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Interview conducted April 08 2016
Interview published April 16 2016

"There comes a time when you have to take it to the next level…"

The French rockers BlackRain recently put out their 5th record, called Released [Available March 25th]. It's the band's first international drop and Metal Covenant and main man Swan Hellion therefore met up in Stockholm on his promotion tour for the album. The band has consequently entered kind of a new world with this record, yet Swan is trying his best to keep both feet on the ground and he definitely knows what it takes to get somewhere in this realm of heavy music.

"It's not nice to read your royalties thing and…Spotify…0,000001…Okay…All right."

Tobbe: This is your first international release, so tell us a little bit about the music on the record.

Swan: Well, to me it's of course the best we ever did. [Laughs] But more to this, I mean, it's the best production we've ever had and this time we went to L.A. to work with Jack Douglas and we've been there from the beginning to the end. We followed the mix, the mastering and everything, so we're quite happy with what it did and I think it's very nice to listen to it actually. The production and every instrument sound great to me. And I think it's a very varied album, regarding the songs themselves.

I don't think you can really compare this to the bands from the 80's, like people usually do, and we don't really like that, you know. I think we've found our sound and our proper identity this time. And yeah, well, then I can just advice people to check it out, on Spotify or whatever first, and then if you like it, you buy it. [Laughs]

Tobbe: If I was to say like a modern version of sleaze rock, is this something you would feel connected to?

Swan: I don't know really. We like to say we just play like hard rock or rock and just in the BlackRain way, you know. We've been very influenced by all the bands in the 80's, I'm not gonna say the opposite, and even by some Swedish bands like Hardcore Superstar at the moment, but now we really just play what we like to play. That's it. Maybe with the next album we will sound different, but we definitely don't try to sound like sleaze rock or glam rock bands anymore. And I think people mostly say we're a glam metal band or a sleaze band because of the way we look.

Tobbe: Do you think that BlackRain can actually bring anything new into this already existing scene, that holds a plethora of bands?

Swan: Well, if you look at the music industry today and what I hear on the radio and what I see on TV, I think we're bringing something with real instruments and a music that is actually played. And I think it's good enough to listen to. But if you just compare to other bands; what I like in BlackRain is the melodies and that's what we like in music in general. And bringing something new? If I say we have a proper sound; yeah, in that case I guess we're bringing something new.

I don't think we're original, and we're not looking to be original. I think original things are boring. But that's my personal point of view and I'm not judging anything, you know. I like simple music, catchy melodies, and something that's efficient and that's what we try to do.

Tobbe: So what does BlackRain have that most other bands generally don't?

Swan: I would say the melodies. I think there's not so many bands that bring so much good melodies today. That's what I miss in today's music in general. And I would also add the sound of my voice. It's very special. Like it or not. If you like it, it's nice to listen to it. I know that people sometimes find it annoying, because I have a very special way of sounding, but I think on this album, on Released, it's very nice to listen to.

Tobbe: In the end, what will you guys try to achieve with your music?

Swan: Well, we want to stay. We hope that the band's gonna last. We've been here for about 10 years and we really hope that we're gonna be able to stay at least 10 more years and that we're gonna be able to grow internationally. Like you said, it's the first record that we're gonna release world wide and we are waiting to see what people think about it. Either they're gonna like it or not. We will see. But we really hope that we can some day become like one of the big bands we've been listening to and that made us dream when we were younger. So I guess that's something we want to achieve in the end. And to be able to make songs that people will still listen to in 20 years. That would be something nice.

Tobbe: You mentioned your producer, Jack Douglas, and he has had quite an impact on you guys, I reckon. So what has he brought, that most other producers in the world can't bring to the table?

Swan: Oh, it's very hard to say. Honestly, it's the second album with him and the last time [with It Begins] was the first time we recorded in a real record studio. So it was already a big change. And back then, I'm not gonna lie to you, I didn't know what a producer was supposed to do. To tell you the truth, I didn't even know who Jack Douglas was. We had the chance to meet him thanks to our previous manager, because he has been working with him back in the days, so that's how he got the connection.

Jack was a really cool guy and we met him for the first time at the film festival in Cannes. And he was like an old friend. Very easy to get along with. Yeah, he liked the songs and we started to work with him. But honestly he didn't have much to do on the songs themselves, as we can't afford to stay like 2 months in the studio, because Jack is expensive, you know, and we can't lose any time by trying to compose the songs in the studio, like he does with Aerosmith. So we were pretty much coming with complete songs and we knew exactly what we had to play. But he helped me a lot with the lyrics and with my accent, because I'm French. I don't sound like an English guy at all and sometimes it can be a problem.

Yeah, mostly it was the lyrics that he corrected. And then he brings ideas, like other instruments sometimes, or he's gonna do little arrangements that are pretty nice to the final result. And of course he works a lot on the sound. That's what he does the most and that's why we actually sound good on this album.

Tobbe: And the album was recorded like a year ago. So what's taken so long, besides getting signed to UDR Music?

Swan: Mostly to get signed. [Laughs] We had 4 albums and we had a different record company on each album. It was never hard to find a new label, but this time, for some reason, it started to get more complicated and to tell you the truth, we could have signed with someone else earlier, but we didn't want to. We were really expecting something good, better than usual, and we really wanted the album to be released outside of France. We could have signed with someone smaller just to sell like 2000 CDs, but, honestly, we grow older. We're about 30 years old and we could tour clubs forever and play for, you know, 50 people. There comes a time when you have to take it to the next level, so we took the time to find the right signature and that's why it took like one year.

