"We are on a mission providing something that is missing"
As we approach the first half of 2017, The Night Flight Orchestra’s new album "Amber Galactic" is the nicest surprise of the year so far. With a bunch of fantastic, catchy tunes it’s reviving a lost art of making feelgood music, while keeping it qualitative and it’s an album every rocker should add to his summer playlist, at least. We caught up with Bjorn "Speed" Strid to talk about it and apart from a really cool guy, he proved to be a musical chameleon, so this turned out to be a really nice and fun conversation.
Well, what year should we be doing this interview? 1985 or what?
(laughs) Yeah, something like that...
I’ll get straight to the point and congratulate you for the new album. I’m really impressed and I think I found a CD that will stick in my car for the summer...
Awesome! That’s perfect, you know! That’s one of the reasons why we created this band in the beginning: as a soundtrack of being in motion. So, it’s perfect.
"We cut off all the Hammond organs. Because, there are so many other bands doing that out there and a lot of them do it really good, but that’s not what we’re doing"
Well, your two previous efforts were really good, but this new one really overcomes them with such ease... What did you do different this time and made it sound so much better?
I think these two first albums were like sort of a learning period as well as sort of being able to channel all of our influences. It led up to this album and I think it sounds more focused and also personal in many ways.
Of course, you can make so many references when you listen to the album. “This sounds like Foreignrer”, “This sounds like ABBA”. But, at the same time it sounds very refreshing and personal, so I think we had to go through the two first albums. Don’t get me wrong, I love the two first albums, but this one I think is slightly more '80s. Late '70s and especially early '80s.
We cut off all the Hammond organs. That was a conscious decision. Because, there are so many other bands doing that out there and a lot of them do it really good, but that’s not what we’re doing. This is something different. We are focused more on the rhodes, stage piano and early '80s keyboards. I think that’s the main difference. The songwriting, in general, is better and it’s just a better soundtrack of being in motion overall, as I mentioned before.
It’s not only the compositions themselves, but also the balance of the sound. You manage to make it feel fresh, but at the same time capture the feeling of another time. How difficult is this to achieve?
I don’t know if we even had to try that much, because we really like that era. Let’s say 1978 to 1983 to be specific as possible. There’s so much love for that kind of music and also the way of composing and producing. People sometimes only think “oh, you want to capture the sound”, but it’s also a way of writing. I think that’s what we enjoy.
It was very natural for us, but I think it also comes from the reason that we decided to form this band, that it was not gonna be just a pastiche. We had so much knowledge about this era, both musically and also cause we have David and Sharlee that really know too much... (laughs).
Then again, it’s not about being able to mention the bass player who played on this specific album in 1978. It’s about music in the end. It’s about writing songs and I think we have some fantastic songwriters in the band. And it’s a very creative unit. I think it came out very naturally in the end.
"We wanted to provide something like a lost art. We feel like we are on a mission providing something that is missing."
This time I think you wear some of your influences on your sleeve more than you did in the previous albums. Yet, it’s done in a way that is good, not as a plagiarism or whatever. Was it intentional?
That’s really hard to say. I mean, it has to do with the sound as well, the production. There was a lot of talks about “let’s have a Bob Ezrin production”, “we’d love a “Tubular Bells” and piano based” and stuff like that. When we’re in the studio there’s a lot of references “Oh yeah! Just like that! This is what Foreigner would have done!” for example. At the same time, I think it’s a pretty unique songwriting as well and there’s a lot of recognition in the songs. But, somehow, it’s always very important for us to make sense today as well.
We wanted to provide something like a lost art. It’s not out there. We feel like we are on a mission providing something that is missing. To begin for ourselves, but also being an eye opener for people out there, music fans in general.
My absolutely favorite track on the album is “Domino” and it has that vibe that reminds me of Toto’s “Africa”. How did this song come about?
It’s one of those songs you would have thought that me and David wrote somewhere in Miami. But, we actually wrote that song at the back of a tour bus, in Austria (laughs).
It’s pretty interesting! We wanted to do something that was very groovy and very rhythmical, there’s lot of percussion in that song as well. There’s a lot of recognition in that song, as you mentioned Toto’s “Africa”. We love Toto, especially early Toto, so yeah there’s definitely a reference, but it also takes you to some places you don’t expect, like the solo that almost has a Pink Floyd feel to it! It’s like “The Wall” kind of solo somehow and it creates a mysterious feel to it.
It’s definitely a song that makes people want to dance. I’ve seen it already and it’s really cool to see…
"Survivor is one of the most underrated bands in rock. Even though they had a huge hit with “Eye Of The Tiger”, when you mention Survivor it’s always “oh, the Rocky band”. But, they’ve written so many good songs"
Then, on “Jennie” there’s a certain Supertramp feeling and on “Something Mysterious” there’s some Survivor stuff. Did you also want to pay a tribute to some of your favorite bands and lead new listeners back to them?
