» Jona Tee - New Horizon
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Interview conducted December 8 2021
Interview published December 18 2021

"I have a lot of thoughts and stuff, but I don't wanna be in the frontline."

New Horizon is a collaboration between musical prodigy Jona Tee and lead vocalist Erik Grönwall, one current and one former member of Swedish melodic metal band H.E.A.T. But make no mistake, this new stuff, although I've only heard one single song, is a real heavy/power metal blast, and probably not what most people would expect if looking at what these guys have put out prior to their upcoming album Gate Of The Gods.

I went down to Jona's studio to talk about this coming New Horizon album, with a yet to be revealed release date, and came home with quite some cool and unexpected information, as he among other stuff broke the news about upcoming releases in 2022 from his other two bands H.E.A.T and Crowne as well.

Tobbe: New Horizon is a collaboration featuring yourself and Erik Grönwall, and tell me how this came to life in the very beginning.

Jona: It has probably just grown, in some way. I have always written stuff that maybe isn't fitting for H.E.A.T. You know, I've added some progressive and some metal stuff and then I've played it for the guys and they've been like "Well, maybe this doesn't fit.". So I have put some of these ideas in a pile somewhere and, like, "Maybe this will turn out to something some day.".

And I'm going to a Christmas party this weekend with my buddies and we've done that for 15 years and once the clock hits 7 or 8 we put on the power metal that we listened to in high school, like HammerFall, Helloween, Blind Guardian, and a lot of Manowar. You know, we sit there and just bawl and sing. So around that thing I maybe started feeling kind of like "I wanna do this as well.", you know.

When I had signed with Frontiers to do the Crowne album [Kings In The North, 2021], I just sent them some stuff and asked them if it was something they were interested in, and they loved the songs, you know. In the beginning I was thinking about using several lead singers, kind of like Avantasia, but not a rock opera, you know. Like a project and just play everything myself and do something that's mine, you know.

I had Nisse [Molin] from Dynazty, Kenny [Leckremo] from H.E.A.T and Erik and a couple of other singers. And then to use a whole lot of different guitarists who would play solos and stuff, which in the end actually happened now.

So Erik came down and put down vocals on two songs, and it sounded so great. I'm not sure, but I think he just said "Shouldn't I sing on the entire record?" and I was like "Yes, you're gonna do that!". All bits and pieces just fell into place.

It just suddenly became so simple, like "Let's just do it!". We were in the same band for about 10 years and now we were like "Let's do this! You and I.", because we have always been getting along really well. Like "We are the core and let's see what happens around us.". I would write music and lyrics and so, and he would basically front the band, you know. So that's where we are, you know.

Tobbe: It took quite some time to get this record out considering you have listened to this kind of music in your youth. I understand that maybe H.E.A.T has been "a little bit in the way", if you know what I mean?

Jona: Yes, exactly. It hasn't been like H.E.A.T has been in the way maybe. Well, perhaps anyway. Well, maybe it's not the right terms, but H.E.A.T has been in focus and prioritized, you know. But now I've started opening up for having other creative channels and I perhaps have more productivity than there's room for in H.E.A.T. I mean, we can't make 3 H.E.A.T albums a year. I think I started recording this stuff in 2019, so it has been quite a lengthy process.

Tobbe: I, and I guess quite a few people, have only listened to one song yet, which is We Unite. So to what extent is that song representative for the rest of the material on the album?

Jona: It's quite funny, because it's both representative and perhaps not, because the album is quite varied. That song is kind of a little more power metal, but then some songs are more classic heavy metal, almost a bit Judas Priest-ish, you know. And some songs have a more modern touch, like closer to modern power metal.

The next single, that will be out in January, is definitely more classic heavy metal, you know. It's really cool. And the third single has perhaps a little bit of a more modern touch, like modern Swedish power metal. The title track of the album is an 8-minute epic song. I don't know how much I'm allowed to say, you know, because the press release for the whole album isn't out yet.

