Interview with Michael Larsson of COLDSPELL

ColdSpell is a Swedish rock band with a gift for making fantastic melodic hard rock, the kind that soars high on great vocals, and dazzling musical skills. Last year the band released their third album, Frozen Paradise, after two previous well-received releases: Infinite Stargaze in 2009, and Out From The Cold in 2011. Their music has earned them a large international following, and I am very excited that Michael Larsson, the band’s guitarist, took the time to answer some of my questions about the band and their music.

Micke_Coldspell_3

First of all: ColdSpell has to be the perfect name for a Swedish band, especially one that’s based in Kiruna, north of the Arctic Circle. How did you come up with that name?

Michael: Yeah I guess it is! We had another name first, but then it appeared that there already was a band with that name so we needed to find another killer name, haha. It was actually my wife who came up with that. At the time she worked at the famous Ice Hotel and I thought it was a good name – could be related to where we live and the climate, and also it sounded great!

ColdSpell is based in Kiruna and Uppsala, and just to explain this to non-Swedes: it’s really, really far between those two places – about 1 100 km! So how did ColdSpell originally get together, and how do you work on your music when you’re that far apart?

Michael: Well, since ColdSpell is my brainchild I guess it’s possible to be far away from each other, but as you understand we can’t rehearse twice a week. We get to do it more intensely when we meet instead. Actually this band-idea started before I moved to Kiruna, and after a few years here it felt like it was time to start digging into this huge backpack of songs and make it a bit lighter. I got all the guys together in 2005, so I guess that’s when we officially formed as a band. As I am the main songwriter I try to do as much as possible before going into the studio, and then start the studio session by doing drums and so on.

Tell us a bit about your own musical background. I know you were in R.A.W. before ColdSpell, for example. When did you start out as a guitar player, and what musical path brought you to ColdSpell?

Michael: I’ve been playing since age 10, but it took some time before I got totally devoted. I started playing guitar and a little piano: I wish there had been internet and YouTube back then! Would have made it a bit easier, haha. But when I listened to old albums there was no tabs and stuff, it was a good way to train the ear and the ability to improvise. I guess it’s my love for guitars and hard-rock that made me who I am, and doing this ColdSpell thing. I grew up listening to bands like Whitesnake, Rainbow, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, Dio, Van Halen, Ozzy… And I guess these bands among some others are a huge inspiration, even if I have always been into all kinds of hard-rock and metal and still am!

Coldspell_2014

So what were your favourite bands growing up, and what are some of the artists you like to listen to today?

Michael: I already mentioned a few, but that list could be looooong as there are so many good bands out there. I love bands from the ’70’s like Montrose, Budgie, Judas Priest. These days I listen to some old stuff, and really enjoy some of the new metal and hard-rock bands. But I can’t answer this question without mentioning bands like Badlands, MSG, King´s X, Journey, Y&T, Lynch Mob, Frank Marino… They have all been a huge inspiration for me!

Does everyone in the band have similar musical preferences, or are you all influenced by different types of music?

Michael: I guess we have the hard-rock that brings us together. Some are more into metal, and some more in to melodic/classic hard-rock but we kind of like the same stuff. But really it’s a big variety when it comes to what music each and every one likes or loves. If I speak on behalf of myself, I listen to all kinds of music – not strictly a certain genre: as long as it’s good it’s good!

What is the band’s process like when you put together an album? Do you have all the songs written before you go into the studio, or do you work on it there?

Michael: I mentioned some of it earlier, and that’s how we do it. I put together all the music and then we go into the studio, but I want everyone to do their own thing when it comes to, for example, playing the drums. I mean why should I say how he should play when he´s the drummer? You don’t want it to be that strict when going into studio mode, you need to boost everyone´s creativity to do what they feel comfortable doing. That’s when things will be at the top.

ColdSpell has fans all over the world. For example, I saw that your new video “Angel of the World” was recently picked as video of the month by The Rockpit, an Australian music website. In one way “going international” is easier these days thanks to the Internet. What’s your view on social media and the age of Spotify and instant downloads: how is that affecting bands, and your life as a musician?

Michael: Yeah, it’s amazing and I just can’t get enough of all the fantastic feedback on all 3 of our albums. That’s what inspires me, and makes me want to take it further with every album. I agree that the internet makes some parts easier, but it’s also easy to drown in this massive flow of music and everything… So I guess you need to work your *** off to be interesting! I think we’ve reached that point when social media is here to stay, and actually I’ve been in this circus since the days of MySpace, when it was big! It takes time, but it gives a lot back. I guess Spotify is better than illegal downloads, but the problem is that it’s almost impossible to make a living from this, as bands don’t sell that many albums these days. If music wasn’t possible to download maybe, and people would by albums, then things might be different!

