Michael, let's start at the very beginning, when and how was the band Devil's Heaven founded?
The embryo of this band goes back to 2009, when I, after eight years met Pete Sandberg, a former singer of Swedish AOR act Alien and the metal group Midnight Sun. He hadn’t done any recordings for some time and I had buried my guitars in their cases for ten years since my first album Mansson in 1999. We talked about writing and recording together. I wanted to add my friend Richard Andersson, the keyboard conjuror. After the demise of his bands Majestic and Time Requiem, Richard had chosen to retire from music entirely. Therefore it took me a while to persuade him. Many have tried and failed, among others Yngwie Malmsteen. As a second guitarist I called for Jake Sandberg, known for his Malmoe acts Eyes and Aces High. Jake who, like Richard did some splendid work on my old album, agreed at once. On Pete’s wish list was Magnus Rosén, ex-Hammerfall. We agreed on approaching Anders Johansson, ex Malmsteen’s Rising Force, now playing with Hammerfall. The latter also did a wonderful, heavy job on Mansson. As everybody came onboard, we had a group, at least on paper. However, as Pete and I worked differently, and no one else wanted to touch the songwriting, except me things took quite a while.
To speed things up, I summoned my dentist colleagues and songwriting partners, Kristian Hellgren and Peter Balogh. We wrote the songs in about six months. I added some old material, 'Day Of Doom' (from 1985), 'Hot Sex' (from 1992) and a reworked version of 'Let It All Hang Out' (from 1990), considering they would match the new material. As the preproduction went on, I came once again to learn about Richard’s high quality standards, but also my own. The two of us agreed on a certain style and sound, which resulted in a line-up change. Exit: Magnus, actually he never played, Pete and Anders. Enter: Jonas Reingold from Flowerkings and Karmakanic on the bloody bass, Jaime Salazar on drums from Allen/Lande, Opus Atlantica and two million other bands. Marcus Nygren was the wizzkid behind the microphone and had worked with 8 Point Rose, but also started his own band State Of Salazar.
What was the original game plan that you had when the band got formed?
The plan was to put skilled musicians and songwriters together to record a killer melodic album.
Most of the band members are quite experienced musicians who have several other bands/projects. Why was there then still the need to work together in Devil's Heaven?
There was definitely no urge to put these people together and form another tiresome, shortlived act, adding to the half of headbangers in the world playing to the other listening half. Why flushing out another auditive turd, when they come every month in boatloads? However, early on we felt that we had a good material, a sound and possibly some image to build upon. That’s why we went through with it.
Why did you decide to name the band Devil's Heaven?
Because that name carries some tension and controversy within. It’s easy to pronounce and remember. People ask us what it means: is it the evil one’s alleged habitat, or could it be heaven before God kicked him out? Choose your pick. Furthermore, it was the only name we all agreed on.
Did you record any demo's before recording 'Heaven On Earth'? If so, which one(s) and what songs can we find on them?
We demoed them all for our own purpose. No demos were sent to any labels or publishers.
When did you start with the actual preparation for the debut album 'Heaven On Earth' and how did the song writing process look like?
The preparations started back in 2009 with Pete and me. Pete was used to building his song melodies on guitar riffs, but this guitarist also provided vocal parts, as I normally get these ideas first. Pete, God bless his sanguinity, listened to my howlings, with a permanent frowning physiognomy and decided to let me, Jake and Richard do the songwriting. Richard, musically jaded as he was, didn’t feel like writing anything, gifted as he is, and would just settle for the recording, producing and arranging part. Jake, another composer talent, had started his Aces High songwriting and didn’t feel like interfering with another album concept at the time. Besides, they all seemed to be happy with the way my writing came about. I just went on with my external writers. The typical songwriting process would be me hearing a chorus melody in the shower or in the car, with some lyrical fragments, sometimes the title. I repeat that until I can record it on my Iphone and then we build it from there. Sometimes Kristian comes up with some lyrics or a theme. Peter might improvise a guitar riff. Here we start with their ideas and write together, or independently. For instance, 'Wine Me Dine Me Sixty-Nine Me', used to be an American T-shirt slogan which I found rather funny. I wrote a story around that. Richard liked it and for once he helped me writing the music.
What's the meaning of the album title 'Heaven On Earth'?
If you take a close look at the cover, you will discover one way of creating a brief, divine moment on earth.
On the album we find thirteen songs, but did you write and/or record more songs and if so, what's going to happen with these?
We wrote two more tunes. One we kept as a bonus for the Japanese market, in case they want it. The other I found a little too poppy and withdrew for rearrangement. It will probably appear on our next album.
The album got released on Helldriver Records. Is this your own label and if so, where there no other labels interested in Devil's Heaven?
Yes, Helldiver is our own label, due to the fact that we wanted to stay in charge of every vital decision, but also be able to take our sweet ass time to work with the album. With Jonas, Richard and Jake in the business for many years, there is a certain collective know-how within the group. At first, we approached a great number of record companies and to my memory, we had offers from at least five of them. Eventually we chose to release it ourselves in cooperation with Lena Graaf at GMR Music, Stockholm, providing promotion and distribution.
The album has an instrumental track in the shape of 'Festung Europa'. What's the reason for including an instrumental?
A good question. I had the main theme looming in my head for at least twenty years. I played it to Richard and Jake, who probably found it okay and we recorded it. They put some really nice arrangements and solos in there. Just short of two minutes, but loaded with action, we felt it wouldn’t harm the album. We never planned anything instrumental from the beginning, and honestly I doubt we will do it again, unless anyone else come up such idea.
Another song that is quite strange is the short intro 'Stillborn'. What's the idea behind this?
