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Grand Design

Swedish rockers Grand Design released a string of high quality rock albums through the years. Their latest release ‘Viva La Paradise’ is another highly enjoyable album. How do they do it? And what is their relation with Def Leppard’s sound? Time to get in touch with guitarist Janne Stark.

By: Wim R. | Archive under hardrock / aor

First off; congratulations on a great album. As Grand Design is not that known yet over here in the Netherlands, could you tell something about how the band came together and what you have been up to until now?
The band was started by our singer, Pelle Saether, back in 2006. It started as an idea he had to do a full blown 80s sounding album in the vein of Def Leppard. On the first album Pelle wrote all the material and he put together a band. They got a deal and recorded the debut album ‘Time Elevation’. At the time, I wasn’t in the band, but Pelle asked me if I could come up with a band name and a title, so I did and I also designed the logo, plus I played a guest solo. The album was released in 2009 and received rave reviews. The second album, ‘Idolizer’, was released two years later and provided more of the same. After this the dedication was lacking from some of the members, so I was asked to join, and we had Mats Vassfjord (Impera) come in on bass and Peter Hermansson (220 Volt, Talisman, John Norum) on drums. We started doing more gigs, and we recorded a cover of The Promises song ‘Baby It’s You’, which we released digitally. By the time we did the video, Peter had left the band to devote his time to the re-united 220 Volt and we had Magnus Ulfstedt (Eclipse) on drums. We did a lot more live shows and festivals and in 2014 we released the album ‘Thrill Of The Night’. The album was extremely well received, and we played the Melodic Rock Fest in Chicago, did a short tour in Italy and played numerous shows. Now Magnus left the band to play bass in Eclipse and we were looking for a drummer for quite some time. We borrowed Perra Johansson from Coldspell for live shows. Also Mats Vassfjord left to join 220 Volt. By mid-2015 the video for ‘Rawk ‘n Roll Heart Attack’ had over 200 000 views on YouTube. In 2017 we started working on a new album, and just before we started recording we found bass player Stefan Westerlund (Rockett Love) and drummer Joakim Jonsson (Axenstar, Psychopunch). We also changed label to GMR Music, whom we are very happy with, plus this was the first album to be released on vinyl! Now, we’ve just got back from the Melodic Rock Fest in Chicago, which was a fun ride!

The production on ‘Viva La Rock’ by your singer Pelle Saether is really impressive. Could you tell us how long the recording and production took? Was this a ‘band in the studio’ album or was it pieced together and recorded in different places?
Pelle has a very specific way to record. Since he owns the studio (Studio Underground) and is an experienced engineer/producer, he knows what he’s doing and how he wants to do it. When we started out writing the songs, Pelle starts by making a basic demo track which is what we keep as a basis for the finished song. He programs some simple drums, plays some sloppy guitar and simple bass just to get the basic feel, but actually with more or less the sound he feels the songs should have. As the songs grow and when they are finished, the drums are recorded, then I come in and record my guitars, and then we also do some changes in the guitar arrangements, Dennis records his guitars the same way, sometimes we are both there. Then Stefan comes in and records the bass. I record my solos when the songs are finished and Pelle records the vocals last. It’s all done in Studio Undeground, except for the guitar solos which I recorded in my studio.

You recently recorded an album with Neil Merryweather. Is Grand Design the main priority for all the members involved? Or just one of several projects?
I’m actually involved with a lot of other projects, Merryweather Stark, Mountain of Power, Overdrive, Constancia and I play in a Thin Lizzy tribute band called Falling Hazard. However, Grand Design is my priority band. Constancia is only a studio band, unfortunately, due to the members’ other activities, Overdrive do the occasional gig and even though we have tried to get Merryweather Stark on the road it’s a bit difficult with Neil in Las Vegas and me in Sweden. With Falling Hazard, if I get a Grand Design gig that clashes, they will play as a trio. Dennis and Stefan are also in Rockett Love, and Joakim is in Axenstar and Psychopunch, but so far it’s been working out fine.

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Were Stefan Westerlund and Joakim Jonsson already long enough in the band to have some influence on the material?
Not this time since they came in after the songs were already written. Stefan came in just in time to start recording the bass parts, while Joakim only plays in a few places since he came in even later, so it’s Perra Johansson (Coldspell) who plays on most of the album.

Can you tell something about the songwriting? Who is the main composer, or is it a band effort?
On the first two albums Pelle wrote everything, but on the third album, ‘Thrill Of The Night’ he started letting other people in, so two songs were co-written with Erik Mårtensson and Dennis was involved in one song and Mats wrote the lyrics for one. On the new album, however I had the basic parts for three songs and co-wrote another, while Dennis contributed on two songs, so we were definitely more involved on this one. Me and Pelle also arranged the cover of ‘Fight Fire With Fire’ (Kansas cover) for the Japanese release.

Did you have to select recorded songs to be on the album, or did the band have a set number of songs that were definitely going to be on the album?
This one started out with Pelle having some ideas for songs and I threw a bunch of riffs and song ideas on him. Some of them got a feel for and started working on, while others not. We decided ten songs would be a good number, since we wanted to do a vinyl version as well and didn’t want to exclude anything. Then when he had 10 song ideas that were solid, Pelle started working on the vocal melodies and arrangements. When I was recording my guitars, we started talking about a bonus track for Japan, and that’s when Pelle thought we should try and do an arrangement for the Kansas track, ‘Fight Fire With Fire’, so we did that one in about an hour. So, no more than the tracks released were recorded.

As I mentioned earlier Grand Design isn’t really a household name in our country, but how about your status in your native country Sweden? And how popular would you think is your kind of music anyway in this day and age?
I think we’re actually more popular in the melodic rock community in the US, Italy and Spain, and we’ve received loads of great reviews from Germany. In Sweden, I guess we’re in the mid-league. Melodic rock/AOR is not very big in Sweden, but there is a hard-core community that supports the scene really good. Unfortunately, you don’t see our kind of music on TV or hear it on the radio, it’s only mainstream pop or fucking hip-hop.

Are there any touring plans in support of your new album?
Yes, we have some shows booked in Sweden and a tour of Spain in September. We’re currently trying to get more things booked. We’re also playing the Scandinavian Melodic Rock Fest in a few weeks.

Are there any specific goals you have set out for Grand Design for the future?
World domination! :-). Basically, we just wanna get out there and play as many shows as possible. We have a new lyric video coming out soon, and another video shortly after that. The plans for next year is to re-issue ‘Thrill Of The Night’, and also release it on vinyl.

Alright, this wraps it up for now. If there’s anything left to say or mention, the space below is yours….
We hope that you will check out our new album ‘Viva La Paradise’ and come see us live!

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