But I wanted a song in the vein of what Iron Maiden used to always put last on their albums, like Alexander The Great. You know, an epic track. And then there's a really fast one, with speedy bass drums, which maybe is reminiscent to old Stratovarius and stuff like that. But I think it might be a fun album, like it can be fun for quite some time, you know.

Tobbe: Let's go through the guest artists on the album. Let's start with Robban Bäck.

Jona: I like him. He's a really great drummer, you know. I was thinking, like, "He will understand exactly what I wanna have.". We talked a lot about Ingo Schwichtenberg from Helloween and those kinds of old drummers. I didn't have to give him so many instructions and he added his flavor with his neat chops and so. It worked out really well. A lot of people think it's programed drums, but hell no, he has played each and every stroke, you know.

Tobbe: Sam Totman. Was he sober?

Jona: I don't know actually. Well, he missed one opportunity to record because he became hammered instead. [Laughs] Well, Sam. I co-wrote a song with him. Well, I had written the song, but I had no solo part. So he wrote the solo part, and the bridge actually, like 1,5-2 minutes of the song. He nailed it instantly. I sent a voice memo to him and told him "Something like that, okay?" and he sent some stuff and I was like "Okay, nice. You get it.".

So there are solo duels between Sam and me and Niko Vuorela from Temple Balls too. I have produced Temple Balls' last two albums and also played on the first one of them. And he's really good, you know. I checked him out when he recorded and I was like "He's gonna be on the album.", so I asked him. He plays the solo on 2 or 3 songs.

I think there will be a lot of focus on this being Erik's new thing, and rightfully so, but there are also incredibly great guitar solos on the album. I mean, awesome guitarists and if you like guitar solos this is definitely an album where you can find nuggets, you know.

Tobbe: Love [Magnusson].

Jona: Yes, he's playing on one song, the fastest one. A completely wild solo too. He laid down the solos on the Crowne album as well. So I asked him if he could play a solo on this album too. Really awesome. And then we got Laucha [Figueroa] too. He's so great. He's my dream guitarist. We met when we played with Martina Edoff in Buenos Aires in 2015. 3 kids came to our hotel. They had found out where we stayed, you know. I think they fooled us about being from some magazine, but they just wanted to hang out.

So we were on a roof top and started following each other on Instagram and I saw what an awesome guitar player he was. A mix between Yngwie Malmsteen and Michael Romeo from Symphony X and a bit John Petrucci, you know. So I contacted him too. He plays on 4 of the songs, I think. And he plays the solo on We Unite, which in fact was the first one we did. I think he recorded that solo about two years ago, so it has been kind of in a marinade since then, you know.

Tobbe: I've only got one name left on my list. A guy from H.E.A.T maybe, called Dave [Dalone].

Jona: Oh, yeah. Dave is playing too. He actually plays on the next single and he's going to be in the video as well. But Dave, yes. He's my oldest friend, you know. Of course he was going to be on the album too.

Tobbe: So how much of this album have you completely done by your own hands?

Jona: I play all the rhythm guitars, all bass, all synthesizers, and I have laid down all the choirs. Maybe Erik was doing some choirs as well? And I have written everything, besides the title track Gate Of The Gods, which came out of an old H.E.A.T idea that didn't work there, who I wrote with Crash and Erik. And then the one with Sam of course. And then recorded and mixed everything. So it's really my own baby, you know.

Tobbe: What's the greatest thing with doing almost everything yourself around your own creation?

Jona: You know, the most pleasant part of it is that I'm working on your own. [Laughs] No matter how much I love producing other guys and it's really great to jump into to a band and be a member, you always have to be, like, a layman psychologist, and get things together.

There's something special about coming down here in the morning and I'm sitting here all alone and getting to do my stuff, you know. That's actually really nice. But sometimes I might also get trapped inside my own ideas to some extent, so I guess it's both a blessing and a curse. Yet, I appreciate doing it this way. It's just great to have an outlet for the creativity.

Tobbe: How about playing live? Any talks about it?

Jona: We're pretty open for it, but we wanna play shows that we would consider fun. We won't go out on a club tour, and grinding it, and building it that way. That's not our ambition. In addition I've got H.E.A.T and we have plenty of dates booked next year. So if we get any gigs that we think is fun, and if we can afford to do them, and if we have the time, then we will do them. That's where we are right now.