Tobbe: So is 2016 like your big opportunity and only chance to become a bigger act?

Swan: Definitely. I mean, the shit is on. The album came out and the reviews so far are very good, especially in France, where we didn't get anything bad. And people seem to buy the record and we are waiting for confirmations about touring. So if everything goes in this direction, it's a very good sign, and we'll be touring Europe for at least this coming fall and then we're gonna start recording another album.

Tobbe: Even if you've been around for over a decade, do you kind of, with this fresh start with international duties, feel like something new anyway?

Swan: Not really. Well, it depends. I don't think we feel new. We've been touring and we've been playing with Scorpions, Alice Cooper, Europe, and pretty big bands. And the last album, It Begins, was supposed to be released outside France too, but it never happened. We were with Sony and for some reason it didn't work. We've been struggling for quite a while now and I think the fact that we are French and play rock or hard rock has never helped us really. To tell you a story; when Jack Douglas came to us in Paris for the first time, his friends were laughing at him, because they were like "Are you gonna produce a French rock band? You must be crazy, because there's no rock going on there.".

Tobbe: Exactly how important is it, for a band of your size, to get signed to a bigger label?

Swan: It's crucial. If you wanna get to the next level, you need something that costs a lot, and that's promotion. And this is why I'm here today. Without promotion, maybe you can work it out in your own country, but that's all. You can't get all the connections everywhere, in every territory. You need someone that can be behind you and contact people, and push it all the time and really fight for you actually. It's very hard to develop a band today, I think. You can do much by yourselves, but there's a clear limit to it.

Tobbe: With bands coming from everywhere there's a huge competition today, so how will you be able to take your own share of the market?

Swan: Because music is very complicated. It's not only about playing. It's about many things around that and the thing is that you at a certain point must think actually. We are lucky that we are 4 guys in the band and 3 of us have known each other since high school, so we know each other very well. I think we all have found our place in the band, what each of us can do and can't do. And then you try to find the right connection and the right people to work with and you must make many sacrifices.

What we've seen since we first started is that all the bands that were playing kind of the same style as us disappeared. Some were good, but they all gave up. So it's not many left at the end of the day and, I mean, just the fact that we're staying and are still here means a lot.

Tobbe: What about girlfriends, families and maybe kids? Is the band always your top priority?

Swan: Yeah, it has to be. That's a big problem. I can speak for myself, because I've been married almost for 2 years, to a Swedish girl, and that's why I'm moving to Sweden. It's not always easy and I'm lucky that she's kind enough to let me go when I need to go, you know. But sometimes she doesn't like it. I mean, she doesn't like to be left alone, home, working at this everyday job and knowing that I'm not gonna bring back much money.

That's why it's very complicated to be in a band today. Especially when it takes more and more time to get famous. Like I said before, we're about 30 years old and our drummer [Frank Frusetta] is gonna have a kid in like a month actually. But we talk and he is not gonna give up and he will be here for us when we need him.

Tobbe: And what about your lyrics? What are they mainly about?

Swan: Personal experiences, I guess. We always talk about things that have happened to us or things we see around us. That's what we like. And everyday life experiences and things that touch us. It could be the news sometimes, but we're not a political band. You know, for example, we have a song called One Last Prayer, which is about our guitarist's [Axel "Max 2" Charpentier] brother who is a psycho. He's a psycho, and he's been making problems his whole life. That's the kind of things we talk about.

Tobbe: Do you read a lot in social medias and what people say about you?

Swan: Oh, we used to. People were very hard on us a few years ago. Especially when we did the TV show in France. You know, France got talent. Oh, my God, the insanity. Actually it's okay to us, but knowing that maybe my mom is gonna read about it… [Laughs] It made me feel kind of bad, you know. But to be honest, we've been talking to the owners of the web sites, where it was very rude, and we realized that it was always just a few people that were rude and most of them had different accounts and they insult you on those different accounts to make it look like it's many people.

I mean, those people must really have like nothing else to do. And when you read about other bands you realize that they insult like Megadeth and Metallica. They insult everybody. And the worst is when you click on their profile and see what it is and like "Dude! Are you the one to say?". Those people usually have really bad bands and that's maybe why they're angry. I will always wonder how they can get so confident and talk like that about those big names.

Tobbe: So how much do you use social media as a window to getting more well known?

Swan: We have to. It's not even our choice. I mean, the record company wants us to work that way. We have someone that's managing the social media, but we still do it ourselves anyway. But we must post almost every day, so we do it. But I don't spend any more time looking at what has been said or what people think or whatever.

Tobbe: You entered the music industry when downloading and stuff had just started, so how do you look at downloading, Spotify and such things? Is it somewhat positive for you?

Swan: When we started we really came at the transition. Just when internet was getting better. Thanks to MySpace we were able to get contacts in Sweden, in Germany and everywhere and we were able to do those small tours. That's how we started, so it was good for us. Now, it's not nice to get your Spotify paycheck. It's not nice to read your royalties thing and…Spotify…0,000001…Okay…All right. Why don't we just give it away? I mean, it's the same shit.

But we hope it will bring more money in the future and some people really make money out of this and I hope we will be able to do that too. If it would be only my decision, we wouldn't be on that, like iTunes and Spotify. But the truth is that people don't listen to music anymore and when I'm talking to people around me, they don't make a difference between an Mp3 or a WAV file or whatever. It sounds the same to them. So that answers many questions. Why go to a studio and make a record if it doesn't make a difference?

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