» Chris Laney - Pretty Maids
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Interview conducted August 05 2017
Interview published September 20 2017

Metal Covenant met up with Pretty Maids' keyboarder/guitarist Chris Laney right after the show at Sweden's Skogsröjet festival in August and took the opportunity to also propose some questions about his past achievements with bands like Shotgun and Randy Piper's Animal.

"But before that, shit had already hit the fan big-time between me and Piper. He met a woman who tried to convince him that I tried to screw him over financially and stuff and he believed every word of it."

Tobbe: Why did you decide to join Pretty Maids last year?

Chris: Because I was asked to. [Laughs] It's that simple, really. In 1983, and I have argued with Ronnie [Atkins, vocals] over this actually because he says that it was in 1984, but I claim that in 1983 I was watching a TV program, on Danish TV, in Helsingborg [Sweden] you could watch Danish TV, that was called Heavy Metal and they had a special about Danish bands, Mercyful Fate and Pretty Maids, and they played the song Fantasy [1983 Demo] and I just knew that I wanted to hear more from that band. So, my love affair started there. I have liked them for a very long time and therefore the decision was so easy and, you know, even my wife likes them.

Tobbe: And the Kingmaker album, that was out in November last year, how much were you involved with that one? Even if it was just pushing a button on the board.

Chris: I can tell you exactly what I did. The only thing I did was playing and co-writing the solo on the song Kingmaker. Because I came in so late in the whole process. I was asked in April if I knew someone who played keyboard and guitar and who could sing and I said "I can do that." and they said "Yeah, right!". But it didn't take that long before Kenneth [Ken Hammer, guitar] called me and said he had been talking to other people and those guys told him that I was the right guy.

So I didn't do anything more at all, but I was sent rough mixes and since Ken knows me as a producer he wanted my opinion of the song order and which song I thought would be the single and stuff like that. We didn't fully agree, but it is what it is. [Laughs] And that's why you hire a producer, because of his opinion, you know.

Tobbe: How do you look at your own part in the band? I mean, the two older guys [Ken and Ronnie] have been around for 35 years and what can you do to put forward your own ideas, even if it's first and foremost in the live environment right now?

Chris: You know, it has come pretty natural, even if I at first was kind of laid back. It actually started with: Before I joined the band I was supposed to go on a try-out for 3 gigs. That's the way it was. You know, I hadn't played the keyboards in many years and it's also about how you are as a person. If you fit right in and so. I mean, you will pretty much live together and we've already made almost 70 gigs this year and I meet them more than I meet my own family at home. So we headlined a festival in Bulgaria in front of 8000 and I almost shit my pants.

A few weeks later we were going to the USA for a Monsters Of Rock cruise, but when we were going to the airport it was very important that only I, Kenneth and Ronnie went there, because they took me to their local pub and suddenly they took a tray full of shots to the table and "Do you want to join the band?". So things happened faster than I expected. So I had kind of a family meeting at home. Well, I said yes to the guys immediately, but I pretended that the other's opinion would make a difference. [Laughs] No, things went just fine, really.

So, my part from there is I've been given the chance to grow into it and in the beginning Ronnie didn't want any guitars almost and he just wanted keyboards. In his head every Pretty Maids song is a whole lot of keyboards, but if you listen to the albums it's really not the case and especially not the old stuff. Like when I play the song Rodeo, I play a whole lot of keyboard even if it is a guitar based song. So it's been kind of hard for us to decide what I should do, but now Ronnie is like "You know, you should probably play guitar on this one.". Because it's cooler, even visually. And since I play both guitar and keyboards it opens up the possibility to try to play other songs and that's what we're talking about now, what we will do, and it's really fun.

Tobbe: But isn't it more fun to hold a guitar in your hands and be out on the stage, rather than standing behind the keyboards in the back?

Chris: I thought so in the beginning. With hand on heart, the keyboard was a necessary evil to play with Pretty Maids, you know. But I actually don't think so anymore because I like the combination. I will be really honest, and if you go back through my history, in 1986 we played as support act to Treat for the second time with my old band Scratch and when I saw Anders Wikström play both keyboard and guitar I decided to play guitar. So I was a keyboarder in the beginning and it's something that shouldn't be forgotten. So keyboard was one of my first instruments and I played it for many years before I played guitar.

But I think people are used to see me as a guitarist or a bassist, so maybe people have more problem with it than I do. But to me it was more to get back into it again, so I practiced so fucking much and on our vacation last year I brought a keyboard to Turkey and when the kids were swimming in the pool I was on the balcony with a Gin & Tonic over Pretty Maids songs and a keyboard.

