Interview conducted February 13 2018
Interview published April 22 2018
"You can always replace a riff. A good riff doesn't
make a song."
The melodic rockers W.E.T. put out
their new album Earthrage on March 23rd and Metal Covenant got on the
phone with guitarist, songwriter and producer Erik Mårtensson
to listen to what he had to say about the band's latest creation.
Tobbe: If someone has listened to the first
two albums, in what way will they notice that this record is following
the band's footprints?
Erik: Well, it's us playing on it. [Laughs] Just
with that we're pretty much home safe. The combination of musicians
is what makes it become what it is, you know. I write the songs, for
the most part anyway, and Jeff [Scott Soto] is singing, and we play,
and it's the same musicians since the start. That's what happens when
you put together different people, you get a certain sound, you know.
It's been 5 years since Rise Up was out and the material to the new record,
is it written during this long time bit by bit or is it more or less all
Erik: Everything is made last spring and up to
June last year. Then we took a summer break and I started to record
some parts and after the summer we were tracking the drums and started
recording all the instruments and Jeff laid down the vocals. So there's
not one single old idea on this one. Everything is new.
Tobbe: Would you use something old, if you
just had some stuff laying around?
Erik: If I had a good song that would fit the
W.E.T. record, absolutely! But there are no left-overs. I write songs
in a way that those songs that don't come out good I don't finish. I
don't waste time on them and I feel, you know, halfway through or when
I'm recording demos, like "No, this is not good." and then
I just give up on them. There's nothing that is as time-consuming as
to put down time on songs that aren't good enough.
Tobbe: So I guess you have the ability to
know what's good or not, even if you're writings songs on your own?
Erik: Yes, it's always like that, with everything
I write. You just have to write songs you like yourself. If I'm not
like "Yes. This is cool!", then there is no reason to go any
further on that song. Of course, every song isn't the coolest thing
you have ever heard, but you have to feel that there is some substance
and that I like to listen to the song. If I get bored halfway through
a song and start to think about something else, then it's not a good
sign, you know. And I do that on a whole lot of songs on other bands'
records, that have a lot of fillers that you just don't care about and
you're not sitting there with rapt attention, you know. And maybe you're
not rapt over the whole new record either, but if you're interested
yourself, it's a good sign.
Tobbe: Is it the actual melody in the song
that you find boring, or is it maybe the riffs, or whatever, you know?
Erik: You can always replace a riff. A good riff
doesn't make a song. For me it is the melody. The vocals are what's
most important, in a sense, in this type of music. Maybe not always
with Slayer, but in AOR the vocals are more important. Well, it's important
in all genres, but in other genres timing and rhythmization become more
important, you know. But you can replace the riffs and it's pretty easy
to write good riffs, but if the melodies aren't there nothing is there,
you know. It doesn't matter how hard you play or how many guitars you
add; if the little things don't work, it won't work out in the end,
Did you know already at an early stage that you were going to put down
some lead vocals on the album too and especially in the first song, Watch
Erik: Well, we did that on the last album a little
bit and it really fits this song. It wasn't meant to be a single and
it was just one of the songs, you know. But then it became the song
that everyone thinks is the strongest one, you know, as a first single.
It was clear W.E.T. in a way and what we stand for and what our fans
like, you know. So there was no plan behind it, that I was going to
sing it just because it was going to be a single, but we did it in a
song where it felt right, you know. And the whole phrasing; it was kind
of easy to just build it like that.
Tobbe: In the end of the songs, in the final
minute maybe, you pretty often raise the tempo or have a different kind
of swing to it or have a guitar part and is this something you're looking
for or does that just seem to happen?
Erik: When the third time comes, and to not get
the feeling that you've heard it a hundred times before, I try to make
a different variant with it. I like it and I sometimes do that with
my songwriting, you know. But without going too far and often it's just
variants of the choruses or "I just came up with a cool guitar
melody. Let's add that one to this song.". So there's no set plan
to it, but I personally like when people do that. Maybe the first time
it might be confusing, thinking strictly commercially, but if you listen
to the record 5 or 6 times you start to appreciate those parts a whole
Tobbe: Some musicians say that ending a
song is the hardest part when writing a song? Is this something you would
Erik: Yes, from time to time. Some songs are
super easy to end and some songs get stuck in kind of a loop and you
can't get out, you know. And worst case scenario is to fade out, you
know. [Laughs] It's kind of lame and you probably ought to find something
better. But sometimes you're just unable to find something better and
everything just gets worse. The first song, Watch The Fire, it fades
out. There's no way to get out of it, without coming out bad. That song
could have lasted for a minute longer without the listeners actually
taking too much notice of it, you know. I tried a lot of different endings
for it, before I resigned, because I think that's really a last resort,
When you're writing songs for W.E.T., to what extent do you take into
account that Jeff is gonna sing the songs and not yourself?
Erik: Not at all, actually. I think about the
key to make it suitable for Jeff, but that's when the song idea is done.
