Johnny Engstrom Band

Swedish based progressive hard rock/metal band Johnny Engstrom Band has recently released their third album called Magnetic Force, on Alienation Records. We talked to the man in charge behind this great band, Johnny Engstrom.

Nick: Hello there, Johnny. Thanks for having some time to answer some questions for Prog Sphere. First of all, I have to say that it’s a bit weird to name a progressive metal band after oneself the way so many blues bands do. I have to admit that when for the first time your name popped up, I thought that’s what you played! Where did you get the idea to name the band in such a way?

Johnny: Hi Nick, my pleasure! Well to be honest it wasn´t planned to use my name for the band. Back in 2007 I had songs that I wanted to give some exposure so I created a Myspace account. The following year I was contacted by a indie record label that wanted me to sign to them and give out an album, and that became ”Analyse my dream”. I didn´t have a band at this time so I simply used my own name. When it was time to promote the album and to play live, I brought in Niklas Högberg on bass and Galle Johansson on drums, they are my best friends and the three of us had played together in a band called Dead End Street back in the eighties. When it was time for us to make our second album ”From birth to chaos” we made the decision to continue using my name because we obviously had used it performing the music live, just adding the word Band after it. I have to admit that I really wanted a cool name for this band but the other guys are happy with it. But if I ever start another project I will definitely have the coolest band name for it.

Nick: Tell us a bit more about your musical beginnings. Were you involved in any other projects/bands prior to forming the Johnny Engstrom Band? What were your musical influences at the time?

Johnny: Dead End Street was the first band that had some longevity, we played live a lot, made one single, had a couple of TV appearances and radio airplay. Niklas and Galle where in this band and we grew up listening pretty much to the same music in our teens, Black Sabbath, Thin Lizzy, Iron Maiden, Rush, Judas Priest, Zeppelin….the list can be very long, but I would have to say that we listened mostly to hard rock. By the time we started to make music together we had broadened our musical views a little more and we started to get interested in bands that had a variety in their sound, not only a heavy distortion, Galle got in to the fusion thing and I listened a lot to Allan Holdsworth during this period. Rush, U2 and the Police where bands that influenced us at this time.When we disbanded we went our separate ways but our friendship remained. I continued to make music and recorded songs with other people, and at the same time teaching music and playing live with cover bands, making a living out of that. Niklas had a family to take care of and Gallemoved to Stockholm and continued playing with other bands. The songs I recorded during this period is what became ”Analyse my dream”.

Nick: You released a new album this year called Magnetic Force, how are you satisfied with the feedback from it so far? Also, how would you compare your new album with Analyse My Dream and From Birth to Chaos? The most obvious thing is that you make a significant shift towards progressive metal. Any comment on this?

Johnny: We are really satisfied with the feedback and the reviews have been very positive. As I mentioned earlier ”Analyse my dream” was recorded over a longer period of time with different musicians and was not suppose to be an album when these songs were recorded, so the songs are very different from each other, pretty much straight forward pop/rock songs. Galle played drums on 3-4 songs so it felt good he was connected to the album. On ”From birth to chaos” we leaned more towards prog, making a couple of longer songs with more parts playing in odd time signatures, that is something we enjoy to do I was very determined to make a concept record of somehow before we started making ”Magnetic force” and the plan was first to make a double CD with a 20 minute concept suite on one disc and have 4-5 songs on the other. We finally ended up having our longest songs starting off and ending the album (Oblivion Pt 1 and Pt 2) and the two clocked in at 30 minutes. When I began to write the lyrics I felt I needed the 6 songs we had recorded in between the two to make the story more interesting, and using ambient sounds in between every song feelt like cool thing to do, making it in to a 75 minute long piece. But the thing is that the songs work pefectly individually even if you take them out of the concept. The sound on ”Magnetic force”is heavier and better than our previous records I think, and that is thanks to our producer Leonid wich did a great jobb mixing the album. We do have our metal moments on this one and it´s fun to be more agressive, but it´s also nice to use the dynamics to allow those moments to be more effective when they appear.

Nick: Lyrically, Magnetic Force deals with UFOs, alien abductions and “X-Files“ type themes. Where does these themes come from? Could you give us a closer look to the story behind Magnetic Force?

Johnny: I have been interested in this topic for many many years so it felt natural to write about these things. I had all these ufo-books and films that I started to read and watch all over again doing research. I wanted to create a story about someone being abducted and what the character and his family would be going through. It´s so fascinating to read stories about people being abducted, if what they experience is true or just something going on in their head. Well it doesn’t matter, storywise it is something that appeals to me.

Nick: As you are the main composer and lyricist? Which segment of a creating process do you find to be the toughest?

Johnny: I would have to say writing lyrics is the part of the process that takes up most time. I have always liked to listen to the lyrics in songs, but I know some people don`t care about it at all. It´s a balance between saying what you want but at the same time making the words flow and sound good. For this album we had the lyrics on our inner sleeve, it felt important being a story and all.

