WOW, pretty unbelievable...then he said...hey dudes, why don't we use VII Gates as a torpedo for our own band to get contacts...
They helped you choose the album title. How much more influence did they had?
JJ: It was actually more like that they took part of the discussion we had in the band about which title to use. As you probably know, we had to choose from already finished pictures, and set the title from that. Got at least 70 pictures to choose from, took the 3-4 we liked the best, and tried to find titles to them. Had about 50 complete suggestions to choose from in the end. Several really good, but the one we used was the one most people involved in the discussion (among them the Sound Riot people) liked the best.
Mick: Yeah really, I don't think anyone felt that they have been controlling anything or trying to tell us, do this - do that, I think its more like they have been helping us with a lot of things that we don't know so much about, since they been in the business a while, really!!
But wasn't it a "disappointment" to just pick up a picture out of a foler for your first real album?
JJ: Back then, I think we rather would have had someone to custom paint a picture to a title we had already chosen. But when we look at the result, we are very satisfied, and would definitely do the same thing again, if necessary. Of course, now we have a few suggestions for the next album, which will need someone to paint our idea, but if you don't have any initial ideas, an already finished picture might be what you need to be creative again.
Since promo CDss don't have a booklet: Could you tell me a bit about the artwork of the booklet and even more importantly could you tell me about the lyrics.
JJ: The lyrics can be about everything, feelings, thoughts, books, movies or whatever. Most lyrics on "Fire, Walk With Me" are actually related to the reality in some way, and can be interpreted in several ways. Like "A Dark Room Of My Mind", it's based on a book (which I can't remember the name of right now), but also dealing with the fact that probably all people are capable to to anything, but it takes different amounts of pressure for them to do it. Or "Seconds Left To Live", it is a short story about someone who is about to be lynched, but also about the danger about judging someone too fast (which we can see in the newspapers almost every day). But a song like "Under The Crossed Bones" is just a story, inspired by a move about pirates. So don't take it too serious.
How important are lyrics in your music?
JJ: Well, when I start to write a song, I usually have the title settled very early, and sometimes fragments of the lyrics too. But most of the times I don't finish the lyrics until the song is almost finished, writing lyrics is probably the toughest part of it. The music comes pretty easy, I see "pictures" of the song in my head (I know this sounds pretty weird), and I just have to pick it out. In general I work a lot with the songs, sometimes for several weeks, or even months. Not constantly of course, but sometimes you get stuck, and it might take long until you find inspiration again. Anyway, the lyrics, I don't really like writing lyrics, but I have to, because otherwise there would be no songs. And I put as much work in them as anything else because, no matter how good music you have done, if you don't have good lyrics, the song won't be good anyway.
Mick: I totally agree with JJ, with the exception that we could easily have a lot more instrumental parts, but maybe not like Pink Floyd or so! But to talk about the lyric parts, it's very important that they are trying to say something.
What kind of trouble did you face during the recordings?
JJ: Actually, the recordings themselves went pretty smooth; I think everyone in the band did their parts way faster than we did on earlier recordings. Probably because we were pretty well prepared. The problems started later, when the guy who owns the studio decided to change the basic recording system, just before he should start with the final mix. This took several weeks longer than he has thought, and the new system wasn't that easy to handle at first, so the mixing process went much slower than it used too. Then, when we finally were finished with the mixing, we sent the CDs (containing the mix) to Digital Studios in England for the mastering process. This package was delayed for about two weeks, because the English post men were on strike. And when the complete CD was mastered and sent to the press factory, they found a strange noise in the end of "The Saviour". Back to the mastering studio, remove the noise, and back to the press factory. Now it was in the middle of their "before X-mas"-pressings, so they could take care of it as fast as they used to. I think that's all.
Why did you use guest musicians on your debut album?
JJ: From the beginning, we just thought about using Chris Amott, he's a friend of mine, lives in the same town, so he is pretty easy to use. But when all those delays started, we took the time to contact a few other guys, just for fun. I mean, I never thought it would have been so easy to persuade a guy like Kee Marcello to play on the album. So when we got all those positive answers, we thought that we have to use them!
"Fire, Walk With Me" is a pretty strong debut album. But where would you see the weak points of the CD and what would you like to change with the benefit of hindsight?
