» Chris Laney - At The Movies
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Interview conducted January 13 2022
Interview published February 3 2022

"The easiest thing to do would just be having distorted guitars and double bass drums."

The semi-supergroup At The Movies' second covers album, aptly named The Soundtrack Of Your Life - Vol. II, was out on January 7th via Atomic Fire Records. A re-release of Vol. I coincided with the release of Vol. II, either as a stand-alone product or together with Vol II in a boxed set.

Metal Covenant met the band's main figure Chris Laney to talk about the albums, metal musicians choosing to record their own versions of '80s and '90s film scores, some miscellaneous stuff around Pretty Maids and their singer Ronnie Atkins, as well as some stuff about his former band Animal.

Chris Laney - Guitars
Björn Strid - Vocals
Linnéa Vikström Egg - Vocals
Morten Sandager - Keyboards
Allan Sørensen - Drums
Pontus Egberg - Bass
Pontus Norgren - Additional guitars

Tobbe: We usually write about heavy metal and stuff like that, so why should a metal website like ours write about At The Movies according to Mr. Laney?

Chris: Because I believe that several of us musicians in At The Movies come from the metal side as well, and have their guilty pleasures, and therefore you should check this out, you know. And, you know, just listening to Björn Strid singing (I've Had) The Time Of My Life… We don't even have to be ashamed any longer. We have taken this thing a little bit farther than that point, you know. So that's why I think you should do that.

Tobbe: You're on Atomic Fire, which is sprung out of Nuclear Blast, and in what way does a metal label do their best to market At The Movies and this music that actually doesn't belong in their department?

Chris: Well, but I think they have realized that it doesn't solely belong in their department. They also promote it to Mr. Smith as well, you know. So not exclusively in the heavy metal magazines or the heavy metal channels, although there's where we now have our buyers, yet.

But I mean, I've talked with them. The first time we had a video meeting, you know, I fell in love with them right away, because they saw everything and were like "So we'll make a boxset with...", and they were talking about including Tamagotchis and so. [Laughs]

Well, now that didn't materialize, and it became a Walkman and cassette tapes and stuff. But they're funny, and they get it, and they can also see this on a metal festival. I mean, we could hit the stage after Slayer, Venom, whoever, and do this, because we have taken this so far.

Tobbe: When looking back through the years, the worst kind of person you could possibly become as a heavy metal musician was, you know, a sell-out. In what way do you look at this? Do people even care about this in 2022?

Chris: You know, I couldn't even think in those terms, because this thing sprung out of being bored and about getting some real fun. So this wasn't something planned, whatsoever. But sure, I usually refer to us as the world's coolest after beach band, you know. And in fact these damn songs are songs that everyone in the band likes. I mean, with everything we've done there's always someone in the band that has been like "What do we think about this one?". It's been really fun to do it. I have really grown doing this too.

And it's like Björn himself says "I've done Soilwork. And I've done Night Flight and family and old friends started to think it's good. But now, with At The Movies, they say it's the best I've ever done, and I'm doing these damn covers.". Maybe we have stumbled into something that people like. And we have a really good time.

Tobbe: Has there ever been a record out that is so well-deserving of the title Vol II?

Chris: [Laughs] Well, I don't know. I just think it's really fun to run this thing in a certain way. Like the artwork, you know. I had a clear vision that it would look kind of like Mr Music [Swedish record club]. They all looked pretty much the same, but with different colors or something else that made them look slightly different. But Vol II, I'm really proud of it, because there we ended up in a little bit deeper waters than with the '80s, you know.

Tobbe: As you know Vol I was being re-released on the same date that Vol II was out. The songs obviously come from the '80s and the '90s respectively, but as you approached the songs and then made your own versions of those songs, was it the same kind of process for making cover versions of songs from those different decades?

Chris: Well, it was harder to find songs from films in the '90s. That's where we draw the line. It shouldn't just be a song from the '90s, but it has to be in a film from the '90s. We follow a couple of rules. One is that we won't change the song, like follow the same tempo, the same key and the same arrangement. The easiest thing to do would just be having distorted guitars and double bass drums.

