„Go straight to NoName Lane“ or „Do the opposite of what other bands do“

Interview mit Jörgen Schelander

Eine phänomenale schwedische Band, die die gegebenen Grenzen des Prog-Rock und Classic-Rock ohne Scheu in einen eigenständigen Hard-Rock-Sound integriert, sind ASTRAKHAN.

Nachdem die Reviews zum Debüt schon kleine Jubelarien zuließen, durfte ein Interview mit Bandgründer Jörgen Schelander nicht fehlen. Here we go …

Hi Jörgen, please, can you tell the readers of this yellow pages about the start of ASTRAKHAN?

Well, it really started out a long time ago when me and my brother Per Schelander got together at christmas and found out we had some kind of special chemistry when we wrote music. We liked the same music and, perhaps more important at first, disliked the same music and this ‘‘you must do like this and be like that“ attitude. We just couldn’t hear the music we liked anywhere. We thought, we could do better and started writing songs our own way, just because we liked writing together. We wrote many different songs in many different genres; reggae, samba and jazz for instance.
Somewhere around 2005 we sat down to listen and found out we had some pretty damn good songs on our hands. But by then we both were hooked up in other projects and bands so the songs were put on hold so to speak.
In 2011 drummer Martin Larsson heard some of the songs and said “this is great, you got to record and release this, and I have to play drums”. Per and I looked at each other and said “OK, let’s do this”.
Then, when we got to know Alex Lycke we knew we had struck gold. He also liked the songs and did an amazing singing on what became the album ‚Retrospective‘.
If we are talking guitars we knew right from the start we wanted Marcus Jidell, and he also liked the songs and agreed to do the mixing as well.

How hard was it to get a record deal and produce the first album?

We knew the guys from PowerProg from before so it wasn’t that hard, they were with us from day one when they heard the music. Per and I wanted to have full control so we produced it ourselves. Some of the songs, like ‚NoName Lane‘ and ‚Long Gone Generation‘, have been with us for almost 10 years and has during that time been demoed in various versions. But once we had our vision of what ASTRAKHAN should be, we wanted to stay true to it no matter what. For the next album I think we’re gonna see it from a different angle and maybe bring in a producer from outside.

In which bands did you play before forming ASTRAKHAN?

We’ve all been in various bands around Stockholm for many years. Actually, ASTRAKHAN as a band hasn’t been around for so long. It wasn’t until Alex joined in march 2013 that Per and I thought of this as a band.
Per use to play in PAIN OF SALVATION and ROYAL HUNT and has also been a member of HOUSE OF SHAKIRA.

What are your musical activities besides ASTRAKHAN??

Martin Larsson (drums) and I both are members of MISTH which feature Maria Rådsten on vocals. Martin is also the drummer of swedish AOR-band HOUSE OF SHAKIRA. Alex has over the past ten years, worked as a singer with Europe as a scene. He’s been singing leading parts in all the big musicals. This year 2014 he played the role of Jesus in Andrew Lloyd Webbers Jesus Christ Superstar in Finland. Marcus Jidell of course is well known from groups like AVATARIUM, EVERGREY and ROYAL HUNT.

Has your singer enough time to stay with the band – because of his musical appearances?

I sure hope so. Alex is an amazing singer and such a nice person to have in a band. Nothing, and I mean nothing, is ever a problem for him to sing. He is a true talent.

Who is writing the songs for the band?

For the next ASTRAKHAN-Album we’re gonna try to write together as a band. But all songs on ‚Retrospective‘ are written by me and Per except for ‚Long Gone Generation‘, which are co-written by Anders Lundström of HOUSE OF SHAKIRA. Some songs on the album, like ‚Shadows Of The Light‘ and ‚Extreme Media Makeover‘, were written and recorded for other groups but in the end we kept them for ASTRAKHAN.
Per and I have a very good and creative environment when we write music. I don’t know what it is we have but it’s got to be something special, because I don’t have that with anybody else.

What are the influences of your own music?

ASTRAKHAN is influenced by so much. People we meet and things we read about and see on TV. But if we’re talking music Alex likes grunge, Martin listens to a lot of progressive metal and I’m into classic rock like RAINBOW. Per listens not so much to hardrock and metal. He’s more into artists like Alison Krauss and famous (at least in Sweden) band KENT. We want to bring so many more elements into our music than just roaring guitars and bombastic drums. Of course, ASTRAKHAN is classic hardrock, but good music is just so much more to us. So ‚Retrospective‘ is filled with flute, trombone, sitar and some unusual percussion instruments.

Can you describe the background of the lyrics?

The lyrics on ‚Retrospective‘ are from my point of view kind of dark and not so fun, but the way Per and I write them are interesting. Initially we don’t discuss them at all. It can start with me writing a verse or sometimes half a verse that means something to me. Then I email it to Per and my lyrics means something else to him and he continues to write from his angle. Then I get like half a lyric emailed back and my interpretation may take it in a third way. The song ‚Higher Ground‘ is a perfect example of that. It means one thing to me, one thing to Per and then when Alex heard it the song meant something else to him.
More than often we had different opinions of what the songs were about, and that makes the lyrics on ‚Retrospective‘ so interesting I think. They can mean different things to different people. That was also one of our goals when we started writing together. That the lyrics would be as varied and good as the music, and that the music and lyrics worked together as a whole. That’s not so common in today’s music if you’re asking me.
Did we succeed? Well, you’ll be the judge.

