STEELWING – In The Traditional Zone
The Scandinavian traditional metal scene is alive and well my friends. Many thought the resurrection started in the late 1990’s when a little known act called Hammerfall hit the European charts with their debut album "Glory To The Brave". These days, we have numerous groups bringing their wares to the masses, from Wolf to Enforcer, Bullet to RAM, even those in doomier pastures like Grand Magus who are keeping the spirit of power chords, bullet belts, twin guitar harmonies and melodic, high pitch vocals alive and well.
Steelwing are another in this scene who have been making quite a mark right from their 2010 debut album "Lord Of The Wasteland". A series of high profile touring opportunities gave the five piece a chance to make their sound known, and they’ve quickly released the follow up effort "Zone Of Alienation"- another fine piece of work if you miss the glory days of Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and others in that traditional frame of reference.
Calling from Sweden, guitarist Robby Rockbag happily informs me during our 30 minute conversation of his love for American act Slough Feg and his realistic hopes to make a living with this fine group.
Can you give me your personal development into your interest in metal- how quickly did you pick up an instrument and were there any family/ friend influences in those early days?
"Well… I started listening to metal to when I was about 13. And my dad was a huge Black Sabbath fan, Uriah Heep and all that 70’s stuff. Then my brother is a punk rock guitarist, so we were a very musical family. I got into Iron Maiden, I saw Rock In Rio and I wondered how much a guitar was so I went down to a music store and from there I was 15 when I started playing."
Your second album "Zone Of Alienation" will hit the streets in January 2012. Did you have any fears about the dreaded ‘sophomore’ album curse that can plague artists who have a lifetime to work up material for their debut album?
"Yes, I think there was a little bit of that fear as well. The first album is a pretty strong debut album, I’m happy with it and it was received well and sold well so that was a good start. So we put pressure on ourselves to sound interesting and relevant. The writing for this album was pretty hard actually. Some songs came together really quickly, we had only a few months to go and we still needed half the album written- so that was a short period of time. In the end it all came together well- we knew as we were recording it that it was going to be a great album. There was some of that second album fear, but we know that we write what we want to hear then that is going to be good enough."
Were there any particular songs that needed some re-arranging or may have been harder to come together than others on "Zone Of Alienation"?
"Not really. We didn’t re-arrange anything. The producer removed a short section from a song called "Breathless" because he felt and we also felt that it wasn’t really necessary. That was the only one we messed around with. We had a pretty tight scheduled so everything clicked."
Steelwing have a very traditional, old school style that falls in line with many newer Scandinavian bands like Wolf, Enforcer, Portrait, RAM, and Bullet to name a few. Yet I feel you have been able to separate yourselves a little bit in terms of your songwriting dynamics. What do you feel keeps Steelwing special next to your contemporaries?
"I have to think about this and choose my words carefully. I don’t really know how to put it… every song we write takes months and months to put together. There is a lot of thought into everything we do, if a particular solo is necessary, how a particular vocal line works in a song- always asking these questions to make sure everything meets a certain high standard. Songwriting- you write good songs, or you write bad songs- if you want to get noticed you have to write good songs. We aren’t Steve Harris or anything but we try to write the best songs that we can. And we have a singer with a tremendous voice and range, he makes a big difference compared to other bands I think."
You managed to support your debut album "Lord of The Wasteland" with some killer tours, playing with acts like Enforcer, Suicidal Angels, Cauldron, Blind Guardian, Sabaton, and Accept among others. How were the shows overall and what do you believe you learned most from some of the other acts that you’ve been able to apply either in the studio or in your live show with Steelwing?
"I don’t think we learned anything that we can apply in the studio. When you are playing live it doesn’t translate that well- definitely on the first tour with Enforcer and other bands we got some experience to see how they are doing, how their sets were- Enforcer have a lot of energy live and we obviously tried to capture that. We learned how to move around on smaller stages- then when we went out with Blind Guardian it was time to step up and try to impress a huge audience. No one at that stage likes a support band, so we try to win the crowd over. Every tour has been important for a lot of different reasons and a lot of fun as well."
