» Magnus Karlsson - Free Fall
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Interview conducted June 25 2013
Interview published June 30 2013

Swedish multi musician, producer and Primal Fear guitarist Magnus Karlsson has just released a solo album under the name Free Fall. He's mostly known for his work with Italian label Frontiers Records and a long list of artists including such names as Bob Catley and Allen/Lande. I hooked up with him to mainly speak about the new album, which is highly critically acclaimed, as most reviews speak about a complete success.

Tobbe: Okay Magnus, let's start things up with your new album. What do you want to achieve with this release, which actually is a solo record under a different moniker?

  • Magnus: Yes, exactly. I wanted to do a record where I had more free hands. On almost all projects, bands and whatever I've done for Frontiers, they have given me an assignment on how things should be and what it should sound like. It's great fun that too, but I have become more and more eager to create something that could sound just like anything. If I had done a death metal record, Frontiers would probably had said "no thank you", so I have stayed in the genre that I'm familiar with.

Tobbe: Yes, you have done pretty much rather similar to this. So where did your final ideas for this new release come from?

  • Magnus: I have changed my mind a few times actually. The ideas have been there for a pretty long time. Some people have suggested a guitar album and I was eager for that at first, but then I got more interest for just making great songs. Initially I thought about doing all the vocals myself and perhaps inviting a guest, so I sat down and wrote a list, which became longer and longer. I really wanted to have all names singing on this album and because of that the format of the record was shaping up. I pretty much wrote the songs with the singers in mind. What I wanted to hear from them and what type of songs, like the one with Tony Harnell for instance.

Tobbe: Yes exactly. I was just about to mention that song. It's obviously so made to fit him.

  • Magnus: It was so long ago I heard him sing songs like this and I felt it was a luxury to write a song for him. Naturally he could have turned this offer down, but he was charmed, so he gave it a go. He was all in for it, so he said he was eager to do even more.

Tobbe: That's awesome. What did all these vocalist say about the songs when you presented them? I mean, since most songs were written for each individual and were songs within their margins.

  • Magnus: Nobody has actually complained, you know. I mean, the song with Ralf Scheepers is typical power metal, but not really like what he's doing with Primal Fear. I really like what he's doing with Primal Fear, but I miss what he was doing with Gamma Ray. When I'm doing the demos, I try to imitate the singer in question, even if I can't do it as good as they do. So with Ralf I tried to imitate his voice with Gamma Ray and he bought it. Now he's singing slightly different, with a clearer voice, like he did in the earlier days.

Tobbe: It's still very much Ralf, so to speak.

  • Magnus: Yes, that's very clear.

Tobbe: And in that song (Higher), the drums are pretty much Primal Fear too. You aren't afraid of some comparisons, even if it's only one song?

  • Magnus: Yes, absolutely. Well, not afraid, but surely there may be comparisons. I actually didn't care about it, because I wrote what I really wanted to and you can always compare it to something.

Tobbe: Obviously you can sing. Wasn't this a great opportunity to smash it all in by yourself?

  • Magnus: Yes, like I said earlier, that was my first thought. Almost all the time I sing on my demos, like on the Allen/Lande albums, because we never meet. With this I can present it well and I try to sing as good as I can. I did a song, or actually a verse and a chorus with lead vocals, which I really liked, so I sent it to Frontiers and they thought my voice was good enough for an album. Then it only became three in the end anyway.

Tobbe: Then how do you rate your own vocals? Do you dare telling me?

  • Magnus: On one hand I think it's good, but the only thing I was a bit scared of with this record was that no matter how good I sing, it's not that fun to follow Ralf Scheepers, Russell Allen or Tony Harnell.

Tobbe: Yes, my thoughts also. You're facing some great vocalists here.

  • Magnus: I don't compare myself this way. If I had sung like Russell Allen, but not that great, then it would have been really sad. Now I sing differently, with a different voice and with a different style, so I think I get away with it.

Tobbe: Yes, you do. How much time and how much effort have you brought into this album?

  • Magnus: I sent that snippet to Frontiers almost exactly one year ago. That was just before the summer holidays, so I took a short break and thought about the concept, with singers and everything. I have worked pretty intense and I've had some other smaller projects too. I wrote the songs' foundations real quick this time, one week actually. Then I did adjustments and did the lyrics, etc. This is something that differs this album from what I've done in the past. I usually write the songs as good as I can and send them to the record company and if they like it, I just let go. This time I wrote the songs and then listened to them two weeks later and wrote a little more.

Tobbe: Did you have situations where you felt stuck or did you have momentum all through?

  • Magnus: It felt good all the time. This freedom I had was great. You know, without a record company that should review every song and complain if it's too heavy or too soft. And the singers were comfortable as well, so it was great.

Tobbe: So what about your general collaboration with Frontiers? I've heard mostly good about them.