JJ: It was a deliberated choice. We didn't want to make the first album perfect because then we could never do a better album! He he, just kidding...I think we shouldn't have used all songs from "The Madman Inside", at least not without re-arranging them. I actually don't remember which new songs we had finished at that time (we have about 10 new finished songs now), but I am pretty sure we had songs we could have used, which would have make it a better album. Now you will probably hear some of these songs on the next album. Or maybe not. Our plan is to have at least twice as many songs as it is supposed to be on the album to choose from, so we can secure a high level.
Mick: I can say that if I could go back in the studio there would be a totally different drum sound...more like the sound of the 80's or 70's, but in a modern way...but absolutely no trig microphones on the bass drum and tom-toms...and there's a couple of fills that I don't like, but since we haven't that much time to spend there was not that much time to listen/thinking/changing...
JJ: I guess that's how it is for most groups making their first albums because of the mostly very limited time they usually get in the studio. It doesn't matter how much you have rehearsed the songs, when you are in a studio, you (at least we) listen to them in a different way, which creates new ideas. But unfortunately, there was no time to try them all.
And where do you see the strong points of VII Gates to compete on the market. There are a lot of bands in your genre. What makes you confident to have a chance?
JJ: In the bottom, I think all of us have a strong will. On the top of that, I think we possess good abilities in both playing and writing songs, and also perform the songs in a good way. Also, everyone in the band is involved in the creative process (about everything, not only composing), in one way or another. And we aren't really afraid of trying things too, even if it might not turn out like something other people appreciate. Like the polka-section in "The Saviour".
VII Gates strong point would be the studio or live performance and why?!
JJ: Both of them! But for different reasons. Well, I guess both depend on creativity, but dressed in different ways.
Mick: I think there's one more thing to take a look at and that is the fact that we don't look like all other bands, that we dare to make fun of ourselves ... Look at JJ on stage for example...what a totally freaked out kind of "Heavy Metal New York doll". It's only high heel boots that's missing! And me, I have never been afraid to put on jewels and diamonds (in Swedish its called "strass") plus clothes made of silk or teddy...shiny and so sweetish...still in a metal band! Also, take a look at the back cover of the album, that's a pic you don't see every day, right...and the pic with me and the girls at the band section. I can tell you about in school one day (well 20 years ago) I came to school with a very unusual parachute jacket with straps and things, pictures with Karl Marx, and Anarchy written all over, actually the same jacket that the old sex Pistols bass player Glenn Matlock used to wear back in the 70's...and we had this day when everybody had to visit the school doctor, and she told me that a couple of classmates asked her if I was a bit ..haha soft in the head!!!! Really great fun... Haha, I always thought it was those entire disco freaks, which had an elevator that did not reach all the way up...ehh!
JJ: Might use other shoes when I learn how to move with them. We also have to mention Criss, who has absolutely no limits at all. Of course, we are not up to deride heavy metal, this is serious, it's just that we don't want to be one of those bands who look like they are on a boring job on tuesday every time they appear on stage. Back to the studio, it's very seldom that we don't have several suggestions about what to try for different parts, so it's more a question of resources what we can achieve there.
How do you write songs? Is everybody involved or is it just one or two of you who do the writing?
JJ: On different stages, everyone is involved. First someone, usually Basti or me, shows the other guys a song which is more or less finished. Then we rehearse it, until everybody knows the song. Then we discuss about which parts we should change, and try to come up with new ideas for that. Most times, it is the one who have written the song from the beginning who present the new solutions, but sometimes it's someone else too. At least for me, I listen to what the other guys say is bad with a certain section, and try to come up with new ideas which eliminate the bad things. Then we go through this process again and again, until we are satisfied with the song. Anyway, those changes we do are mostly minor things, a harmony here and a drum pattern there, no big things. Usually at least 95% of the song is the same as the basic idea. But those last few percent mean a lot for the finished song! Also have to mention that Nicola seems to be a very good composer, he has shown us some songs which we really would like to do. Criss has also some songs he is working with, but he's not that fast. And just about a week ago, we found out that Tim isn't just good in criticizing already finished material - he can start from scratch too and deliver really good stuff! Mick is actually the only one who hasn't played own songs for the band yet, but I'm sure he will some day. He says he has a lot of ideas, but has no idea about how to show them to us, because the only "instrument" he knows about is drums. Do you know what you call someone who uses to hang out with musicians? A drummer!!