One morning I was fooling around with the guitar while watching the morning news, when this short melody presented itself. Trivial and non inspirational as I found it, I decided to ditch this stillborn idea. Later at night it came back to mind, and I thought maybe it wasn’t that bad after all, showing this staying power. It got delivered to me without any continuation or vocal melody, so I asked Kristian to write a poem to be read through it. Given its name, I told him to refrain from the obvious premature stillborn baby topic. Of course he couldn’t help himself, and wrote this tragic, but also beautiful half of the poem. Inspired by that, I penned the second half, and it turned weird. Marcus' mad Cooperesque interpretation also brought a peculiar atmosphere. Still, it was allegoric about the more or less inspired moment.
Style-wise you can be categorized as traditional hard rock with a lot of melody. How do you see yourself and what makes you stand out from the crowd as there are a lot of bands around nowadays?
Gee, I thought we were melodic metal. I realize I’m old. But seriously, if we’re hard rock, so is Avenged Sevenfold nowadays. I think you’re right in terms of ‘traditional’ and ‘melodic’. Hopefully, we stand out through a well written, recorded material with no fillers and tiresome, worn out clichés. In the end that’s
up to the audience to decide.
Where was the album recorded and who was responsible for the mix and production? What do you think about the album yourself sound-wise?
The album was mainly recorded in Richard Andersson’s studio, with additional parts in Jonas Reingold’s and mine. Richard produced most of it, followed by Jonas and yours truly. Richard also mixed it. Dragan Tanascovic, who among others worked with In Flames, mastered it in his Bohus Studio, Gothenburg.
Considering the small budget and home studio gear, I think Richard and Jonas did quite a remarkable job. We would have achieved a better punch in a professional, analog studio, though.
Who was responsible for the artwork and does the cover in any way relate to the lyrical contents of the album?
The centerfold line-up picture was shot by Malmoe photographer Jesper Lindgren. The rest can be pinned on me, with the help of our web designer, Marcus K, Malmoe. The cover, in my opinion, very much relates to both band name and album title.
Speaking about lyrics, what are typical topics that you like to write about? Do you want to give a certain message to the listener(s) as well?
Mostly steered by initial chorus lyrics, Kristian Hellgren and I tend to go everywhere. This time we dwelled in violence, death, apocalyptic visions, love and its mere physical expressions. A touch of political incorrectness might be noticeable, but so far we’re not lecturing, neither morally nor politically. However, that might change in the future.
If you had to pick one song of the debut album that represents the band Devil's Heaven best, which one would that be and why?
Probably 'Riders In The Sky', while that tune brings out the best of us all, both in terms of musical and lyrical endeavors.
My personal favorites of the album are 'Demerital Action' and the two ballads 'Touched By An Angel' and 'Cold'. The first named track will be released as a single, why this track and what's the added value from a single nowadays?
Thank you. Now, that’s music to my vain ears! We found 'Demerital Action' quite poppy with an upbeat and a catchy chorus hook that could appeal also to people outside the hard rock/metal listening base. Making a single in our genre today is questionable. Nevertheless, we were advised to release it as an album appetizer. Together with the video we recorded with it, the response has been over our expectation.
I'm quite impressed by the whole band but by your singer Marcus Nygren in particular. What was his musical background before he joined Devil's Heaven and did he have any vocal training or is it just a gift of nature?
You’re right. Marcus Nygren is quite a phenomenon. We found him at Malmoe Music Academy, highly endorsed by his teachers. One of them told me that Marcus was vocally the most gifted student he ever encountered in his career, within rock music. So I called Nygren up and told him we needed a versatile singer with a theatrical ability. Marcus answered we’ve found the right guy, describing himself as a vocal chameleon. Whatever ideas we had, he would absorb and develop into something much better, adding his own during the recordings. For the record, it’s fair to mention that we also kept a few ideas of Pete Sandberg. Marcus is sure naturally gifted, but also holds an academic music degree, teacher and vocal trainer that he is. Neither Richard nor I have worked with anyone close to his level.
What are you short-term future plans for the next six to twelve months? Any live-shows planned?
Currently we’re all too busy to play live gigs. We have started to write for a new album to get more material for concerts. Hopefully this time there will be more contributions from the other members, at least five songwriters that we have. Maybe Jaime writes to, I don’t know.
What is the ambition level that you and the other band members have with Devil's Heaven? To what level to you think you can grow in the music scene?
Next thing is to record a new album as soon as possible. I could easily fill it up with my ideas, but I’m whipping the others asses to get a collectively written material. I know the result would benefit from that. I believe that we style-wise cover a broad segment of taste. The level of success is up to our work effort and a little luck.
Okay Michael, thanks for your willingness to answer my questions. Is there anything that we didn’t cover that you would still like to mention to our readers?
Thank you Sjak, for interesting questions. Richard Andersson is so talented, he owes it to the musical world to keep on playing. In this genre he’s the number one keyboardist. This time he also proved himself as producer. I’d also like to mention Jonas Reingold, who came in late during the process, but brought a lot regarding sound, vocal arrangement and of course his bass playing. Jake is such a broad guitar talent with quite an ear for the subtle but so tasteful details. His improvisational virtue is worth mentioning. Most of his solos are first take improvised. Kristian Hellgren, an old friend, is a splendid lyricist, but hasn’t realized it yet. That’s why we don’t pay him. Peter Balogh, also a good friend and co-writer, always finds the missing puzzle bits where I draw a blank. Sadly, he is also the laziest fuck on earth. For ten years he’s been building his homestudio, atom by atom. Göran Edman, who once sang with Yngwie Malmsteen, and Inger Reingold, Jonas wife, did some fine back-up vocals.