  • Magnus: Especially in my position. I mean, writing to other artists and like what I did now with all these singers. Their roster in this genre must be the biggest in the world. Almost everyone is there.

Tobbe: I always want to see bands live and even more now when you have released this high quality record, so are there any future plans of playing live?

  • Magnus: At first I thought that it would never work and especially with all these singers, but then actually Tony Harnell thought it would be great fun and he said he could sing a couple of more songs and we could use two or three singers at least. So we'll see what happens. I've learned a little in my time with Primal Fear, that it depends immensely on what offers are presented and how good the record is going. I've been in other bands where sales weren't that good. Sure many bands are out touring and try hard to make a living, but I won't do that. The record must do good and the offers must be good, so I won't just go out and play.

Tobbe: Festivals are always an opportunity, but this season's bookings are over now. So we're talking about next year already and then the album will be one year old.

  • Magnus: If the record does good, it will work out. I know that with Allen/Lande, although we didn't play we had some great offers, so it didn't matter if the records were two years old.

Tobbe: You've been involved in many projects. Have you never thought about going all in for just one band?

  • Magnus: You know, with Frontiers and their roster, many of the artists are my idols and if they say that Bob Catley of Magnum wants a new record, I really can't say no. It's a dream to write songs to him, who I listened to when I was 12-13 years old. I'm not looking for projects. If Primal Fear had taken all my time, maybe it would have turned out that way. I haven't had so many projects these last years, when I've been with them and the other guys have other projects too.

Tobbe: I have a couple of friends that totally love Primal Fear and one question is always why that band isn't bigger? I remember asking Randy about this matter before and he said he didn't really know why. It's a great band with great records, yet that big break is never coming.

  • Magnus: It depends on where we play and sometimes it feels like it's a big band, but not that big so we can release a record and then relax a couple of years and do long tours and so. We however play the biggest festivals and have great tours. I joined the band because I was a big fan of Ralf and I listened a lot to Gamma Ray. They appeared in the time where Helloween was fading and there wasn't that much else in that genre. It was huge for me and I think I was 15-16 years old when they broke through. Therefore I still actually think that not many people can match Ralf's efforts.

Tobbe: So what's the status in Primal Fear at this point, with the next album and recordings?

  • Magnus: At this moment I'm recording solos and I've already done the rhythm guitars, but the songs aren't to one hundred percent complete yet. Ralf and Mat (Sinner) are composing the lyrics and are adjusting the melodies now and we'll record the drums at Christmas. It's new for us with recording the guitars first and the drums later. We'll see if it will work out or if I will have to record the guitars all over again.

Tobbe: And what about the release date?

  • Magnus: The plan is a release early next year.

Tobbe: You've been in Primal Fear for over 4 years now.

  • Magnus: Yes, exactly. I've jumped on and off with playing live, you know having kids and so. I play on the albums and I play on certain tours. Now I'm back live with the band again and we're playing a couple of festivals this summer and maybe a tour later this year before next record release.

Tobbe: That would be somewhat different. Doing a tour before the album release.

  • Magnus: Well, that's the way it is with Primal Fear. The tours appear all of a sudden. It's no six months tours, but a few weeks here and there, like with South America. It necessarily don't have to be connected with an album release.

Tobbe: In South America, they're probably just happy to get bands to play there and when doesn't matter.

  • Magnus: Exactly, and it's great fun playing there.

Tobbe: You've played the guitar for a long time now. Do you have any tricks to not get stuck in one corner?

  • Magnus: I play a lot of other music as well. Things that people never get to hear because there are no albums released. I was in music school and there we played jazz and so. One thing I've played a lot is folk music and playing the banjo and also Irish. If you listen to my songs you maybe can hear some influences from there. I feel that if I do these things, I will come back stronger with hard rock and metal again. I even write some pop music as well.

Tobbe: You never were that guy who just wanted to play the guitar?

  • Magnus: Well actually I was. When I was around 20, I played for 8 hours a day. I wanted to be the best guitar player in the world, but nowadays I rather want to be the best songwriter in the world.

Tobbe: That could also generate some money if you get credit on the songs.

  • Magnus: Yes, that too. It's still fun to play the guitar, but now my passion is more for writing songs.

Tobbe: Let's go back to the new album again. Did you have any moments you thought were especially good, although I understand that you're satisfied with the entire product?

  • Magnus: I think the song with Ralf is great. I'm generally not that quick with writing lyrics, but there I think I got it all together great with song, melody and lyrics. It's named Higher and it starts low and there are many parts who all escalates slowly and it ends with the word higher, so there I took some self pride, you know. Of course also the song with Tony Harnell, which turned out great. Then also the song that is named from my old band Last Tribe, who was more a power/progressive band. I asked Rickard Bengtsson, who hasn't sung since our last record about 10 years ago, if he wanted to sing a song. It was cool and it was so good that he could deliver this great. I became a bit nervous when he said he hadn't sung since back then, but he did it really great though.