Tobbe: You have played with quite a few bands over the years and why have you never become deeply rooted in one band? You know, like Ronnie and Ken have pretty much been in the same band the whole time. There's probably more than one reason to it, I guess.

Chris: Yes, there is. I mean, it was really easy for Ronnie and Ken because they could pursue a career out of it. But to begin in, let's say in the 2000s, I mean, we started Zan Clan, you know, and no one knew what the kick-ass rock 'n' roll or sleaze thing was, and that's why we did it. You know, kind of like "Let's bring back Shotgun Messiah!". I mean, kind of like that, and not a fucker understood a damn thing, you know. We had some followers there, but then I got some other offers and, you know, if no money comes in you've got to look for a place where there is money or one further step in your career and in this case two guys ended up in The Poodles.

I mean, it's the way things work, you know. I could have been stubborn and just kept on going, but I also have to make money and I have a family as well. So after all attempts I've done I took a decision to go back to being a producer because I still can make money there. I had pretty much given up on my career and I started to get to know these guys in another way than being a musician in the band.

Tobbe: If you're not an actual musician you will have more of a solid income, hopefully.

Chris: Yes. That's right. You never become rich by playing rock 'n' roll. I mean, there's only a few who can actually live off their music. I have been having the luxury to live on the music for almost 20 years. But during the last 5 years it hasn't been possible, you know, and then it's a luxury to be able to do this with Pretty Maids of course.

Tobbe: A couple of years ago you were doing some shows with Shotgun and celebrated the 25th anniversary of the first Shotgun Messiah record, even if you didn't play on it, and have you thought about making a 30 years anniversary as well?

Chris: Will never happen. Will never happen. But I'm a little bit sad that it didn't become more. We got an offer to do a full European tour, but under the circumstances that adults can't work with. If we had been 25 we would have gone out, you know. But it wasn't okay, you know, money-wise. I mean, we would have to take 5 weeks off and earn piss, you know. But that's what bands do, who wants to promote something to sell it, but in this case we weren't going to sell something, but we were going to celebrate something. So that's a huge difference and we all agreed on that decision and like "Oh, we can't do this.".

But everything is recorded, in order to make a DVD, but we haven't come so far yet. We put out the live album [Live: Down Decadencia Drive. Out May 2016], but all the material for a DVD is there. So maybe some day soon… But it's not so strange, because when you celebrate a record you capture the moment and we can't play Bop City - 26 years, you know.

Tobbe: Obviously you're out with Pretty Maids now, but what's happening with your other bands at the moment? You mentioned Zan Clan and will anything happen there? Or maybe Gathering Of Kings, for example.

Chris: Gathering Of Kings is a project where I have contributed with some songs and I have played keyboards and done backing vocals on a few songs as well. I don't have to be so involved there because Plec [Thomas Johansson] is the producer. Initially I was going to produce and Plec was going to do the mastering, among other stuff. But there was no time for me to do it and unlike him I'm not in a recording studio, but a mixing studio, and I would have to pay for some recording studio time somewhere and that would have been expensive. A lot of things like that, you know.

I think it's great and I'm excited to see what happens because right now I don't really know what it will be like. So much has happened since I joined Pretty Maids and I haven't really had time for something else. But Zan Clan is no more. Well, maybe if I and Zinny… [Zan, vocals] You know, he's my best friend. We're so tight and we keep in touch every month. If I was on my death bed and my family would need a 100000 bucks, he would make it happen, you know what I mean? A friend like that.

But, you know, we had our thing and unfortunately it didn't turn out better in the end, but what we did we're really proud of. I would have no problem with going out and doing a one-off gig, but then it would have to be with the original members. It would be really fun, you know.

Tobbe: We must talk a little bit about Animal too. On the album Violent New Breed [2006] the other band members got songwriting credits as well, so how much of the album did you personally write, really?

Chris: Everything. I entered that process like this: Because I didn't want any bullshit I told them that we would share it in 3 equal parts and that it doesn't matter who comes up with ideas as long as the songs are good. And that was it. It wasn't like "I must also write a song." and then that song comes out not as good as the rest and gets thrown in the trash. That record was done before I went to the USA. So I went to Cincinnati and recorded Rich [Lewis, vocals] and [Randy] Piper [guitar].

But on the second record [Virus, 2008] Piper actually wrote half of a song by himself, which is a really good one I think, Shoot To Kill. But then I brought in Rich's son, who unfortunately has passed away with cancer, and he wrote the lyrics to one of the songs. Add then Piper's son actually were rapping on one of the songs. So it became kind of a family thing. I wanted them to realize, like "C'mon, guys. This can be fun.", you know.

