Hard Rock Cafe, Stock­holm, Swe­den

Classic Rock - - Live! - Words: Dave Ever­ley Pho­tos Kevin Nixon

This Swedish rock­ers play their low-key first gig in nearly three years.

There are plenty of nasty things that can hap­pen to a band over the course of their ca­reer. On­stage in­juries and off­stage bust-ups.

Car crashes and van smashes. An out­break of col­lec­tive her­pes. But short of death or con­tract­ing a par­tic­u­larly nasty and in­cur­able vene­real dis­ease, few things are quite as un­pleas­ant as get­ting a phone call to say that all your equip­ment is cur­rently sit­ting at the bot­tom of two feet of shitty wa­ter.

H.e.a.t can vouch for this. The Swedish band had barely be­gun work on their fifth al­bum, Into

The Great Un­known, when drum­mer Crash got an un­ex­pected phone call.

“We’d been given twenty-four hours to get out of our old re­hearsal room, and some­how we man­aged to find an­other one, down in this base­ment,” says Crash (that’s Lars to his mum and dad) as we sit at a ta­ble in Stock­holm’s Hard Rock Cafe, along­side singer Erik Grön­wall and gui­tarist Dave Dalone. “We were re­ally happy, moved all our gear in there: ‘We’re back in busi­ness!’ Then I got this call: ‘You bet­ter check out your new re­hearsal place.’”

The drum­mer high­tailed it down there in dou­ble­quick time. What greeted him on his ar­rival was bib­li­cal – if ‘bib­li­cal’ means ‘look­ing like a shit fac­tory that has sprung a leak’.

“There was, like, this much sewage wa­ter in the en­tire space,” he says, hold­ing his hand at ta­ble height. “Shitty, brown, hor­ri­ble wa­ter. All our amps, gui­tars, drums, cases, ca­bles were un­der it – ev­ery­thing.”

He gen­uinely looks like he’s about to gag. Next to him, Grön­wall sug­gests the cost of the dam­age was “maybe ten thou­sand pounds”.

“H.e.a.t got weak when we stopped tour­ing and hang­ing out.”

Erik Grön­wall

“That doesn’t re­ally mat­ter,” Crash says of the cost. “There’s a love be­tween a mu­si­cian and his gear.” How much of it did you lose?

“Well, we didn’t ac­tu­ally lose any­thing. But it doesn’t smell too great.”

Some­times good things emerge from the dark­ness – or in this case, a gi­ant pool of ran­cid bum gravy.

This fae­cal dis­as­ter in­spired a song on H.e.a.t’s new al­bum, the in­ge­niously ti­tled Shit City.

“It’s a metaphor about the strug­gles you face as a band,’ says Grön­wall. “But it’s also about find­ing your gear cov­ered in shitty wa­ter.”

Thank­fully, the Great Or­dure Or­deal ul­ti­mately proved to be a sur­mount­able, if pun­gent, blip. Not to men­tion a funny story.

Into The Great Un­known is the finest hard rock al­bum of this year – a 10-track mas­ter­piece of flash and charisma that re­moulds such out-of-fash­ion con­cepts as punch-the-air cho­ruses and lightersin-the-air bal­ladry for the 21st cen­tury. Its stand­out tracks, Time On Our Side and Eye Of The Storm – the al­bum’s thump­ing heart­beat and dra­matic soul re­spec­tively – are two of the finest songs you’ll hear all year, full stop. If Into The Great Un­known had been re­leased in 1987, then H.e.a.t would have been big­ger than Def Lep­pard, Guns N’ Roses and Whites­nake com­bined.

But this is 2017, the mu­sic in­dus­try is markedly dif­fer­ent from what it was back then, and things are scaled dif­fer­ently. Rather than launch­ing the al­bum with a party in a mil­lion-dol­lar Hol­ly­wood club decked out with solid-gold fur­nish­ings and staffed by the finest strip­pers money can buy, the Swedes are kick­ing things off with a half-hour un­plugged set at the Hard Rock Cafe in Stock­holm.

Not that play­ing an up­mar­ket burger joint is any­thing to sniff at – Foo Fight­ers were here ear­lier this year, while even AC/DC have dropped by for a few songs. H.e.a.t don’t have any­thing like the clout of ei­ther of those bands, but they’re still a big deal in their home­land. Three of their four pre­vi­ous al­bums have reached the Swedish Top 5, while Into The Un­known’s pre­de­ces­sor, 2014’s Tear­ing Down The Walls, hit No.1.

Then again, this coun­try of nine mil­lion peo­ple has al­ways been a law unto it­self when it comes to cur­rent trends. Hard rock may have lost the Grunge Wars in the early 90s, but Swe­den has been fight­ing a rear­guard ac­tion ever since. Since H.e.a.t first took up arms a decade ago, their suc­cess seems to have gal­vanised the home­grown scene, with young pups such as Art Na­tion and Mid­way fol­low­ing their trail.