In the beginning it can be pretty much anything. I can sing pretty high
and go a lot higher than him and make a song, but when it's time for
Jeff I transpose and put it where it feels right. During the actual
songwriting, the creative phase, I don't think about it. So my first
demo can have a completely different key and so, and then I change it.
I often want to put it in a key that's suitable for me, because I want
to feel that it sounds good and feels right, and then I can go lower
to make it suit Jeff better, because he will sound good in a lower key,
but I won't. So I often make two versions, regarding the W.E.T. songs,
Tobbe: W.E.T. hasn't played live so much
over the years, and I realize that you have other things to do, but do
you guys at least have any kind of loose plans to maybe do some more gigs?
I guess you have talked about it anyway.
Erik: Yes, we have absolutely talked about it,
but at this point, I would say that there's pretty much no chance of
us playing live. It's absolutely not carved in stone and we have never
said "We will never play live again.", but Jeff has Sons Of
Apollo, who he's out with all the time. And Jeff thinks this music is
tough to sing live, because we go high in range and he thinks it's too
arduous to do this nowadays and he prefers to stay lower. There's one
thing doing it in the studio where you can take a break in between.
You know, it's like with Eclipse, where the songs are just miserable
to sing live and you really have to be in great shape, and Jeff, and
God knows he can sing the right tone, but you change over the years
and everyone gets lower, some people more than others, you know.
And Jeff lives in L.A. and to just get him over
here it's $1200-1500 and you have all the rehearsing and it's quite
a lot of work coming to it. Frontiers really wanted us to play on their
festival, but we just can't take only one gig. It's too much work to
rehearse and everything and a 90 minute set takes a whole lot of effort
to put together and to make it really, really good. So I said that I
just can't do it and we would have to play a whole lot more gigs to
make the effort worth it, but then Jeff thinks it's too hard to do it,
so we, simply put, just don't do it.
Tobbe: Will there be another 5 years before
we get to see the next W.E.T. album?
Erik: I think we're just happy to have put this
one together. But we will absolutely try to make another one. I'm pretty
sure of it.
A lot of things can happen in 5 years in the songwriting factory.
Erik: Yes, maybe I will get total writer's cramp
and make a totally shitty record. [Laughs] Well, I probably won't release
that one. Or maybe we will make, like a "Music From The Elder".
Total fucking symphony. So incredibly bad, you know. It would be quite
fun actually. And if I want to do something completely different
I mean, I write other types of songs occasionally. When I have the time
to fool around a little bit I can do something really different and
there are some funny work, that has nothing in common with this genre,
in my map of songs here, you know.
Tobbe: Do you think you will ever go more
towards writing songs for other artists?
Erik: No, I don't think so. To only write songs
for other artists; there's really no market for that anymore, you know.
And I'm not interested in writing Japan hits. I think that's so boring,
you know. I despise that business, like big companies trying to earn
as much money as possible and there's nothing there that's close to
the heart for the people doing that and it's just about total commercialism.
And that's not the reason why I work with music and I think that would
kill my creativity completely, you know.
And on streams you don't make any money as a
songwriter. If you wrote a song before and it came out on a decent record,
it at least sold physical albums and you received mechanical rights
when it was printed. But with streaming, if you have, like, song 12
out of 13, it won't generate any money and it's not worth the effort.
And especially in melodic rock; it's great that all the fans listen,
but it's nothing that will pay your bills, if you would only write songs
for other people. But on the other hand I love to mix records and record
and produce and the whole creative part and in this you can get an economy
and it's also really fun.
Tobbe: Today's most brutal question: You
take part in mostly 4 projects, W.E.T., Eclipse, Ammunition and Nordic
Union and the 4 singers, Jeff, yourself, Åge Sten Nilsen and Ronnie
Atkins, would you dare to rank them quality-wise from best to worst?
Erik: You know, I don't know. They're so different
from one another. They're good in so different ways. Strictly singing-wise,
technically, Åge is undoubtedly the best singer. I would absolutely
say that. He is outstanding as a singer. And Ronnie, for example, is
maybe not the most technically skilled singer, but his character is
fantastic and his voice: you get sucked in and you believe in it. And
that goes for Åge's voice too. So everyone has his own character.
And it's the same with Jeff. You can instantly
hear that it's him when he starts singing. A special character. It's
a privilege to work with such singers. Myself, personally, I'm not a
singer. Once upon a time I was just the one who was the least bad, you
know. [Laughs] That's how I became a singer. I remember when we were
rehearsing for Eurovision Song Contest and "How the hell did I
end up here? I hate to sing.". [Laughs]
Tobbe: I would say you manage quite well
regarding being the least bad one.
Erik: It didn't sound good when I sang, but
when the other guys sang it was really terrible. Once before I sang
pretty bad. I'm not a natural singer. I don't have a natural talent
for singing and I have had to push forward sound that doesn't come out
really bad all the time and then I just try to avoid sounding as bad
as possible, you know. So in comparison to the other guys I don't stand
a chance, strictly singing-wise, but I have kind of practiced my way
to some sort of character.