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Interview conducted August 3 2018
Interview published August 10 2018

"We try to stick in the middle somehow and get a little bit of each."

Metal Covenant met up with vocalist Ronnie Atkins of Danish heavy metal/hard rock institution Pretty Maids as the band made a stop at Skogsröjet festival on one of many rides through Sweden over the years.

Tobbe: You've been out playing the Future World [1987] album and you're still playing it occasionally and what initially led up to the idea to play that album in full?

Ronnie: I think just the fact that it was, like, a 30th anniversary and somebody asked for it and we just gave it a little thought, you know. And then some more people required it, you know. We haven't really played that much this summer. We've been laying low, you know, doing all kinds of other stuff. Maybe we'll do it 1 or 2 times more this year, and that's it, then we're done.

Tobbe: You played a couple of weeks ago at Bang Your Head and why was it the right time to record a live DVD at this point?

Ronnie: I mean, we signed on to do a DVD with the record company a while ago, you know, and a new studio album. So last time we did, like, a best of kind of thing [It Comes Alive (Maid In Switzerland), 2012], and this was, like, 6 years ago, and we just thought "All right" and they wanted us to do the Future World thing plus some extra stuff and we kind of agreed to do it.

Tobbe: You still play a lot of songs off Future World and some from the first album [Red, Hot And Heavy, 1984] live. Have you ever considered playing fewer songs from those two first albums and play a lot of the more recent stuff instead?

Ronnie: I would love to. But the thing is: there's so many people that expect us to play some of this stuff, you know what I mean? Which is kind of cool. I mean, that people still remember those songs, from back in the '80s, you know. So we try to combine it a little bit. It's always difficult when you've done 15 or 16 studio albums or 14 or whatever we've done. It's fucking hard.

You know, it's hard to please everybody plus yourself. Of course, for me, it's more fun to play the recent stuff. But that said, I still enjoy doing a song like Future World. Particularly that song very much defines the band; what it was all about.

Tobbe: 'Cause you have a lot of great songs on the more recent albums as well, so.

Ronnie: Yeah. I mean, I think the last 3 albums we've done are some of the best we ever did. Actually the best since during the '80s. Maybe Spooked [1997]; I also think it's a very good album. I don't think we ever released a really bad album. But I mean, there are albums that… I think on albums like Wake Up To The Real World [2006] and Planet Panic [2002] we were, like, stuck; "Where are we gonna go?", you know.

Tobbe: Pretty Maids is a band that is kind of hard to define, because you have heavy metal songs, you have ballads and you have, like, hard rock songs. So what goes through your mind when you're about to start writing music for an album?

Ronnie: We always just rolled with what came to our heads; what came to mind, you know. Ken [Hammer, guitar] and I grew up with the NWOBHM stuff and all of the '70s stuff like Rainbow, Sabbath, Zeppelin and Purple. All that kind of stuff. But at the same time we always loved Foreigner and Journey and all the American AOR kind of thing, you know. Basically a good song is a good song. We both like both things, you know.

I think it's been kind of confusing sometimes for people, like "What does these guys want?". We try to stick in the middle somehow and get a little bit of each. It's just what we like. Basically I'm just a fan of a good riff, and a good melody and stuff like that, you know. I'm the pop animal in the band anyway.

Tobbe: And you still frequently put out records. So where do you find inspiration nowadays, when releasing records for over 30 years?

Ronnie: Well, you tell me. I don't fucking know. I mean, I'm just about to write a new album, so let's see. You know, if we have a deadline, like when we did Kingmaker [2016], literally we maybe had 2-4 vague ideas and basically that album was written within a month or two, just prior of going into the studio. So I hope that's gonna happen again.

I mean, it's difficult to give you a straight answer for it. If you're a songwriter you get inspired, you know. Sometimes you're more inspired than other times. I'm like: Every time I have an idea, that could be in the middle of the night, it could be while I'm having guests in my house for dinner; we have a little red wine, very often actually, it's "Sorry guys. I'll better leave. I got a melody stuck in my head.". Or a riff or something. And I go upstairs and record, you know. Just put it down on my iPhone.