Yes, you succeeded!

How much did the swedish music scene influence your style?

In some way I’m sure it did. But it’s hard for me to say in what way. We wanted to find our own expression, sound and style and we worked hard with Marcus Jidell in the mixing procedure to achieve just that. I think we have created something different and unique, and we now have a platform for years and albums to come.

What´s your favorite genre, Hard-Rock, Classic-Rock or Progressive-Rock?

I personally love the old bands from the classic rock scene of the 70s. DEEP PURPLE, RAINBOW, LED ZEPPELIN and WHITESNAKE were my heroes when I grew up. Later I discovered bands like RUSH, THIN LIZZY, QUEEN and KANSAS from that era. But I’m also very much into music from the 60s.
So I guess I answer is yes.

And which decade do you prefer – 70s – 80s – 90s?

Personally I like the 70s the most. It’s the music I grew up with and bands like RAINBOW, QUEEN and LED ZEPPELIN formed me as a musician. When the 90s came around I discovered ‚Images and Words‘ by DREAM THEATER and it blew my mind. Nowadays I listen a lot to swedish band MOON SAFARI, and I’m looking forward to a new release by Steven Wilson.

Who in the band loves Progressive-Rock and the 70s and who is the Classic-Rock-Supporter?

I guess I am the answer to both. But the not so hidden secret with ASTRAKHAN is every members open mind to whatever musicstyle.

Is Guitarist Marcus Jidell a permanent bandmember?

Marcus is a fantastic guitarist and musician, we‘re so glad he wanted to be a part of all this.
He did a great job on ‚Retrospective‘. He will join us on our upcoming gigs and, I hope, for the next record. But we will see.

How are your contacts to other swedish bands?

Stockholm isn’t that big of a town so everybody more or less knows everybody if you’re in the circuit. Many of us team up with each other every year at the annual Kings Call-festival on the 4th of january to celebrate Phil Lynott of THIN LIZZY, who died on that day in 1986. It’s a great party with lots of music and good friendship.

How often do you come together for rehearsals?

It’s been quite difficult ever since ‚Retrospective‘ was released in late 2013. Alex has been in Finland and Per has been on tour with ROYAL HUNT. It´s not until this spring we’ve had some time to write together. But from now on ASTRAKHAN is everyone’s top priority. The next album is almost written already.

That’s good to hear. How successfull is the first record until now?

All reviews so far has been good or great. We are all very satisfied with how the record turned out. It’s tough in these downloading days, you really have to tour a lot to get through. So the timing was a bit bad since Alex and Per was occupied elsewhere.
But all that will change. As I said, we’re so excited with the album and have had some fantastic reviews so far. One attendant told me after our show at the Sweden Prog Fest in november 2013 that ASTRAKHAN was one of the best acts he had ever seen, and he had seen LED ZEPPELIN live back in the days.

What are your future visions within the band?

Right now we’re writing songs for a second ASTRAKHAN album, and we have such a good vibe in the band. Everything comes just natural and easy. The songs kind of write themselves.
We actually demoed some of them last weekend to see where we are. We have more or less like 10-12 songs and I think we’ve taken it a bit further. Everybody has in some way been involved from the beginning this time, and I’m very interested to hear what people think about them.
We will have some time off in june and then start rehearsing for future gigs. We have some interesting things going on.

What goals you pursue with ASTRAKHAN?

I really can’t see any limits for this band. ASTRAKHAN works just as good on a big stage as in a small club. The songs works in a full scale show or in unplugged versions. That’s also one of our goals, to take our music to every single place in this world.

How many concerts did you play together until today?

Because of Alex obligations in Finland and Per touring with ROYAL HUNT there haven’t been that many opportunities to do any serious touring with ASTRAKHAN. But that will change in the future for sure.

Do you know the band MOAHNI MOAHNA – I think I can see influences in the song ‚Modern Original Sin‘?

Sorry, I haven’t heard them either (but I’m listening to them right now). ‚Modern Original Sin‘ is originally Per trying to write doom-metal. He had this riff he liked but there was something missing he couldn’t quite figure out. So he did what we sometimes do when we get stuck, he changed something drastically. Is this song he changed the tempo, and there it was. A few small more changes and he had the song. He played it for me and I heard the lyrics and a melody. Per liked the idea but he thought it wasn’t quite right. I felt pretty sure about it but one week later he showed his developed idea to me. Let’s just say I had nothing else to add.
‚Modern Original Sin‘ was the last song we wrote for ‚Retrospective‘ and one of my favorites on the album. In true ASTRAKHAN ”let’s do the opposite of what other bands do” way we usually open our concerts with ‚Modern Original Sin‘.

A few last words?!

Have a great summer and enjoy the FIFA World Cup coming up.
I know I will.

Thank you !!