God knows what will happen in 10 years. You can't predict that. But this is how things look at the moment. So, I would say, probably we will do some shows next year. Probably. That was not our initial thought, but Erik and I have such a good time when we're out on tour. It's the best, you know. And hence we get the urge to go out.

Tobbe: You mentioned another side project of yours earlier, Crowne, who put out an album just 6 months ago actually. So what does the future of Crowne look like? Do you have anything at all to share with me?

Jona: Yes, we will have a new record out next year. …If I'm allowed to say that? But either way there will be one out. [Laughs] Well, fuck it! So it's coming, you know.

Tobbe: But I guess that the New Horizon album will be out first.

Jona: Yes, the New Horizon album is done and delivered, you know. It was done sometime during this summer, but we have been waiting for Erik to get healthy enough for us to make the videos. He has gone through a bone marrow transplant and shit, you know. And our label wanted to wait until we could film the videos, you know. But now, finally, we're doing it.

Tobbe: Is there a possibility to see some live shows from Crowne as well?

Jona: Maybe. For me personally it's probably even less likely than with New Horizon. But there are different aspects of it too, like with Erik, because he doesn't have anything else than New Horizon, so I think he's really excited about playing live. And Crowne: I know that Kicken [Christian Lundqvist] is really excited about gigs, and I think Alex [Strandell] is too. But John Levén is going out with Europe for the whole next year and I have a lot of shows with H.E.A.T.

So it might be a tight schedule, and it's not like it's only because of the time it takes for the actual show, but you're gonna have fucking 3 or 4 different sets in your head, and potentially on different instruments. That's a whole lot, considering doing just a gig now and then.

Tobbe: You put out quite a few records these days. Crowne: this past June, New Horizon: pending, Crowne: again next year. So when will we see the next H.E.A.T album out?

Jona: We're making it right now. We're laying down vocals at the moment and Kenny was here last night. We have no release date yet, but it's on its way. We hope to get a single out in the beginning of next year, before we go on tour. In the best of worlds we have an album out in early May. Nothing is set yet, but we're making it. Everything is recorded and I'm, as we speak, sending the first song to mixing.

Tobbe: What do you do besides working with music? If you even do anything.

Jona: Well, I guess it's family stuff. I have a kid that I'm playing with. A pretty regular life. We haven't been on tour, you know. But a really huge part of life is about music, you know. And that's to some extent a blessing and a curse, because you can't really just shut the tap when it's flowing. Sometimes I lie in bed, as I'm going to sleep, and listen to voice memos or mixes, you know. It's always present, for better or for worse.

Tobbe: You always seem to consciously take a withdrawn position and less credit than you actually deserve. Why is that, really?

Jona: Well, I don't know, but I have something against personal chest-beating. You know, if people think my music is good, then I'll get to know that sooner or later, like if the streaming figures are good or if people write nice comments. You know, I'm out there, I'm on Instagram, I'm on social media and I see fragments of what people think. So that's after all a sweet pay-off. I have no need of being kind of a celebrity, you know.

I like having some kind of a figurehead, just like Erik. He's perfect, because he enjoys being in the center of attention. And the same with Kenny. He's like the Duracell Bunny. Just wind him up and push him out on stage. [Laughs] I love being on stage too and so, but I don't make speeches and stuff like that. Yet, I wouldn't mind writing the speech, if you know what I mean? I have a lot of thoughts and stuff, but I don't wanna be in the frontline.

Maybe it's just out of old habit and maybe if I would be a frontman for something I would get used to it and become more comfortable. But now it just feels safe and sweet the way it is.

Tobbe: Most bands on the other hand need one fixed person that is more visible to the public than the other guys. That's just the way it works most of the time.

Jona: You know, in the beginning with H.E.A.T we were more equals in a way, like "Everyone is a musician. We're a band.". But when Erik joined the band we were like "We need a clear frontman.". He grew so much in that role and became so great, you know. And now it's really natural for him to be up front.

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