Tobbe: I can't say that you copied old W.A.S.P. stuff, but it definitely ended up in that layer.

Chris: Yes, absolutely. It actually began with me hearing a record called 900 Lb. Steam [Animal's debut record. Out 2002] and I think it so completely sucked. I was so fucking disappointed, so I contacted Piper and said "You fucking idiot. You must sound like W.A.S.P. That's what people want from you.". So the whole idea was to make the W.A.S.P. album that W.A.S.P. doesn't do today. So that's why it sounds so much like W.A.S.P..

Tobbe: Didn't it feel kind of odd occasionally to write music in the same vibe as another band?

Chris: But that was the whole plan, you know. My idea was: "If W.A.S.P. would reunite, they would make one song like Wild Child, one [Animal] Fuck Like A Beast and they would make one I Wanna Be Somebody and I wanna make those songs then and we will do it as close as we can.".

Tobbe: I think a lot of people who listened to the band don't realize that it actually was you who were the band's driving force and might that be a little bit frustrating to you?

Chris: No, absolutely not. That was the whole idea. The band was called Animal in the beginning and I was the one who wanted to chance the name to Randy Piper's Animal. He didn't want to do that, but "Who gives a fuck about a band called Animal?". I mean, when it said Randy Piper too we suddenly had a sales spot and he was like "Uh.".

Tobbe: But you guys actually had a period where you were getting some recognition in 2007.

Chris: What happened was, and I will be totally honest, without looking at the relation between me and Piper and just seeing it from a business perspective first: Piper was always nagging about Violent New Breed wasn't released in the USA and it was frustrating to him because he wanted to grow in the USA, you know. So I got us a new record company that was called… I don't even remember what the hell they were called. But never mind. They had an office in New York, one in Germany and one in London. Everything went really great and we signed the papers, but then it started when the front cover came back and it didn't look like the one I sent to them. So they had changed the whole cover. And they had misspelled stuff and there were no pictures.

I have a cover, with a picture on my daughter. The cover has the same colors and stuff, but it has a kid with a teddy bear and a gasmask. That's my daughter. That's the Virus thought. You know, a little scary. But then there was some fucking, I don't know, lung and "What the fuck have they done?". So I was totally furious, but they just said that they had already sent stuff for pressing and otherwise it wouldn't work in the USA. That was their answer, but the day after the record was released, and this is completely true, the record company went bankrupt. So the record is released and just dies. Totally dead, and that broke me down completely.

But before that, shit had already hit the fan big-time between me and Piper. He met a woman who tried to convince him that I tried to screw him over financially and stuff and he believed every word of it. But as I told him when I first met him, and I must openly say this because I think people wonder since I even sued his band W.A.S. as well. Anyway, this is how it works: When I met Piper I was going to transfer some money to him and I asked for his bank account and he was like "I don't have one. The I.R.S. are after me.". So I told him "Then how the hell can you complain about Blackie [Lawless] never paying you, you idiot? How the hell will you get your money if you don't have a bank account?".

And then I landed us a gig at Sweden Rock Festival and told him that we were going to play right before the national anthem when the place is packed with people and Piper just went "3 o'clock, afternoon? How about the lasers and shit? Aren't we gonna have a laser show?". I was like "Who said that? What decade do you live in?". So right there it started and then that woman totally manipulated him to the great extent that he became enemies with everyone he knew. It's really tragic, you know. For real. But now he has met a new woman, has become religious, looking really good and I hope that he's doing well.

I have met the guys who played in W.A.S., who I sued as well, because they put out an album with the same songs as our album. I have met Stet Howland [drums] and the whole bunch and we keep in contact and it's just Piper that I don't have any contact with. So they have figured out that he unfortunately can't be trusted. But deep within he's really a sweet person, but I believe that the rock 'n' roll lifestyle destroyed too much. That's what I can say. I loved him in the beginning and we all had a good time.

Tobbe: Where there never any jealousy in the band, considering that it really was you who were behind pretty much everything?

Chris: Never. I think because Piper was so convinced he was right about everything and did everything, I think he even believed that he wrote the songs. And that's why there was no jealousy. I mean, you know, it's so simple, really. [Laughs] But there was no bullshit song-wise and he was like "Hey! This is a fucking good tune.". On Violent New Breed he played 5 solos and the rest was I and on Virus I think he maybe did 5 as well and then Love [Magnusson] from Dynazty played one and then I played the rest of them. I tried to make my solos sound like Chris Holmes. You know, I'm such a fan and I will always be.

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