Of course! There’s so much love for that music and I think Survivor is one of the most underrated bands in rock. Even though they had a huge hit with “Eye Of The Tiger”, when you mention Survivor it’s always “oh, the Rocky band”. But, they’ve written so many good songs, just listen to “Poor Man’s Son” from “The Premonition” album for example. It’s fantastic stuff and such great vocal delivery.
Of course, it’s homage to our favorite bands, but we also wanted to make it our own and maybe it’s introducing people to this sort of lost art in a way.
There are also some disco elements here and there nicely put in the songs. For example I get a “Maniac” feeling on “Gemini”. Do you listen to this kind of music seriously or you just take advantage of the fun it creates?
No! I listen to that kind of music. Somebody mentioned something like “dance, movie rock”... Like some of the early 80s dance movies that came out. There’s definitely elements of that.
I enjoy so much music. I’m very much of a musical chameleon. I’m a 50% metalhead and 50% rocker/pop head I guess. I’m really all over the place. I just like rock when it was disco infused and that’s something that I wanted to recapture.
Speaking about “Gemini” the animated video brought back memories from my favorite Japanese anime of the 80s like Grendizer, Getter Robo, Jumaru etc... Are you a fan too? I think we’re the same age more or less...
I watched some cartoons, but we didn’t have that much Japanese cartoons in Sweden in the 80s. But, I have an Italian girlfriend and she told me that in Italy, in the '80s it was all Japanese cartoons on TV. Crazy amounts of Japanese cartoons! And she’s like “oh, have you seen this? This? Do you remember this?” and I say “No!No!Did you have everything on Italian TV?”. Maybe that was the same case in Greece as well, I don’t know.
But, yeah, I’m a fan of old school animated stuff, yes I am. I think there’s some reference to the Heavy Metal animated movie from the beginning of the '80s. I think it was Canadian. And He-Man I guess...
"A main reason why some bands play early '70s stuff is because it’s very organic. It’s almost like when you have keyboards it’s not organic anymore."
"Masters Of The Universe"... (laughs) So, your songs create kind of nice nostalgia for the 80s and you’ve already talked about a lost art. What do you miss the most from that time?
I think the production... Of course, the songwriting and the way of singing and playing. It’s kind of hard to define exactly what it is. It’s more like the concept: the way you write, the way you produce and the way you approach things. Especially with the sound, cause there’s so much over-processed stuff out there.
By that being said, I think that’s sort of a main reason why some bands play early '70s stuff as well, because it’s very organic. It’s almost like when you have keyboards it’s not organic anymore. But it really is. And I think we manage to capture that. I think the foundation, the bass, the guitar, the drums and the lead vocals are very dry and sort of in your face. And then you have all the vocal harmonies and the keyboards and also the percussion creating that atmosphere to the whole sound. I really like that kind of production and the way of approaching songwriting.
I think that in music, but also in other kind of arts, what’s lost is the “light side” of things that '80s used to have. Do you agree with that? What I get is that you try to bring this mood back in the front with this album? Am I right?
Yeah! It reminds you of a life that was easier somehow. And that’s sort of what we’re bringing back; the lightness in that sense. But, then again, that being said it’s not like shallow. It can be a soundtrack to when you’re sitting alone feeling sad, but it can also be the perfect club music, if you want to bring back some of that lightness... When life used to be easier. It can serve a lot of purposes I think.
We mentioned some influences before, so I’d like to know who you would consider the five bands that someone should listen to understand what The Night Flight Orchestra stand for as a band. And then pick one album from each of these bands that you suggest someone should listen to...
Wow! Ok! I would say Fleetwood Mac, cause of Stevie Nicks. But I will say Stevie Nicks, because she always had a big impact on me. Her presence as a singer and also her vocal melodies and everything she’s done with Fleetwood Mac. I would say Stevie Nicks “Wild Heart”.
"People always talk about Steve Perry and Journey, but I always thought Lou Gramm was better."
I would say the first Foreigner album. I mean, just listen to a song like “Spellbinder”, that’s how you sing. Lou Gramm is one of my absolute favorite singers. People always talk about Steve Perry and Journey, but I always thought Lou Gramm was better.
Some people are gonna hate me after that statement... (laughs). I love Steve Perry too, but I always thought Lou Gramm was better. There’s so much presence in the music, you know.
So, what else? I’m thinking, I’m thinking, I’m thinking... Why is this always so hard? I’m thinking about Genesis...
I guess with Phil Collins on vocals...
Yeah, the album “Genesis” from 1983... And I would say Steely Dan “Pretzel Logic” and... this is tough man! I listen to so much music... I would say Alan Parsons Project as well, “The Turn Of A Friendly Card”.
Now, how come you signed with Nuclear Blast? I guess Soilwork worked as a link, but what difference does it make for Night Flight Orchestra to be on the Nuclear Blast roster?
