» Jake E - CyHra
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Interview conducted November 5 2019
Interview published December 14 2019

"People who have issues about using backing tracks probably don't understand how much it costs to operate a band."

Metal Covenant met up with CyHra's vocalist Jake E to talk about the band's latest release No Halos In Hell.

Tobbe: You have a new record out, that you actually recorded quite some time ago, right?

Jake: Yes, it was actually recorded over a year ago. We recorded it in, let's see, my son was born on November 1st, and the record had to be done before that, so I think we recorded it in September.

Tobbe: I guess it has been a long wait.

Jake: Yes, definitely. It has been kind of slow, because after a while it's like old news. It's like "Okay, we have to record a new album now. Oh, I forgot. We already have one. Never mind.". It's kind of like you forget it, you know.

Tobbe: You guys could easily have made another record, if you wanted to.

Jake: During this period, yes, absolutely. I might as well could have written another record during this time. Well, I got my kid, you know. So that has taken all my time now when I had time off. But otherwise it would definitely have worked. It would have been kind of nice actually, to record album number 3 before album number 2 is out.

Tobbe: I think it would have been quite boring for you to only talk about album number 2 when you have the next album already done.

Jake: Yes, exactly. [Laughs]

Tobbe: So, let's get back to the new record. In your opinion, if you speak freely, what do the listeners get when they choose to listen to your new record No Halos In Hell?

Jake: I usually call it some kind of modern melodic metal, or hard rock, you know. The listeners get incredibly strong melodies, strong choruses that are easy to sing along to, and captivating songs that stick kind of like chewing gum. Although it's metal, and I'm not saying that the music is pop, but I say that it has a little bit of pop vibe in terms of the fact that it sticks in your head. The chewing gum effect, you know.

Tobbe: To what extent does this record follow the path that you established on the first record? [Letters To Myself, 2017]

Jake: I personally think that we found our sound on Letters To Myself. We sat down, and we wrote music together, I and Jesper [Strömblad, guitar], and we found, you know, our kind of way to write. Then it gets updated, naturally, as you're writing new songs. But we didn't try to invent the wheel again, in any way, and try to come out with something new.

The only thing I deliberately tried to change on this record in comparison to the first is that: When we recorded the first album we didn't know if we were gonna be a touring band or if we were just gonna put out music on albums, you know. But then we became a touring band, and some of the songs that we put out on the first album… I mean, every song works live, but to play the entire record live turned out kind of mushy.

We didn't have enough songs that could change the tempo, up or down, but it was kind of streamlined. Which is really great if you sit down and listen to an album. Like, if you listen to it in your car it's awesome, you know. But I put down a lot of effort to make the new songs become a little more nuanced, and to have different tempo structures, and also that they would be a better fit for a live format.

Tobbe: If you follow the exact same style, people will get tired of it. Like, if it's too much of the same. But if you step out of your style too much, then you push your own fans away.

Jake: I totally agree. Look at Iron Maiden, as an example. Iron Maiden has released many records that sound different, but you hear that it's Iron Maiden. You know, it has the Iron Maiden vibe. You might go pretty far outside the box, yet staying within the frame, because you have the same singer and the same vocal melodies.

What I don't like is when bands suddenly get tired of playing the music that the fans initially started to like and make a 180-degree turn. Like, one record sounds A and the next one sounds Z. In that case I find it hard to keep supporting that band. It's better to start a side project, where you can experiment with your musical fantasies, and call it something else, and not try to ride the wave of the original band name, you know.

There are a lot of bands that try to find, like, "Where do we have most fans?" and they make a heavy record, a soft record, a record that sounds nowhere close to those, and then on the fourth or the fifth they go back to what worked the best. Like, "We have always sounded like that." and just totally lie to their fans; right in their face, you know.

So, I think that you should keep to your style, but of course you've got to develop. You have to try out different things and stuff, but you shouldn't suddenly distort it into a different band.

Tobbe: What elements do you think are really characteristic for your band?

Jake: Above all, the guitar melodies. And on this record we have worked even more on really bringing forth, what especially Jesper is known for, you know, those Jesper melodies. He's the only one that has those kinds of melodies. And also my way of writing music, both the music, vocal melodies and the lyrics. You know, that you can recognize it.