How do you feel about your record label Noise Art at this point? They seem to have a good game plan in supporting the band and promoting you in the right direction with publicity and promotional activities…
"Yes, I’m very happy with what they’ve done for us, especially the promotion of the albums. For the first album we got a huge push, a lot of interviews and magazine articles. Also the touring is hugely important to build up our small but dedicated fan base. It’s a new band and we have an opportunity that is pretty rare- the touring costs an enormous amount of money and we don’t make a lot of money. We are slowly working our way up."
On the new album I believe some of the lyrics go into different topics than the first album- there’s still plenty of sci-fiction, post apocalyptic material but on "Breathless" this appears to be more of a fun loving, party-type song. Did you want to expand the word horizons for the band?
"We always try to expand into a lot of different level. If you listen closely to "Breathless", the lyrics are actually pretty sinister. It’s not some hair metal, it’s about murder and leaving someone breathless in an obvious way. It’s melodic and catch, but still very dark."
What are your feelings on digital media versus physical media when it comes to the metal genre? Do you believe vinyl and CD’s will survive beyond this decade and the collector’s market?
"Yes I think so. Personally I am not a vinyl guy, but I still buy CD’s from my favorite bands. It would be weird to see CD’s obsolete, you want to have something. I want to listen to product in my car and not some USB hook up- it’s a more personal experience. Especially for a band like us- I don’t think many fans downloaded the album like on Itunes and stuff. I think they would rather buy the physical media. It will survive a bit longer- probably another 10 years or so.
On a previous interview I heard Riley prefers the older 80’s style Maiden albums versus their newer, more progressive rock orientated leanings. Where do you stand on Iron Maiden’s style shifts through the years?
"The early Iron Maiden albums, they are the crown jewels and the ultimate in metal so to speak. I like the new stuff too, it’s different but it’s still good music. The latest album was really good, I like just about everything. There are some songs and albums I may criticize as well- but overall I love them.
What was your first concert growing up?
"The first one was Rammstein."
Is it tough at this point to balance the music side of the band with the business side of things?
"Not really, I don’t think it’s tough. We don’t make any money but we have the opportunity to do albums and tours so we are going to see where this goes. We want to keep doing what we are doing, expand the band and get some new fans to make more great albums. We love to play heavy metal and people are actually starting to take notice."
What concerns you most about the world we live in today?
"I’m not sure really. There is a lot of stuff that concerns me. Pollution is one thing, we have to really change the way we treat the planet because it’s not really a viable solution in the long term with fossil fuel. Fundamentalism and extremism in any form scares me- whether it’s political or religious."
How important do you believe band chemistry is in terms of developing the following of a band?
"Yes. If there is a tour coming up and someone says they don’t want to do it, then there’s trouble. We are lucky to have five guys who are similar, we are in it for the long run. We want to do albums and enjoy touring. When we do signing sessions for the fans, they know we like each other. Fans would rather support a band with five guys who are having fun and work well, we aren’t in it for the money."
If you had the chance to meet 3 people past or present to sit down and have dinner with, who would you pick and why?
"Well, I think one of my biggest guitar heroes would be Gary Moore, and he’s gone now. I would have loved to have met him when he was alive, he was a huge influence on me. I would like to meet Adrian Smith and have a bite to eat, definitely by far the best guitarist in Iron Maiden. A third person… I am not sure who would that be. It would be cool to meet Steve Harris, he’s a real legend."
After your tour with Grand Magus to start the year you’ll be performing some headlining dates with label mates Skull Fist. What can fans expect from Steelwing in a longer set list- and would you ever consider more stage props a la some of your heroes of the 80’s like Dio or Judas Priest?
"I think Dio had a huge production when that band was at its peak. Dragons, lasers.. And I know Judas Priest has the usual stuff with the motorcycle, but from our point of view we are headlining small clubs so we are not going to have the room to do that. We are going to bring some new props on this tour, I don’t want to reveal anything though."