But the '90s were tough, I must say. I think the last soundtrack that came out, that was worth listening to, was Pretty Woman, and that was in 1990. After that they started to use '50s and '60s songs, like in Pulp Fiction. And then a whole lot of grunge and stuff, and that's not us, you know.

Tobbe: It might also be a question of which generation you guys hail from. I mean, you were in your teens in the '80s and know that decade really well. The same way that the '90s could be a lot easier for someone born in '82 or something like that.

Chris: Yes, I think so. But we have Linnéa, you know. She's born in '92 and she has that sort of in her spine, you know. But we have talked a lot about it and the songs we've done are songs we like. The only song that bothers me a little bit is I've Been Thinking About You, because we had a few other ones that I thought were really great and that I really wanted to do. You know, we were in a hurry.

I will tell you that on a Thursday we released a song. On Friday I made a demo on the next song. Out of all ideas I decided which song it was going to be. It just had to feel right. On Saturday I sent it to everyone and they were able to have their opinion. I removed the drums and sent it to Allan separately. Got the drums back the same day. Then sent it to the bassist. You know, that way.

Then we had a deadline on Tuesday evening, because on Wednesday everyone had to deliver their videos, in order to be edited for a video that was going to be out on Thursday. And then it was Friday again. So my brain wasn't really there all the time. For the '90s I actually made a fuck-up. I thought I was working on a specific song, but in fact I was working on another one.

Tobbe: Is it easier or harder for you to record these songs than recording heavy metal songs?

Chris: Everyone that listens to this has the key already, so doing this is much harder. The only thing you can trust is everyone's execution of what they're going to do, you know. There was one song that we did that we had to ditch because it just didn't have the right swing. We realized that we would have to rehearse it together, but we can't do that, because we have never even been in a room all together.

Tobbe: Do you think, deep within, that your songs are better than the originals? You're not allowed to answer that they're different or anything like that.

Chris: Of course they are. [Laughs] But hand on heart we do them the way I would want to hear them today. You know, because everything is really dated, kind of. But yes, I think so. If I had to make a choice between putting on the original or our version I would probably pick ours today because it fits better together with everything else I put on at home.

Tobbe: Is music ever boring to you? I mean, people could do this pretty much for their entire life.

Chris: No, it isn't. You know, you constantly develop. I think At The Movies is what has developed myself the most in the last 20 years. I've been working under the gun all the time. You know, "Now I must deliver!". I mean, Pontus Norgren, he has recorded some 15 second guitar solos. That's what he has done. I have done everything else. [Laughs]

So you have to be committed. But we've had so much fun and that's what really counts. I have already sent some new ideas and everyone is eager to go again.

Tobbe: I'm sure you guys have already glimpsed and talked about the 2000s and also about the '50s and the '60s.

Chris: Of course we have. We have even gone further back than that to see if we could find something evergreen that we're not familiar with. The problem with those songs is however that we will then have to redo them. And I don't want to do that. And maybe that's also too pretentious. This is supposed to be fun. And number 1 is also that people are supposed to be familiar with the songs.

That's the thing. This is a party project. But also, I have told the record company that the next one could be a Vol III: The Best Of Disney, it could be a Power Ballads, or Best Of Action Movies, or whatever that's film oriented. So we have material to choose between. It doesn't have to a year, but maybe a genre, you know.

Tobbe: In the beginning of our conversation you briefly mentioned playing live. So tell me about your plans, okay?

Chris: We have come to the point where we have a booking company. We have said that we are never going to do a tour because everyone has so much to do with their own stuff. But we could be a fun feature on festivals. We also know that Björn is really busy. He has, like, 3 or 4 bands, you know. And Norgren is really busy with HammerFall all the time.

To begin with I was very keen on that everybody's name would be on the record deal. This is not my personal record deal, but we're a band and everyone should make exactly the same. But in a live context, in that situation, then we have said that if Björn and Pontus can't do it then we will bring in other people to do it. And that would be cool, because At The Movies is so much bigger than who we really are, you know.

Let's say we play at Copenhell, then maybe we could bring in Jesper Binzer on a couple of songs and maybe also the guy from Volbeat or so. I don't think doing things like this would be impossible. It could be like "At The Movies featuring…", you know. That's the plan we have, and the booking company think it's really efficient, and when it would be only At The Movies it would be even more special. And we have talked about that we want to have a full production. We don't want to go on stage as just a cover band, but we want the whole package. We want it professional or we won't do it.

