» Erik Mårtensson - Nordic Union
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Interview conducted June 9 2022
Interview published July 29 2022

"I think more like Max Martin and he thinks more like Bob Dylan."

"I was so nerdy that I even started a band."

Nordic Union, the collaboration between Danish vocalist Ronnie Atkins and Swedish songwriter/producer/guitarist, etcetera, Erik Mårtensson, is putting out its third record Animalistic on August 5th.

Metal Covenant has spoken about the record with both musicians on separate occasions. With Atkins on May 20th as he was in Stockholm rehearsing for his solo shows and with Mårtensson on June 9th as he was playing at Sweden Rock Festival with his main band Eclipse.

This is the Mårtensson interview.
The Atkins interview was published on June 25th.

Tobbe: A couple of weeks ago I talked to Ronnie about the record.

Erik: Okay, let's see if we tell the same story then.

Tobbe: So, Erik, a new Nordic Union record. What can you tell me about it?

Erik: Well, it's considerably more metal than it was before. Some double bass drums. It's less Eclipse maybe, and more Pretty Maids maybe, I don't know. But I just wrote songs, and was thinking, "Oh, this was cool!". The second record [Second Coming, 2018] was a bit mid-tempo-ish, so I wanted a bit more speed now.

Tobbe: Yes, there are quite a few faster songs on the record. Ronnie kind of told me that because you wrote the songs that was your idea, but he fully agreed to it.

Erik: Yes, he agreed to it right from the beginning. You know, to metal. He has recently made two pretty poppy solo albums, so he found it fun to sing some hard rock for real again.

Tobbe: I know that you write most of the material, but what is different between working with Ronnie, and Jeff Scott Soto for W.E.T., and maybe Mange [Henriksson] for Eclipse?

Erik: For Nordic Union I pretty much write everything myself, altogether. And the same goes for W.E.T.. I write most of it. Jeff writes a couple of lyrics occasionally and Robban Säll has written less and less. So I do the lion's share of it. Whereas to Eclipse we write together, I and Victor [Crusner], or I and Mange. We're more of a team.

But that's not a project, but it's a band. If I think a song is great, but the other guys don't agree, then it doesn't make it to the record. Nordic Union is more like, "We make a record.", you know. But Ronnie gives his approval to each and every song as well.

Tobbe: Ronnie told me that before the first record some other songwriter provided him with songs, which he didn't approve to. Then another guy came in instead. You might know him; his name is Erik Mårtensson. So, Ronnie has his requirements, obviously.

Erik: In the beginning, when I first came in contact with him, we sent some emails back and forth. He asked me to send him some stuff that I thought was something to work with. He was a bit reserved. So I sent him two songs, and then things turned around quickly, and he was very happy. So that was great. Really fun. And he's super nice as well.

Tobbe: This is a collaboration on Frontiers Records, who are well-known for doing such stuff. How might this record not become just another collaboration that's coming out on that record company?

Erik: Well, it will be. But, you know, on many projects there are several songwriters and people who are just hired to do things, while this is meant to be a band. It's just us two writing the songs. So the same songwriters, which means there's a common thread through it, while on many projects everything just comes from all over the place.

So that's more just pieced together, like, "Sing this song, okay?" and someone else plays on this and that. So Nordic Union functions as a regular band. And it's the same with W.E.T.. We don't use any songwriters from the outside, but we keep it tight, you know.

Tobbe: The main difference seems to be that here there's a guy in the band who's writing the songs, and consequently cares more about the end result.

Erik: Definitely. It's not just bringing in a bunch of random songs, like, "This is good. This one is good too. This one is decent; let's use that one too.".

Tobbe: Maybe they're like, "As long as I get paid.".

Erik: But that's important too. To me it's really, really important. Of course I get paid to do this, but if it wouldn't be good, I wouldn't do it. It has to turn out good, otherwise it would be completely pointless to do it. And I must feel that it's fun to do. If I wouldn't feel so, no one else is gonna feel that either.

Tobbe: You have told me before about the difficulties to get Nordic Union out to play live. In what way do you look at this matter today? Might there be a couple of gigs announced anytime soon?

Erik: Well, it would be great to do that. I'm very positive to the idea. But on the other hand, we play with Eclipse regularly and it's a huge job to put a set together, you know. And you need a few gigs to do this too. I haven't talked to him after he came home from his tour. How he experienced it and how he coped. He is however ill, you know.

Tobbe: And can you elaborate on how you get paid for doing this?

Erik: I have a budget as a musician, for recording, and for songwriting, and Ronnie has a budget to book his studio, and to sing. So he has, you know, a fee. So that's the budget for making the actual record. But if we're gonna go out playing, then we must get some money to do that of course.

I would gladly play without making money on Nordic Union, just because it would be really great to do it. I mean, I didn't start playing guitar in order to make money. That thought never occurred to me.

And you always got to remember that. You start with music because you love music, and not because you're gonna make money off it. But then there's also a reality, where you have to pay the electricity bill and fuel and stuff.

So, of course, there has to be money in the picture. But in the end, it's the people who purchase tickets and records who are paying for this, you know. I'm eternally grateful that they're willing to do that.