I heard you are already almost finished with the next album. Can you already tell us something about it?
JJ: Let me say like this: We already have enough songs to do a new album, but I think we need more songs to choose from, to make it really solid. As you might guess from the question above, rehearsing new songs isn't something we do very fastly. Actually, the "storage" of finished songs grows faster than the storage of "finished and rehearsed songs"! Have at least 30-40 finished songs now, but we have to reharse and shape them.
Mick: Aaaaaand, here comes the tricky part...sometimes, and for the moment it feels like I am the one with an elevator that stops on the 7th floor of 25....hahahaha, but just gimme a new bigger drum kit and I'll be start working again... yoooo!
JJ: I wouldn't be surprised if an elevator didn't have the energy to take you to the top floor (check out pic's on Mick, and you will know why!).
What is your inspiration?
JJ: Could be anything. I prefer just to divide music into two genres, "good music" and "bad music". But I mostly listen to hard rock/heavy metal, Queen, Rainbow, Sweet, Accept, The Who, Scorpions, Black Sabbath, Helloween, Queensrÿche, Return, Meat Loaf, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Skid Row, Whitesnake, Mötley Crüe and a lot more are all among my favorite bands. But inspiration also comes a lot from a good movie or a good book, or anything that touch me in some way.
Mick: Really it starts to be a bit strange that i'ts always me and JJ that is answering these interviews which maybe looks like it's me and JJ that is the band...it's not....but since you are asking, by the way...Sweet, Savatage, Rush, Manowar, Meat Loaf, Whitesnake, Thin Lizzy, and of course a lot of drummers arond the world, like Deen "crazy" Castronovo, Virgil "even more crazy" Donati, and Mike "really, really crazy" Mangini...
JJ: Yes, just naming Mick's and my influences might be a little bit misleading, since the other guys have their very own special favourites, like Genesis, Sinergy, Bon Jovi, Charles Mingus or whatever they would tell you.
What is music for VII Gates? Is it lifestyle? A way to spread a deeper meaning or just the fun of playing?
JJ: The main reason why we play is because it's the best and funniest thing you can do. Music is like a drug for me. I actually listen to too much music sometimes, I've been into periods when I feel that I like to listen to music, but I can't find any music which don't feel like have a broken glass crashing in my ear. A little scary actually...
Mick: I go to sleep with music, wake up to it, having breakfast to it, showering to it, sometimes when I watch tv, the CD is on, I think the only time I'm not listening to music is the mornings after a rehearsal, 'cause my head is up 'n down (I'm not using ear protection).
JJ: I do, it's still loud enough. Mick is hitting his drums very hard, so we have to adjust our amplifiers to that. Add that Mick is half deaf. If you like to call him when he is sleeping, you have to let the phone ring for several minutes before he wakes up.
What do you think about the Swedish music scene?
JJ: We have a lot of great bands, but it's very hard to find places where you can play. Like here in Halmstad, there are probably just 1 of 10 "hot places" who have a stage at all, and they don't use it anyway. The club owner thinks that people like DJ's more than live bands. Pretty sad mentality actually. And from what I have heard, the situation is about the same in most cities. Of course, bigger cities like Stockholm and Gothenburg have a few good places with live music, but otherwise, not much. Really hope these things change because I think it affects the music business in general. Almost all older bands tell about how it was when they were young (we are talking about the 60/70s now), they could have had gigs every weekend if they had wanted to. And the experience of playing live can't be gained in another way than just playing live.
I guess that's it for now. Some last words?
JJ: Hope to see you all on a tour some day, and a have some beers together!
Mick: JJ doesn't drink beer, haha!!! Anyway, it would be really fun to play outside Sweden someday!!! And have some beers!!!
JJ: He he, I don't know many people who can say they can drink beer, compared to Mick.
Thanks for this informative and interesting interview. I hope we'll hear a lot about you and your music!
submitted by Nadja 11.05.2004