I mean, a big part of the album is here, right in my pocket. Some of the stuff you never really use, but some of it: "Hey! I can use this for this.". There's songs that I keep, that I didn't even had to record, but I still have in my head.

For example, the song Little Drops Of Heaven from Pandemonium [2010] was written like that. That was an old song. That was a song I basically wrote in 2000 or something and Ken came up with the title for it and it was actually called She's All That or something. And then we kind of played against each other and we ended up with something that everybody could like, you know. But that was an old idea that I kept having in my head. I knew it was very, very pop, the melody and the song, and I knew it was hard to sell maybe to Kenny, but he likes a good melody in a song as well.

So we ended up having that song sounding Pretty Maids-like. We produced it into being a Pretty Maids song. It was an old idea, but when Ken has a riff or ideas or something, he puts it down on his iPhone as well. We'll get together pretty soon and just throw ideas at each other. It's the way it works.

Tobbe: Do you always try to improve with every record now? Or is that impossible to always try to make better records?

Ronnie: No, it's a good vision to have, and it's a good goal to have, to do that. But I mean, it's difficult. The only thing we always did was that we did the best we could at the time being.

Tobbe: In what way do you try to avoid making the same songs all over again?

Ronnie: Well, it's hard not to repeat yourself. 'Cause I mean, also that's what we are, that's what we sound like, you know. But we don't deliberately sit down, as we did in the old days, like: we would sit down and "Now we're gonna do a song like Back To Back." or "Now we're gonna do a song like Red, Hot And Heavy." or something like that. We actually did that when we did the Future World album. Turned out a little different, but… But we don't do that anymore; we just do what comes to mind.

Tobbe: A lot of musicians say that they're making their music just for themselves and not for their fans, but if you don't get recognition from the fans…

Ronnie: We are writing the songs for ourselves, more or less, but with the fans in mind of course, you know. I mean, if we did, like, a jazz record, we'd know that we wouldn't sell anything. We're so fortunate that we happen to like the same kind of music as our fans do basically. But first of all we write songs to make the best possible song that we can.

Tobbe: Do you think that there's a bigger demand for Pretty Maids now than it ever was, pretty much? Or is it on the same level all the time?

Ronnie: I don't know. I mean, times are different now, you know. If this would have been the '80s, it would have been something different. But the great thing about hard rock and heavy metal is that it never dies. It never dies; it'll always be there, and that's great. But also it's great to see that so many young fans are coming on board. So yeah, that's cool. I don't know; we did Pandemonium, so since 2010 we've definitely had kind of a second coming. There's a lot of people turning up now and we draw more and more people.

Tobbe: Do you think that Pretty Maids could have been even a bigger act if you would have made some other decisions or choices back in the day?

Ronnie: Absofuckinglutely. Absolutely; for sure. We had the wrong management, we signed with the wrong record label. I mean, we signed with Sony. CBS Records it was called, but it was the Danish division, you know. We'd signed directly to London, or to New York, you know. If we'd chosen another management, which we actually had the chance to do, but, you know…

At some point Peter Mensch was interested, who has Q Prime, all the way back in '87/'88. We should just have dropped them, but we wouldn't drop our manager 'cause we didn't feel we could do that. So we made a lot of bad mistakes and a lot of very, very bad decisions, business-wise, absolutely.

Tobbe: But doing still fairly well.

Ronnie: Yeah, we're still happy. I mean, you shouldn't complain. I'm still living out of what I dreamed about living off when I was 10 years old. I mean, I could have been maybe good for a hundred million or something; I'm not. But still, we're having fun. So I'm a little fortunate that after all I can do this instead of having a 9-5 job, you know. Maybe that will come one day, when I have to do it. Let's see.

Tobbe: As a band coming from another era, is there really any advice you can give to a younger band now, considering it's such a completely different world nowadays?