It’s a whole new dimension of possibilities. The two first albums had very limited distribution, we were on a very small label. One of the reasons is that Nuclear Blast is one of the biggest independent labels out there and they mostly have metal bands. They have some retro rock, but it’s still not what we’re doing.
They called us up and the whole office loved Night Flight Orchestra. It was really important for them that this is gonna be a real band and not just like “we already have Soilwork, so let’s just sign Night Flight as well”. That was important to us and that was important to them, so that also made us decide to go with Nuclear Blast as well and plus we really-really stand out on the label. They also have an understanding what it is we want to try to do with this band.
I think it’s really cool that they’re brave enough to put out something like this. Especially, with a song like “Domino”. Cause I didn’t expect them to like that song or they would think it would be too much, but they called me the next day after they received the masters and were like “Oh my God! “Domino” is the best song in the album”. And I was like “What? I did not expect that!”.
They must have been dancing at the Nuclear Blast headquarters...
I think so! (laughs)
"We want to bring a rock show that is not out there as well. Something really good and unique."
How easy will it be for The Night Flight Orchestra to tour, when you have commitments with Soilwork and your schedule is pretty heavy?
We’re slowing down with Soilwork right now. We’ve done so much touring for “The Ride Majestic”, so we have only a few gigs left. We’ve got six festivals in the summer and a small Scandinavian tour in the fall and after that we won’t do like a long tour until maybe the fall of 2018. So, we’ll have a lot of time for The Night Flight Orchestra and I think both me and David need to do it. We really want to take this on the road. There will be a chance to promote the album and we would love to play more live with this band, cause we aim really high. We want to bring a rock show that is not out there as well. Something really good and unique.
I have a feeling that getting that crystal clear sound live on stage will be tricky. Is it more difficult to play this kind of music live in comparison to metal music where you can hide some mistakes behind the distorted guitars and everything being on eleven sometimes?
Yeah, I think you might be right about that. It’s very detailed and it’s more “naked” I guess, this kind of music, in a way. Like you said, there is not like drums and double kicks going and 270 bpm and distorted guitars and growling vocals.
So, it’s going to be very different, but I’m very confident in this band. I feel very honored being around such great musicians and I also know that I can pull it off. We all have faith in this. It’s just a matter of bringing the ultimate rock show. I think the playing is already there...
There’s a ton of layers and stuff like the female vocals in “Star Of Rio”. How are you planning to perform them live? I think your music would benefit from a big production, but I guess that’s not easy.
We’re bringing two backup girls on tour, so there you have it...
That’s good, but I was thinking also about an '80s light show or maybe clothing from that era and stuff...
Again, it opens a new dimension, clothing wise as well, but we don’t want it to be a masquerade. It needs to be something that you feel comfortable in. It’s gonna be interesting. I like clothes, so it’s going to be really cool. And, yeah, some '80s lasers would have been fantastic for the live shows as well. We’ll find the perfect mood, but we also need to find the perfect venues as well.
"Maybe sometimes people feel like the most true thing you can play is brutal death metal, but it’s not necessarily that way"
Although fans are more open minded now there might still be some metalheads - fans of Soilwork - that will not be exactly fond of what you do with The Night Flight Orchestra. Do you get any negativity regarding this musical identity of yours?
Not so far, but I’m sure it will come. I respect that. For me, this has been a very natural choice and maybe people think that I’m forgetting about Soilwork, but I’m not! It’s just a big part of me as well. It’s just different expressions. The most important thing for me is to find presence in the music.
Maybe sometimes people feel like the most true thing you can play is brutal death metal, but that’s something that I realize that it’s not necessarily that way. It’s about the presence in the music. Doesn’t matter if it’s pop or brutal death metal. I can enjoy both styles. It’s about really feeling the music. That the person performing it is on a mission and they want to tell you a story. And I think that’s brutality in music if you ask me.
One last question before we end this talk that I almost forgot. What’s the story with these girls talking French between some songs? You had it on your previous albums as well, so excuse me if you’ve explained it before, but I haven’t found anything about it... Is it a mystery or what?
(laughs) Well, it’s supposed to be mysterious at least... I think it adds a little bit of mystery into it, to the songs. These girls are friends of ours and I think it’s become like a trademark of ours in a way. We have it on the other albums as well. There’s Portuguese, there’s Polish, I think there might be Ukrainian... there is French like you mentioned... there might be Spanish as well. God knows what’s gonna happen on the next album! We need some Greek too! That would be cool. I don’t know if we have any Greek fans, I’m sure we do.
It’s a cool think and it adds some flare to the songs and a lot of the songs do tell stories about mysterious women.
Well, we haven’t seen Soilwork here for so many years and it’s a shame...
I know. It’s crazy...
...but I think we do know how to have a good time and enjoy music like this you write with The Night Flight Orchestra. So, let’s hope you’ll have a chance to come here and party with us...
Yes! I would love to! So much!
Even better on a beach bar, in the summer...
Oh my God! Yes! (laughs)