I mean, those who know who I am and have listened to my songs before know that there comes a big chorus, there comes something that you can sing along to, and there comes something that gets stuck in your head. That's my way of writing music. It's very difficult for me to make songs that's not like that. Because that's what I think is good music, and I only write music that I wanna listen to myself.

Tobbe: With this second record, will you now go for specific markets or will you seek success, like, everywhere?

Jake: In many bands that I've been with before, we have felt kind of like the world is what's most important and home ground has always ended up suffering. What I have realized now is that you have to clone yourself to some extent. You have to go all the way around every time.

Let's say that we start in Sweden and you stop somewhere else, then you have to go back to Sweden immediately and start over again. Then you maybe go on a different route the next time, but you always have to start from the same place, so that you always cover the map, because people's attention span is pretty short and there are a lot of bands out there. It's like a relationship; you have to constantly maintain it or it will fall into oblivion, you know.

Tobbe: And how will you then be able to maintain a relationship with your family if at the same time trying to go across the globe?

Jake: My goal is to eventually come to the point in my career where my family actually are able to come along. Obviously there's school and stuff, you know. My daughter is 6 now and she starts to think that this is fun. We played in Gothenburg and she played a drum solo. It was, like, 500 people there, and she was like "I'm gonna play a drum solo!". She stood beside the stage with those giant ear protections and she walked up on stage right at the moment when the drummer (Adde Larsson. Fill-in for Alex Landenburg) was gonna start, like "Now it's my turn!".

And to be able to give this to your kids, I think is an incredible thing. I will never ever push her to be a hockey player, or a musician, or whatever there is that I think is fun. But to have her with me, that she is able to get this life experience of getting to see what no other kids get to see, would be really cool, you know.

But it's tough sometimes. I don't envy my partner during these periods when I'm away and she has to take care of the kids. But at the same time it's a privilege that when I'm not on tour I'm at home all the time. No one else is doing that; everyone is always away. So I think that I'm able to spend more time with my kids than other parents do.

Tobbe: You're an international band…

Jake: Yes. We have a German [Alex] who lives in England and we have a Finn [Euge Valovirta, guitar] who lives in Riga [Latvia]. [Jake and Jesper are from Sweden.]

Tobbe: …and might that sometimes cause a problem?

Jake: Well, this is funny. I think we did 70-80 gigs during the cycle for the first album. Which is quite a lot for being a debuting band, you know. And we have rehearsed one time. When we were going out with Sabaton, we actually hired a theater, in Kungälv, outside of Gothenburg. We were there for two days and we really didn't rehearse the songs so much, but we more rehearsed so all our gear would work.

If you're gonna do this on this level, you must have the right gear, so we had to buy new stuff. Everything must work. The crew must be functional. They must know what to do, like when guitar changes are happening, and preferences for the guitarists' strings, string changes, you know. We rehearsed stuff like that. But after that we have never rehearsed, but we have used our soundchecks to, you know…

We recently did 8 gigs in Sweden and Finland and before the first gig, in Helsinki, we went there a few hours earlier, and that was the first time that we played the new songs live. It works, you know. [Laughs] Everyone in the band is a professional and everyone has done their fair share of touring, you know.

And we also have a substitute drummer who plays with us now and then. His name is Adde Larsson and I must give him some praise as well, because he didn't even record these songs. He was with us there in Finland too, because Alex was on tour with Kamelot. Adde nailed those songs too. Really great to see.

Tobbe: So you guys have the experience, but do you see any problems with putting together established musicians, because you kind of want things your own way?

Jake: Not at all. And this is interesting: The band is a miscellany of people. We never had the intention to make it a supergroup or an all-star project, but when I and Jesper put the band together we just asked a couple of buddies to join us. What was most important to us wasn't that they were the most skilled people in the world on their instrument, but what was most important was that they were mentally stable people who didn't have the biggest ego and who functions in a group.

Because it's very common in the music industry that people have too big of an ego and that's destroying their whole career, you know. So that's why we recruited Alex, Euge and Peter [Iwers, former bass player] and we have never ever had a fight.

Tobbe: You're the one that comes up with most ideas in the band and the one that brings stuff forward, right?

Jake: Well, I am. But I never do something without consulting with Jesper or any of the other guys in the band. But it's my and Jesper's band, and I would never do something that Jesper wouldn't wanna do, and the same goes for Jesper too. And it doesn't matter that Jesper has taken time off now from touring, he is at home taking care of himself, because he is still working with writing songs and taking care of other stuff. But Euge, our other guitarist, unburdens me incredibly in certain office stuff that I sometimes don't have time for. And he also brings forth a lot of great ideas.