This state of af­fairs has cer­tainly been helped by the fact that the Swedish gov­ern­ment’s Arts Coun­cil of­fers grants to mu­si­cians to help get their ca­reers off the ground, cre­at­ing the sort of hot­house en­vi­ron­ment that Bri­tain and Amer­ica can only dream of. The flip side of that fund­ing is that in­come tax rates in this avowedly so­cial­ist coun­try are north of 50 per cent.

“I think we’re taxed way too much here in Swe­den,” says Grön­wall. “But if I could choose where I could put my tax, that’s one of the places I would choose.”

Even with­out tax­pay­ers’ money, Swe­den has al­ways some­how punched above its weight mu­si­cally. In the 70s and 80s, ABBA be­strode the globe like white-satin-jump­suited go­liaths. In the 90s it was pop-rock ti­tans Rox­ette who ri­valled Ikea shelv­ing as the coun­try’s big­gest ex­port. In­evitably, though, the band who have had the big­gest in­flu­ence on H.e.a.t are Europe, Scan­di­navia’s orig­i­nal hard-rock kings.

“They’re from the same small town as us,” says Dave Dalone, re­fer­ring to the sleepy sub­urb of Up­p­lands Väsby. “It re­minds you that this is not im­pos­si­ble.”

As a young kid, the qui­etly spo­ken gui­tarist was such a big fan of the group that he reg­u­larly sifted through the recycling bins of Europe’s six-stringer, John No­rum. “I col­lected his beer cans, just cos he’d drunk from them,” he says.

Grön­wall’s con­nec­tion is less wor­thy of a re­strain­ing or­der. Be­fore he joined H.e.a.t, the singer shared man­age­ment with Europe, and front­man Joey Tem­pest wrote a song for one of his solo al­bums. It was Tem­pest who rec­om­mended he join H.e.a.t af­ter the de­par­ture of orig­i­nal singer Kenny Leck­remo in 2010. “That was the thing that sealed it,” he says.

Grön­wall is a key com­po­nent of H.e.a.t’s rise.

With his skinny jeans, blond top­knot and un­fet­tered en­thu­si­asm, he drips rock-star charisma. Prior to join­ing H.e.a.t, he won the Swedish ver­sion of Pop Idol, per­form­ing Skid Row’s 18 And Life, Iron Maiden’s Run To The Hills and Kiss’s Shout It Out Loud along the way. He’s not ex­actly em­bar­rassed about his re­al­ity TV past, but you sus­pect he wishes peo­ple would stop ask­ing him about it.

“I’ve al­ways been a band guy,” he says. “I al­ways wanted to be part of the new Bon Jovi rather than be the new Jon Bon Jovi. It used to be that I had two au­di­ences – one that liked me for the tele­vi­sion star stuff and one that liked me for H.e.a.t. Now peo­ple come up and say: ‘Oh, you’re the singer in H.e.a.t.’ I don’t hear that Idol thing any more. I’m glad to get away from it in a way.”

H.e.a.t’s cur­rent hardrock mag­nif­i­cence isn’t solely down to Grön­wall, but it’s un­de­ni­able that they’re an en­tirely dif­fer­ent band to the one they were a decade ago. They were an al­to­gether more AOR-cen­tric propo­si­tion back then – fluffy of tunes and fluffier of hair, with Leck­remo a would-be Steve Perry-type bel­ter. They were also signed to a la­bel owned by Swedish ac­tor Peter Stor­mare – the blond-haired kid­nap­per from the orig­i­nal movie ver­sion of Fargo.

“He had some kind of child­hood rock-star dream but he wasn’t a singer,” Crash says of Stor­mare, with a laugh. “So he had a la­bel and lived out his dream through us. He re­ally wanted to be the guy who knew how to do things in the mu­sic busi­ness, even though he didn’t re­ally have any ex­pe­ri­ence: ‘Okay, boys, this is this is how The Bea­tles did it, so this is how you’re gonna do it…’”

“We were strug­gling from the mo­ment we signed on with him,” Dalone re­mem­bers. “We were two mag­nets push­ing in dif­fer­ent di­rec­tions.”

H.e.a.t are in a very dif­fer­ent po­si­tion to­day. When they fin­ished the tour for 2014’s Tear­ing

Down The Walls, they elected to take three years off to re­lax and recharge. In hind­sight, it wasn’t the smartest de­ci­sion they’ve ever made.

“So, the plan was to have a break from ev­ery­thing, then fo­cus on the new al­bum,” Crash ex­plains. “We wouldn’t play live or do any­thing in public. But it was a step back from the spot­light.”

“For me it was a mis­take,” says Grön­wall. “H.e.a.t got weak when we stopped tour­ing and hang­ing out. When we’re to­gether, we’re this big machine – we en­joy hang­ing out to­gether. Take that away from us and it’s like tak­ing a break from a re­la­tion­ship. It’s weird. It was tough.”