Tobbe: I love the song Fighting with Herman Saming.

  • Magnus: I think that song is very much pop and Herman's band A.C.T is symphonic and progressive. We're old friends and we've been talking about this for a long time, every time we get drunk, we have talked about making an album together. So now when I had an album, I had to ask him. I wanted to write something he could do great on. It's not progressive like A.C.T, but it's a bit a cappella in the bridge and choirs that fit him great.

Tobbe: The reviews of the album have been great. You can't complain about that matter. You have to take some pride in this.

  • Magnus: Yes, they've been fantastic. I haven't even got torn to shreds for my own vocals and that was the album's biggest risk.

Tobbe: What about the collaboration with Daniel Flores? Did you plan this or did the opportunity just show up?

  • Magnus: We've actually done a record together in the past, The Codex with Mark Boals. So we have talked about making something else. Daniel is a good drummer, but he's got one great benefit since he's a drummer and he also mix. Guys who mix records often complain about the recordings of the drums, how they can't fix it because they leak and I thought that he can't complain on his own work. It's an optimal combination. He also likes what I write, so I don't have to say anything to him, as everything turns out just the way I want it to. It saves time and energy and I'm satisfied right away. He's also a great dude, easy to work with. It's the same with the mix. It's was pretty funny. We were talking about the drum sound and things and before I said anything, he had the same references as I and we were speaking the same language, so having him was a very good choice.

Tobbe: So what about the singers? Did any of them record with you present, or was all this long distance work?

  • Magnus: Herman, who sung Fighting, came to my place and did it here. And Micke (Mike Andersson) from Cloudscape from Helsingborg also, because it's nearby. That was all, so everyone else did their work in their studios or elsewhere. I very often work like this, so therefore I'm very detailed with my demos and try to sing the best I can, because they will get it better.

Tobbe: On the other hand, some singers might be kind of special and if they shall copy you, they can't put their own mark on the product.

  • Magnus: Well, it usually works just fine. I've worked with many singers and it's very different how they act. Some of them comes up with a lot of stuff and some sings exactly like I did. Therefore I try to imitate them, even if I can't copy them, but I know a bit what they can do and then they feel safe about it, I think. Russell Allen is a good example. His voice is kind of bluesy and I can't do that, but luckily I always love what he does, so I don't have to tell him to redo it. It would be hard also, because he tours so much, so I would get the next version after about six months.

Tobbe: What about your future? Have you any thoughts for the coming ten years or do you take it as it comes?

  • Magnus: I have no long term plans at all, because of my kids and this whole family thing. If a great offer shows up, I anyway must check with reality before I rush into something. If I was 20, I wouldn't even had thought about it and just said yes, but now a lot of things must run smooth.

Tobbe: In this business you can carry on for a long time.

  • Magnus: Yes, it brings some comfort that people seems to be able to do this until they fall down (die), literally. It doesn't matter if they're 60+, they still rock hard.

Tobbe: Some bands should call it a day though and some have a huge lack of self-distance.

  • Magnus: Naturally, there are some older bands that can't really handle it anymore, but they're still having a good time anyway. Many people wants to see these bands even if they're not on top anymore, as there's still a great entertainment value. What I find sad is these bands that unfortunately have to depend on older songs. Some of these bands are huge and they had two albums that was really great and now they're struggling to play new material.

Tobbe: So not so many thoughts about the future then, except the ones on your family?

  • Magnus: I have a pair of twins and also a 6 year old, so I don't have to think twice about what to do with my time. I don't complain. It's all good and Primal Fear is unbelievable about this. I wonder how the hell they can accept the fact that I play on one tour and can't do the next. They're so great with this.

Tobbe: On the other hand, Primal Fear's member changes have mostly been with the guitarists. I guess nobody will know the difference when you walk up on stage. People will just say "Hey, a new guitarist". No man, I'm just joking. It's not that bad.

  • Magnus: Honestly, I think most of our crowd sees Ralf as the most important element.

Tobbe: Well, I don't know. Ralf isn't the guy that runs around with all these large motions, as he mostly is rather stationary in the center, so I find it important that you other guys back him up real well.

  • Magnus: Absolutely. But I can feel that when I'm headbanging and dig this shit during Ralf's singing parts, nobody notice it. This is where I can adjust my zipper or fix my hair.

Tobbe: Well, that's all for now, so now I will try to finish these 30 minutes with style.

  • Magnus: I hope you can get anything out of this.

Tobbe: Most definitely. I'll talk to you later. Thanks.

  • Magnus: Thank you.

See also: review of the album Free Fall

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