You’ve toured extensively: the UK, the United States, Sweden of course… I know the band is headed back to the UK this fall. Do you enjoy the touring life? And do you find a big difference between how people receive your music in different countries?

Michael: I guess touring is what I want to do. I mean, you spend a lot of time working on new songs and recording them. And then when you’re away for shows or touring, that’s when you meet all the amazing people out there that boost me to do another album. It’s like meeting the family when we’re in the US, the UK, or wherever we play. We seem to have a growing fan-base/family, and I can’t say that I see a difference in what country we play!

Do you have any favourite stories from the road? Some memorable places or gigs you could tell us about?

Michael: Haha, yeah there are some crazy memories and some good laughs – it feels like we have a real good time when we’re away, enjoying each other’s company. I have to say that MRF in Chicago was killer – we had 3 days there with friends, fans, and bands. I guess we all want to do that again.

As a guitarist, who do you look up to? Who are your guitar heroes?

Michael: There have been a few “heroes” over the years since I started playing guitar, haha! If I mention guitarists that made me want to play heavy distorted guitar, and play hard-rock and metal, then I’d like to mention guys like Jake E Lee, Ritchie Blackmore, Eddie Van Halen, George Lynch, Satriani, Frank Marino, Glenn Tipton, Mike Slamer, Tony Iommi, John Sykes, Ronnie Montrose, Dave Meniketti… And the list would be very long! Otherwise I adore guitarists like Stevie Ray Vaughn, Hendrix, Andy Summers… that are not into hard-rock!

Micke_ColdSpell_GuitarA while ago I saw photos online of your new guitar, I think it was a Les Paul, and it was absolutely stunning, airbrushed with the ColdSpell logo. What guitars do you use when you play, both in the studio and live?

Michael: Yeah, that guitar is a real beauty, and the guy in Sweden called J. Nazenius that did this airbrush artwork is a genius. I know we talked about it a few years ago, but now was the time to do it! Thanks, I’m glad you like it! I discovered that I seem to prefer playing Les Pauls, and lately I’ve been more in to The V as well. I think it’s actually the same in the studio as when it comes to performing live: I use my Gibson Les Paul, ESP Eclipse and also Gibson Flying V.

I already mentioned your great new video for “Angel of the World”. It’s such a beautiful tune. Can you talk a bit about the inspiration behind that song?

Michael: Thank you, I’m glad you like it! I wrote that lyric with our singer. For me that song is related to the “Eye of the storm” from the first album, and that was very personal for me. It’s about the fact that you always get strength to carry on, no matter what happens in life. This “Angel of the world” could be described as a person, hope, or whatever is good for you or me… if that makes sense.

It definitely makes sense. I’m going to listen to both of those tracks back to back right now! Another personal question: A lot of people around the world might think you’re nuts for living in Kiruna when they hear how far north it is! I grew up in northern Sweden (not as far north though), so I understand some of the appeal. What keeps you happy up there?

Michael: Well, I never had any plans to move up here as I lived outside of Stockholm until -97. But love brought me to Kiruna, and somehow time flies, and Kiruna is still our home base. The summers are maybe too short, but the winters up here are magical, and I think that as long as there are airplanes, there’s no problem living wherever you like! Actually, it’s a nice place to live, and it’s not as dark and cold as many people seem to believe, haha. What keeps me happy here is probably the same thing that keeps you happy in Canada!

Haha, I think you might be right! And… when can we expect another ColdSpell album? Are you working on new music right now?

Michael: I always have music in my head, and I already started working on this huge puzzle, putting all the ideas, riffs, words, melodies, and songs together. The plan is to have a new ColdSpell album released late spring next year!

That is awesome news! Looking forward to that! Finally, my must-ask question: you’re stuck on a deserted island, and you only get to bring 3 albums (no Spotify, no iTunes, just albums!). Which ones would you bring?

Michael: Hmmmm, saved the worst question till last, haha! How on earth will it be possible to just mention 3 albums? But I’ll give it a try… with no further explanations: Rainbow Rising, Amanda Marshall’s first album, and the soundtrack to “Flashdance”!

Huge thanks again to Micke for talking to Rock And Roll! ColdSpell will be on tour in the UK in November, 2014: see dates below.

You can also connect with the band on their official website, Facebook, and Twitter.

ColdSpell-UK-November-2014

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