There were fur­ther com­pli­ca­tions. When the band did re­con­vene to talk about start­ing work on a new al­bum, gui­tarist Eric Rivers an­nounced that he was quit­ting. “That was the big meet­ing to restart things,” says Grön­wall. “He just came out with it: ‘I’m leav­ing.’”

Luck­ily, they had a ready-made re­place­ment in Dave Dalone, the band’s orig­i­nal gui­tarist, who had tired of the tour­ing life­style and quit H.e.a.t in 2013. Dalone had no qualms about re­join­ing the band he helped start (it also meant he missed their re­hearsal room be­ing flooded by sewage wa­ter).

Ramp­ing up their am­bi­tion, H.e.a.t flew them­selves and their mal­odor­ous in­stru­ments to Thai­land to record Into The Great Un­known. They holed up in a stu­dio near Pat­taya. “This huge Play­boy man­sion, with a pool and ev­ery­thing,” Grön­wall says of their tem­po­rary home from home. “We were liv­ing like big rock stars for a month.”

They oc­ca­sion­ally be­haved like rock stars as well. At one point some­one sug­gested they go to see a ping-pong show, which in­volved girls fir­ing ping-pong balls from ori­fices that weren’t orig­i­nally de­signed for such a pur­pose.

“The funny thing is, while this girl was on stage, Dave jumped up and started fool­ing around, twist­ing and turn­ing around the danc­ing pole,” says Crash. “No­body was look­ing at the girl.”

“We were liv­ing in this huge Play­boy man­sion, with a pool

and ev­ery­thing.”

Erik Grön­wall

“I made more money than I did in H.e.a.t,” Dalone says drily.

Thank­fully there are no poles or ping-pong balls on stage at the Hard Rock Cafe tonight. It’s a free show, so the au­di­ence is a mix of H.e.a.t diehards in front of the stage and reg­u­lar din­ers around the side. It’s an odd am­bi­ence for a gig, but H.e.a.t don’t seem to care. This is their first gig in nearly three years, and no amount of clank­ing cut­lery in the back­ground is go­ing to throw them off track.

As far as come­back gigs go, it’s a low-key af­fair. Stripped down and acous­tic, there’s lit­tle in the way of old-school flash-bang-wal­lop, al­though Grön­wall’s hy­per­ki­netic stage pres­ence com­pen­sates. He’s a dervish, whirling, shak­ing and ex­hort­ing like he’s play­ing a 20,000-ca­pac­ity arena rather than a posh McDon­ald’s. At one point he tells the au­di­ence: “I swear I will fuck­ing kill you if you don’t put your hands up in the air,” which seems a bit strong even for a na­tion that came up with the fiendishly evil idea of self-as­sem­bly flat-pack fur­ni­ture.

Even in this un­plugged for­mat, the gulf be­tween new songs and older num­bers is ev­i­dent. Liv­ing On The Run, which dates from Grön­wall’s first al­bum with the band, Ad­dress The Na­tion and Beg Beg Beg, which pre­dates him, are as­sured enough, but they’re too re­spect­ful to melodic rock’s il­lus­tri­ous past. By con­trast, Into The Great Un­known songs such as Bas­tard Of So­ci­ety, Re­de­fined and the block­bust­ing one-two of Time’s On Our Side and Eye Of The Storm are a class apart, re-rout­ing the epic am­bi­tion of Muse (if not their sound) through the fil­ter of Swe­den’s in­nate knack for pop mu­sic. The gig is over too soon – just seven songs – but the po­ten­tial for much big­ger things is im­pos­si­ble to miss.

Af­ter the gig there’s a hard-rock karaoke – of course there is, this is Swe­den – but the band are on schmooz­ing du­ties with friends and fam­ily. Burg­ers are scoffed and beer is hoisted in tri­umph. “Skol!” says Crash. “It means ‘cheers’. It comes from the word ‘skull’. Vik­ings would cut the heads off their en­e­mies and chop their skulls in half, then drink beer or mead from them. Skol!”

A few hours ear­lier, Grön­wall had pon­dered H.e.a.t’s place in the big­ger scheme of things, and whether they were born 30 years too late.

“Kind of,” he had of­fered. “But then we’re chil­dren of our time. It’s our job to step up. We could do cheesy pop mu­sic if we were in this for the money. But we’re here to bring back the rock’n’roll. Moth­er­fucker, we’re ready.”

“We’re back!” H.e.a.t kick back af­ter their first gig in three years. Stripped down and acous­tic, there’s lit­tle in the way of old-school flash-bang-wal­lop.

“Are you the guy who stole my drum kit?!” They may be play­ing an ‘up­mar­ket burger joint’, but Erik Grön­wall per­forms like the band are play­ing a 20,000-seater arena.

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