We have gotten a lot of requests about doing those streaming gigs and stuff, and I'm just like "Forget it!". No, this is everything or nothing. We have nothing to lose. I mean, this is a funny thing, which pays us well so we can use good light engineers, have a good stage show and do it for real. Or we would just scrap it. You know, we don't stand or fall with this, and that's what's the big difference.

Tobbe: Ronnie Atkins is putting out a new solo album in March, which you are heavy involved with, and he's doing the third Nordic Union album with Erik Mårtensson. So, are there any plans for doing something with Pretty Maids? I mean, Ronnie can obviously record albums.

Chris: No, there aren't, so far. And that's because we made an album in 2019, Undress Your Madness. We have never played a song from that album live. He got cancer in the fall, shortly before the album was out. Ronnie told me "Help me finish a live album so I might win some time.". [Maid In Japan, 2020] So I became, you know, the one that put together that live album.

But then Covid came, you know. And then he got sick again, and he was… You know, we didn't know how long… For real. That is completely honest. I just wanted him to start with something, like "Don't you have a few songs? Can't we just write something?" and he was like "Well, I don't know. I probably can't sing anymore.". But then we had At The Movies and he thought it was a cool project. He and his wife would guess what song it would be. And so he called me and "What other songs do you got?" and I said "Well, we got We Don't Need Another Hero." and he was like "That's mine!".

He was so nervous that he wouldn't be able to take the high notes so he even asked me if I could ask Björn to step in for him if that would be the case. But then I got the files in return and, you know, I cried like a baby. What a delivery. After that he was like "Yes, should we write some songs?". He felt like "Yes, I can do it.". So it started mainly because of having something to look forward to again, you know. It has just become our baby. We talk every day. I mean, constantly. We're not doing an album now, but we talk anyway.

A new single and video is out soon, so I came up with ideas and so. It's very much my baby too. But about Pretty Maids: Well, I think the first thing he wants to do is do something on a smaller scale, like his own stuff, to see if he's able to deliver live. With Pretty Maids there are very high expectations when we go out. But with one and a half lung it's a different thing, you know. So that's where we are right now.

Tobbe: So what is Ken [Hammer] doing these days? Is he just at home drinking beer and eating snacks, you know?

Chris: I haven't talked to him for a long time, really. I actually don't know what he's doing. The last thing I know is that I put him together with Johan Kullberg and Magnus Ulfstedt and they had that thing Hammer in the pipeline. They had some gig booked, but then things got even worse again, you know. Ken thought that we could work together there as well, and that I would be involved in that band too, but I just felt that I had to choose just being the producer. Being the producer is one thing, but to play in the band is another thing, you know.

Tobbe: What else is in your pipeline at this point?

Chris: Right now I'm actually doing some stuff with the New England guys. I don't know if you remember them, but they made an album in 1979 that Paul Stanley produced, and two of the members were in Alcatrazz. So we're doing some stuff, which is fun, and I'm doing it because I think it's fun. It not about anything else for me. It just has to be fun in order for me to do it.

And then I'm just finishing the Madam X album. That's what I do. I'm soon turning 50 and I have high blood pressure and everything, so I have promised myself to ease down a bit. So I probably won't take the so-called paid jobs, but rather jobs that I have chosen to do.

Tobbe: Are you someone that as soon as you have too little to do, then you start working all over the place and suddenly there's too much work to do instead?

Chris: Well, the problem is rather like, I mean, I started with that album two years ago. I wrote an entire album in a couple of weeks, you know. And made demos on every track, and they approved all the songs and they came in with lyrics and with some riffs, et cetera.

We had such a great groove going, but then suddenly the whole Covid journey came here as well, and they couldn't get together because they live in different parts of America. So everything just died, but it still lies here on my shoulder. I'm someone that has to finish stuff. I can't just leave something hanging. That's just not me. So it was like "Okay, they can't do anything more. What can I do instead?". So I took another job and then that stopped halfways too because something happened.

Suddenly there are two albums to finish, you know. And that's not something I can plan, unfortunately. That's just how life is. The only thing I know right now is that my wife wish that I would go out on tour soon because I'm climbing on the walls at home. [Laughs]

Tobbe: Do you do anything else besides music?

