Known for the best of part of 2 decades as the vocalist and leader of Baltimoore, Bjorn Lodin is currently a Swedish ex-pat earning his keep in Hungary with the hard rock outfit HARD. In what is becoming an annual event, Virtuosity One caught up with Bjorn to discuss the new HARD release “Even Keel”. Promising in advance to be freshly shaven we hope that Bjorn’s conversation is as sharp as his razor.
Bjorn, once again we are discussing another album. Do you really have nothing better to do?
Hello! Na, not really much else out there to feed my needs… I’ve been at it for so long that this has become my comfort zone – gotta have the pain and frustration as well as the recognition and pleasure. Where else can you start with nothing, make shit up, start believing its true, loving it and hating it..? Making a record the way I do, is for me a total “hanging out with myself” experience. It’s addictive and I’m an addict! A slow but yet sure fix.
Your second album with HARD entitled “Even Keel” was released a few weeks ago, how has the initial reaction been from fans and press?
It’s been mainly positive so far! We’ve picked up some new fans and it seems that people in general like the rougher approach we have on ‘Even Keel’. Media feedback is still coming in and we get picked up on radio playlists all over the world.
It seems you caused quite a stir when you joined the band early last year for “Time Is Waiting For No One” with a lot of exposure on MTV and the like, along with a support slot for Kiss. Did you anticipate this sort of reaction?
Well, I didn’t know what to expect… To me it was a funky thing joining these guys… I suppose it had some news value and we worked it the best way we knew how. It’s not that common that a Swede joins a Hungarian band, after all. And it got me to shake hands with Gene Simmons – I didn’t see that one coming J Then again, you hardly see anything coming anymore… just gotta go for it.
Since your first album with the band you’ve moved from Sweden to Hungary, how has the change been and how are you adapting in your new country?
It was a major decision but a necessary one. Going back and forth wasn’t an option in the long run. I’m also working with some other artists here doing song writing and production work. I’ve built a studio here so I have all I need to get things done. I’m not planning on staying forever but right now I’m enjoying the former Eastern European way of living… slowly getting the hang of it.
Hungary isn’t a country that would be on many peoples lists of hard rock havens so was their any reticence on your part about joining the band and ultimately moving?
Not at all. This is a natural stop for me. I can’t think of a better opportunity to explore and get inspired. I have no idea of where I’m heading and I make my list as I go.
It must be gratifying to be picking up the accolades and praise the band is over there?
It’s nice to get positive feedback anywhere, sort of makes taking all the crap easier. I suppose we stand out a little bit here, due to the English lyrics and the somewhat ‘traditional’ approach in rock music, since most Hungarian ‘traditional’ rock bands sing in Hungarian. This is not an easy barrier to break through but I feel we’re sharing the same fans as they have.
Our review of “Even Keel” was praiseworthy (thanks for the cheque) stating the new album is “more streamlined and straight-ahead hard rock than its predecessor, being all about accessible rock with a healthy dose of deft touches to move it nicely out of derivative”. Is this a fair assessment in your, one of the key songwriters eyes?
Hehe, sure is. (Don’t spend it all at once) Just crank it and your feet will start tapping!
Was this direction intentional or was this a comfortable and natural shift in attention compared to “Time…”?
Yes and yes. These songs pretty much wrote themselves. ‘Time…’ was our first effort together and I was taking on the role as the producer rather than the song writer. The guys had a lot of ideas that we made into songs. Before I joined the band, HARD was a more AOR influenced act. I never could stand too much of that style – predictable major pussy harmonies with ‘angry’ guitars, or whatever… so I tried to get some, as I see it ‘real musical danger’ in there and get a nice mix of them both J. I also produced ‘Even Keel’ and I wanted to let the hair down a bit. I co-wrote all the songs with our guitar player Zsolt Vámos, and we sort of found a common ‘backyard spot’ were we ended up writing and arranging the songs. I can’t wait to get started with the 3rd one!
The album sounds like you are having a ball with this material. Your voice is oozing attitude and seems very at home in this setting. Vocally, is this the most fun you’ve had in a while?
First of all it’s a new key for me. The whole guitar is tuned down a whole step. This got me to make vocal lines having a much wider range than I’ve sung before. I suppose that combined with the straight forward guitar oriented songs gave it a bit of a new touch. It’s all about being inspired and this was a new thing for me so… I’ll admit it wasn’t easier to sing with lower tuning… took quite some time getting used to.