Tobbe: Back to the record. You have told me before that you write completely new material every time you write for an album and don't have old stuff lying around. I guess that goes for this one too, right?

Erik: Yes, there were no old songs. Nothing. I wrote everything exclusively for this one. I was only writing for this record. And it was fun to do it, as it became a little bit more metal. There was a new door opening. I could do stuff that I haven't done before.

And that makes it kind of easy sometimes, because all of a sudden there are new colors to paint with, so that you don't make the same thing that you've done before. I think it's always important to make changes. We do that in Eclipse too, like small steps and changes, because you must not paint yourselves into a corner, you know.

Tobbe: It must be difficult sometimes, because every songwriter has a certain style.

Erik: Yes, you write the same song over and over again. You write songs you like. In a way you are kind of narrow. Well, in a way you are. Like, "Oh, this is great!". So the same type of chorus often comes out. Well, in some way anyway.

Tobbe: There's a bigger step between the second album and the new one, than it is between the first and second. Did you find yourself thinking about developing the sound, before you even started the songwriting process?

Erik: Well, I liked the second album quite a lot, but in retrospect I think it was a little bit sluggish. So I think it was fun to now make something that broke that off a bit. And Ronnie is able to sing metal in a great way, you know.

Pretty Maids also makes albums that are spread sometimes, where there are some real metal songs, but then some pop song appears. So, very spread, you know. And that goes for this one as well. But I don't know. I have a sound, you know. You write songs and, "This was great!", and then you pick that one.

Tobbe: Ronnie also told me that you asked him to write more lyrics to the album than he in fact did in the end. He wasn't in the best of places, so only lyrics to two of the songs were penned by him.

Erik: He was in the middle of making his solo album, and his situation hasn't been a bed of roses in the last couple of years. I didn't take it in a way that he didn't care. Definitely not. And it suits me fine, as I got to write lyrics, and I like writing lyrics.

Tobbe: Is there really a bigger difference in the end result depending on who's writing the lyrics?

Erik: Well, he thinks in the way of meaning. He wants to tell something. I want to do that as well, but for me it's very important that it sounds good phonetically. When I write the lyrics, they become catchier.

I think more like Max Martin and he thinks more like Bob Dylan. I'm not so concerned, and if it sounds good, then it is good. It doesn't always have to… Well, it can't come out crappy, but the words must sound interesting within the context, you know. That's very important.

Tobbe: Back in the day, I used to read the lyrics on the inner sleeve while listening to records. Did you do that as well? Nowadays it seems like people don't really do that so frequently, for all I know.

Erik: But some people still do, and writing for those people is what's fun, you know. And of course I used to read the lyrics. But we are music nerds, you and I. I was so nerdy that I even started a band. And getting to play at Sweden Rock, it's unbelievable. It's like an eye of a needle. And it's the nerdery that got me here, you know.

Tobbe: I talked to Ronnie around the time for the release of Second Coming and asked him, like, "How come you guys make a second album?". He then said that it kind of wasn't you and he who decided to make that one, but it was rather Frontiers' decision. I asked him kind of the same question again recently and now I'm asking you: How come you guys make a third album now?

Erik: You know, it has been in the pipeline for quite some time to make a third album. And Frontiers wanted a third, and we both wanted to make a third. We didn't have a contract for this one. But it was kind of there if they wanted to make one. So we said, "Let's go!". And I like to do it, because I think it's really great to work with Ronnie. It's an honor for me.

As a music fan it's an honor for me to make a record with Ronnie, or with W.E.T. with Jeff Scott Soto. It's really cool, like, "I have bands together with Ronnie Atkins and Jeff Scott Soto.". I have to pinch myself. It's unbelievable. It's sick.

Tobbe: And you're the boss.

Erik: [Laughs] Yes, how the hell did that happen? But it's great. I'm very humble before the fact that I work with them. To me it's really fun. And they get to work with someone who cares, you know. I hope that feeling is mutual. It has to be fun.

Tobbe: Another thing Ronnie told me is that some of the drums are programmed.

Erik: Yes, that may be the case.

Tobbe: Let me hear to what extent. Honestly now.

Erik: Some of the songs are, and some of the songs aren't. I can't tell the difference, actually. I don't think anyone can. When you make metal drums, you don't really hear a difference, because when you have processed a regular drum kit, it doesn't sound drums whatsoever when it done.

There's no other instrument that sounds so different between what you hear in reality and on a record. When the mixing is done, it barely sounds like drums. If you stand in a room and listen to a drum kit, it's just a damn noise.

Tobbe: Well, already back in the day people were cheating.

Erik: Yes, everybody has always done everything possible in order to make it better. You're just stupid if you don't do that, really. Like, "No triggered drums. It must be natural.", - "Oh, well. It still sounds like beating on a biscuit tin box. What did you gain by doing that?".

I mean, on the first Slayer album [Show No Mercy, 1983], they played the drums, but played no cymbals. The cymbals were added later to make it tighter. I think that's very funny. You can hear them hitting the cymbals afterwards. It becomes totally illogical. Really funny.

See also: interview with Ronnie Atkins one month earlier

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