Chris: Absolutely. I work full-time. I'm an IT educator in a school. I've been doing that for 10 years now. When Polar Studios had put the business down, you know, I had to work twice as much and I earned half of what I used to do. So it just wasn't working anymore, so. But I have quite a lot to do. I work from 8 to 15.30 five days a week. Then I go home and cook some food to the kids. And after that I go upstairs to my home studio and work. Or like right now, doing interviews for a couple of hours, you know.

And when we get to the weekend my wife and my kids think it's time to do something and I think that it would be great to work in the studio. [Laughs] So it's hard to get everything together, you know. So I have promised my family now that every Saturday is music free, unless there's a live gig.

Tobbe: And before we end this I just got to ask about Animal. Have you heard anything from, or about, Randy Piper and Rich Lewis in a while?

Chris: I have actually heard from Rich. We talk once in a while. Unfortunately he got cancer as well, which was in his throat. So one of his vocal cords is paralyzed. And I have tried to reach Piper. We're talking about, like, just two weeks ago, so funny you mention it. Because I mean we have two really good records, I think, which I would like to re-release. But I must have his approval after all, and he's a total airhead. [Laughs]

Well, now he has become Christian and sober, so maybe now I will be able to talk with him a little bit, you know. I hope so, because additionally there are some bonus tracks that never came out, which would be great to put out. And to put it out with the right cover as well, because the artwork on that damn Virus record is such a catastrophe, you know.

Tobbe: Well, Piper has maybe gotten his shit together. I remember that you told me some stories about money that didn't even exist and stuff like that.

Chris: Yes, and he thought that we were going to have a laser show at Sweden Rock. He hadn't been on stage for, like, 20 years. I was super stoked and, like, "I've managed to get a showtime at 3 o'clock on Wednesday. Right before the Swedish national anthem. That's awesome. The place is always packed at that time." and he was like "3 o'clock? Then it's sunny outside. How about the lasers and shit?". [Laughs]

I was like "What? What did you say?". He thought that, for real. That's not really how it works, you know. But that was a good gig. We didn't do so many. I think we did 6. Harry B. James [Stockholm]. We played in Östersund. We played at Pub Anchor [Stockholm] for not so many people because it was the same Saturday as Sweden Rock was running. And we played in Oslo. Then we also played in Västerås, for 3 and a half guys.

Randy laughed so much, because we sold merchandise like never before, and he was like "It's like people came in here and bought shit and left.". [Laughs] It was just out of this world. So we did those 6 gigs. And there's a live album recorded, and there is a DVD, but, well, as long as he is alive and don't wanna do it, I won't do it either.

Tobbe: I must say that I liked that band, you know.

Chris: I'm really proud of the Virus record. It's one of those records that hurts my soul, you know. The record label went bankrupt the next day, like "Ouch!".

Tobbe: Would have worked easier now with Spotify.

Chris: But I took that shit down from Spotify, you know. It was up there making money for someone I don't even know about. I have never seen a payoff, ever, from those records. I don't know if Locomotive Records has some kind of dormant form or whatever.

And the reason I signed with them was because Piper was so angry with me all the time, like "Oh, we gotta fucking hit in America!" and I was going "Well, but that's not the same thing as Europe. I promise, you know.". But they had a US office and I told Piper, like, "Okay. Look at this. Now it's done.". And then we couldn't reach them and that office went bankrupt. [Laughs] What a story. So funny.

Tobbe: I mean, hit in America. The band that he played with for two records in the mid '80s, W.A.S.P., is doing its first tour there in, like, 10 years in late 2022. That shows just how hard it is to hit in America with this type of music. In Europe W.A.S.P. is still doing all right though, I must say.

Chris: Well, it's like I told Madam X. They're still thinking about the US. And they did that awful album Monstrocity. A totally horrible album. But they thought that they were gonna go metal. And an American label, who doesn't give a shit, as usual. I told them "You guys must do it for Europe, and specifically Scandinavia, and make an album that's like a sequel to the first one. It must contain High In High School type of songs only. Because then you will be able to go out playing.". You have to look at where you are, you know.

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