The reason I ask the last question is in a few interviews for the last couple of Baltimoore albums you stated you’d consider having another vocalist take over, and on the last Baltimoore record (Quick Fix) included all the tracks in instrumental form asking for those brave enough to offer up their own vocal takes. I wonder if this was a period of your career where you perhaps weren’t over joyed with your voice, whereas on this new album it sounds strident and full of a cock-sure attitude that works really well with the material.
Hmm, well… I love and hate my voice. The voice is the ultimate instrument and a great vocal performance overshadows everything. However, being impotent doesn’t mean you can’t give directions for multiples… 😉
LMAO, How has the writing for the new album gone? Was this material written mostly since your move to Hungary?
We started right after ‘Time…’ was released last spring and recorded in Sweden in July and August. We had plans for an autumn release but things kept pushing the release until March this year. I mixed and mastered here in Budapest.
Who are the principle writers in the band and how did the tracks generally get created?
Zsolt and I wrote all songs this time. Zsolt came on board right after we finished ‘Time…’ and had a lot of material pretty much ready to go. We’ve very different taste and influences, which creates a healthy tension when we sit down to work.
I know you are a very strong rhythm guitarist so how much influence did you have with main guitarist Zsolt Vámos on this new material?
He adjusted to the spanking rather quickly!
The guitar work is excellent with some superb tones once again. What was the main guitar setup this time around?
Main rhythm guitars were tracked using Les Paul Standard/2002 and Fractal Audio Axe-Fx Ultra. I don’t remember what was used for lead guitar…
What was the lyrical influence stemming from this time round?
I don’t remember that either… I’m sure it was something that made perfectly good sense at the time J. The lyrics are in the booklet – you tell me!
The lyrics are a little saucier in places than I’ve heard previously from you. Are the spicy national dishes of Hungary heating up your blood pressure?
Aha, well I suppose I’m getting to that infamous ‘dirty old man’ stage… There sure is some good spicy food here! I’d be surprised if it didn’t influence me one way or the other.
How do you personally view the new material from an insiders perspective and what is it about being in Hard that excites you?
Well, the new album has added another colour to my pallet, if you like. I haven’t made a record sounding like this before. Now when it’s done it only feels natural to open more doors in this genre. HARD is where I do my thing right now and I’m surrounded by people who every day wants to keep the fire going. That is all one can ask for. HARD is a good band to be in!
The production is powerful yet stripped down sounding rather live, this kind of production is rapidly becoming your trademark, are you getting closer to perfecting it to your ear?
This is a constant battle but I think I’m getting the hang of it. Making a record is about planning ahead and making decisions about all kinds of stuff. Sometimes you make the right decision… Anyway, it’s a learning curve that seems never ending and is very song dependant. It’s great fun though and a big reason to why I do music in the first place. Without the production and creativity part I’d never do the singing and dancing.
What was your personal aim with “Even Keel”?
To finish it J You never know what you’re gonna end up with. I think it turned out very well and it will find its listeners.
I see you have some festival appearances lined up over the Summer, and have a live video available for “Scream out to be heard”, I know one of the main frustrations you had with Baltimoore was the lack of live activity. Was the chance to play live a lot more with Hard a fundamental reason for you hopping onboard a plane to Hungary?
Certainly! Playing the songs live is the icing on the cake. Yes, we have some concert dates this summer and we’ll continue in the autumn and winter.
Does the challenge of getting in the leather trousers, working and winning over a live audience hold a challenge to you, scare you or excite you?
Right now we are very well rehearsed and can hardly wait for the next gig. We’re all very excited – and I have new tailor made leather pants!
How does that challenge compare to creating an album – which in theory is something will be around forever?
That’s a whole different ball game. Making an album is easy compared to getting the act on the stage, which incorporates other people and other problems. They do need each other, though… in order to be complete. This is why I’m a fan of arranging and producing a record so it will make a smooth transition into the live scene.
Do the band have any other promo events coming up?
We’ll probably make another video…
Bjorn, many thanks for your time. Any parting messages?
Thanks for the questions and be sure to check us out at:
- Hard – Even Keel (virtuosityone.com)