Ronnie: I mean, the scene has changed so much. It's so, so, very, very different from what it was back then, in every sense of the word, you know. It's hard for me to give any advice. What I can say is "Make sure you don't make a bad record deal. Get involved with lawyers and business people that know something about the business.", 'cause that's what we did not.

I really feel sorry for a lot of new and younger bands that come out, 'cause they literally get no money to make an album from. For me it's a fucking mystery how they can do it actually. Sometimes I hear how much a band gets paid to do a new album. It's like €1000 or something; that's crap. I mean, things are so different today. And that's why people today, when they do albums, record it on their own Pro Tools.

Everybody's got a Pro Tools system. I'm too old for that shit, 'cause I'm not good at that stuff. [Laughs] So they send Mp3 files back and forth and that's a way to do an album, but I like to be social when I do an album. That's how I grew up; that's how we grew up.

Tobbe: Hypothetically, if you or Ken would part ways with the band, would there still be a Pretty Maids then?

Ronnie: It's hard for me to say. It's not really an issue right now, so. I mean, if I decided to leave the band, I wouldn't say to Ken "No, you can't go on.", you know. If he wanna go on, whether it's the right decision or not, I don't know… And the other way around, I don't know… I mean, I don't think I would carry on without him, but I don't know…

Tobbe: So tell me a little bit about the Pretty Maids rum.

Ronnie: Pretty Maids rum: It tastes pretty good. You get so fucking drunk of it. No, it was just for fun. We just did this for fun, you know. It's basically a company… I mean, we're not a rum distributor, you know. But somebody had this idea, to use our brand, and of course you want something for that, you know. And that's it. And we just thought it was a fun idea, 'cause I mean, there's so many people doing their own wine, or their own gin, or their own beer, or whatever, you know.

So it was just for the fun. Let's see how it goes. I don't really have the last sales or anything, but… let's see how it goes. And we actually took part in the tasting. I like rum actually. I used to be more into cognac, brandy and stuff like that, or whiskey, but maybe I'm getting old. I like rum, without anything. Just a little rum now and then.

Tobbe: A new Nordic Union album will be out in November and how come you and Erik [Mårtensson] decided to make another album as Nordic Union?

Ronnie: We didn't really decided; I think the record company did, 'cause the first one was a success, you know. And we enjoyed doing it. But it's not like a band thing really; it's more like a project.

This time I was more involved and wrote some lyrics and stuff and a few melodies here and there, but basically Erik is writing the songs and is recording everything. So in this case I get the Mp3 files and we talk a little on the phone and that's the way it works. But we're done now actually; the album is finished. It's a little different from the first one. I think it's a little deeper, a little more melancholic, both musically and lyrically.

Tobbe: He once told me that an advantage for him is that he can actually sing the songs the way he wants them to be sung and then you can kind of listen to how he wants it to be sung and what do you think about this?

Ronnie: That's all right, you know. He's a great songwriter. I mean, if he wasn't a great songwriter, I wouldn't do it, but he is. Actually I signed a deal with Frontiers and they asked me to do an album with another producer/songwriter, who I will not mention, but the songs that he had was crap.

And I told Serafino [Perugino] from Frontiers that I'll only do it if it's good stuff, if it's good songs, otherwise I won't get involved. But the two first songs I had from Erik was Hypocrisy, the first single, and When Death Is Calling, and those two songs were great, so I said "Let's go ahead. Let's do it.".

Tobbe: And I reckon a lot of fans would love to see Nordic Union on stage some day and can you ever take that project out on a small tour or play one-off gigs or something?

Ronnie: If it would be something, it probably would begin with some one-offs gigs, but we have no plans of doing it, because the thing is that we're very busy with all other stuff. Erik is very busy with other projects, and so am I, now and then.

And I'm not getting younger, you know, and I've been touring with Avantasia as well, so I mean, I spend a lot of days during the year on the road, you know, and I don't have the need. No specific need to be more on the road than I am right now, to be honest with you.

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