Nick: In a relatively short time you released 3 albums, considering the band was formed in 2008. Did you have the same approach during the creation processes for each album or did you guys change something in order to avoid repetition? How does the process of making an album go?

Johnny: When we made ”From birth to chaos” we did pre-production learning, let’s say 80% of the songs before we went in to the studio to record them. We set ourselves up in a big room and played together to a clicktrack. We recorded 5-6 songs in one week, took a break, did some more rehearsing and came back to the studio finishing rest of the songs. Then I did some guitar overdubs and recorded vocals. I think we recorded, mixed and mastered that album in about a month or so. For ”Magnetic force” I had come up with lots of parts that we started to jam around. If we were satisfied with one particular part I would continue at home adding parts to that and finally making songs out of them. When we rehearsed we had a big papper sheet that we wrote down all of the parts for the longer songs so we knew exactly what to play untill we had learned them.

We started recording drums in a studio with me playing guitar and singing just guiding Galle. That took about three days. When it was time for Niklas to lay down the bass tracks it was so cold outside that the heating system was running on max. Making an electric buzz coming out of the speakers in the studio. So we had to move all of our gear to a big house. We then took a break for a couple of months and during this period we built a studio at my home. The summer of 2010 I was occupied recording guitars, vocals and keyboards. It was nice not having any pressure being in a studio where you had to think about being done at a certain time. We saved a lot of money doing this, there are many guitar tracks on ”Magnetic force”.

Nick: How would you describe what JEB does? I get the impression that your sound is based on prog rock melodies with a classic classic heavy metal riff-based structure. Would you agree?

Johnny: Yes, I can agree with that, and we also find satisfaction when a song goes into a different direction, ending up being something you didn´t plan from the beginning. Our drummer Galle has a son- Jacob, he is 18 years old and listens to metal music. He keeps us updated on what´s going on in that genre so we can get inspired by bands we normally wouldn´t listen to, adding some of that to our music.

Nick: How much have you played live in the past 4 years? What’s the reaction of the audience to your music?

Johnny: We have played some festivals and club gigs over the years, but we really would like to play live more. It would also be great to play in other countries. We played in Norway last year with another band. That was great. Recently we have been using back screen projection, adding some enhancement to our music and that’s something we like a lot. People’s reaction is mostly positive to our music, at least that´s the impression we get when they come up to us after a show.

Nick: I know that you are a big fan of Rush, so I have to ask you about your favorite record. I guess you’ll probably say Moving Pictures, right? Also what are your expectations for Clockwork Angels?

Johnny: Haha, that would be the easy answer. Yes I´m a big fan and I have stuck with them for so long and it was amazing to watch them play Moving Pictures in its entirety this year on their ”Time machine tour”. I saw them three times this tour from row one. Awesome! My favorite Rush period would be Hemispheres to Grace Under Pressure. I do get exited every time they release something new and I think ”Snakes and arrows” is one of their best in recent years so my hopes are a bit higher for ”Clockwork Angels”. The thing that amazes me the most is that they play better for each tour they do.

Nick: What is your opinion in general about contemporary music? Many people think that 80′s caused “serious injuries“ to progressive rock by introducing new wave, but what if we compare the 80′s with the first decade of the 21st century? Where do you think these two periods stay in terms of “destroying“ music’s legacy?

Johnny: I don’t think it´s wrong to incorporate different styles, old as new into music; I mean you have to do, so if you want to evolve, change is a good thing. I became more concerned in the late eighties when, for instance drummers had a hard time finding jobs when drum machines where taking over. In the past 10 years many of the rock bands that have been aired on radio have had an over produced sound, in my ears they all sounded the same. I don´t listen that much to music on the radio these days, I believe there are other ways to find good music and I definitely believe that progressive music is getting more popular because of the fact that bands are blending different styles that haven’t been used before.

Nick: Is there anything you would love to add that’s not covered in my questions?

Johnny: We are fortunate to have a great group of people working with us. I just want to mention a few that are helping us living our dream, Thomas Holmstrand who has done all of our album covers, producer Leonid who did a great job with ”Magnetic force” and Cassandra and Roger Pamachena at Wishingwell Entertainment who are working hard selling our music worldwide. We will continue to make music, ideas for our next album are in motion and hopefully we will be able to play live to even more people in the future. Last but not least I would like to thank ProgSphere for having us.

Nick: Thanks for your time, Johnny. All the best and hope to see you some time soon.

Nikola Savić is a prog enthusiast, blogger and author, in addition to being the founder of Prog Sphere, Progify, ProgLyrics and the ongoing Progstravaganza compilation series.

2 Comments

  1. robert

    August 26, 2011 at 2:54 am

    I just had this band on a live stream interview recently..Johnny is a great guy. I would recommend this band to anybody. This is a great interview by the way. Look forward to more.

  2. robert

    August 26, 2011 at 2:56 am

    the last URL post was wrong sorry

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