So we complete each other very well in this band, I must say. But sure, I am the one who is often the first one to start things up. I am also the one who starts the songwriting process in the songs. I often do rough outtakes and send them to everyone else and if I get stuff from the other guys it is I who dissect it and produce it to a song in order to become us.

Tobbe: About Jesper's health issues: In what way do you look at this within the band? From experience I know that when Jesper has left bands before it has started with him being away for a while. Are you guys worried about him leaving?

Jake: Not the least. I won't talk shit about other bands, whatsoever, because I don't know about their background story. But the way I see it is that Jesper hasn't gotten enough support for his problems. In our band he has 2000 percent support and he has done everything he can. He toured with us for a year and he really felt like shit, because he suffers from social stress, for instance.

He suffers from depression, he has problems with open spaces and crowded places. He has a hard time with traveling and not feeling that it's home. He has made one hell of a journey and has become free from all those drugs and alcohol and stuff. I don't think anyone can comprehend how bad he feels and how bad he's been feeling. Obviously it's been up and down. But I would never put pressure on another person, like "You're gonna do this now, okay!".

What we have said is that this is our band and he does his part. He writes songs, he's playing with us, he's doing videos, you know. I mean, to the extent that he is able to do so, you know. But to put pressure on someone will only knock it over in the end, I think. And I think a big reason for him leaving bands is that he has put too much pressure on himself, started drinking again, made the band angry since he has screwed things up because he has tried to suppress his anxiety with alcohol or other substances, which makes gigs go straight to hell.

Now he's in a program where he's fighting to get rid of these problems, you know. He has our full support. I'm not worried at all. If that day comes, he will come to me, instead of reaching to a point in a band where somebody makes a fool of himself so that you look stupid. This band means everything to Jesper as well. He loves this band. If Jesper would say that he won't play with us anymore, he would say "Well, I'll step aside.", under controlled circumstances, if you know what I mean? Which of course I hope will never happen.

Tobbe: You use quite a few backing tracks live…

Jake: Yes, we have no bassist, we have no keyboarder, we have no string section, so we need to have it, you know.

Tobbe: A lot of rock bands use backing tracks, but I guess the difference is that they claim that they don't.

Jake: You know, I absolutely see no pride in having some kind of tough statement about not using backing tracks. People who have issues about using backing tracks probably don't understand how much it costs to operate a band. Everybody who has an own company knows what it costs to just pay out one salary. If I'm gonna hire some bloke who plays the violin because there are violins in two songs, and a piano for 3 notes played somewhere, to enhance the live experience, then we can't play, because then we can't afford to play, because everybody needs to get paid.

We're professional musicians, you know. If we would have been a rockabilly band and going wild on the piano, naturally we would have a pianist, but if I put strings in the background on a ballad, I do that to enhance the atmosphere of a song. So if I have made a piano ballad, should I bring a pianist on the tour, who only plays that song? I see no reason to that whatsoever, you know.

And the reason why we haven't acquired a new bassist is that we're very keen on that this band must be friends, we're gonna be blood brothers, there should be no conflicts, we must strive in the same direction, and we will build this band, like I usually say, to be the biggest band of the world. Because that's my goal.

I won't acquire a bassist just because of having a bassist. We will have a bassist in the future, but it has to be the right person. It must be a person that works and I won't have an audition for a bassist, because in that case that person won't even play a note. That person would hang out with us for 3 weeks in order to see how that person would work with us on a social level, because that's what's most important to us.

But I don't know if you have time for that, like "Do you wanna come with us out on tour and just hang out with us and see if we like you?". When that person comes, that person will reveal oneself. Just like Marcus [Sunesson] did. It wasn't like we were searching for Marcus. We just happened to be in the same place as Marcus and just realized that "Hey! We like you. Wouldn't you want to fill in for Jesper when he's not with us?".

But about backing tracks: I don't think there's one band that doesn't use backing tracks, in one way or another. Every band is playing with a click nowadays, if you're not a rock 'n' roll band. I would say that Hardcore Superstar is a band that doesn't use backing tracks. But they are a rock band, that is built on guitar, drums, bass and vocals. In that case you don't need backing tracks, because you don't have any backing tracks to play.

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