31 years after playing in the same band, Tom and I connected again. I built up a brand-new keyboard setup and laid down my best keyboard tracks to date.
In January 2019 I got a message from Tom about the new Stoneface album, he wrote that they all wanted keyboards on the album, and we got to talk. Tom, Peter, Martin, Christer and I were all part of Swedish band Motherlode in the eighties. I left the band 1988 to focus on my home studio (that very soon after changed into US and European tours with Norwegian band Stage Dolls 1989-1990, but that’s another story). So 31 year’s had gone by since I made music with this motley crew, and I was getting intrigued.
Tom and I started talking about the album and the songs, and I told him I had no equipment left. Two year’s prior I had left Sweden for Spain and sold off everything. But I wanted to do this, we hadn’t played together in 31 years and I remembered the “magic” that used to be present in the old band. So I bought a controller keyboard and a small analog synth and got started on the song Bad Luck, which was to become Bad Luck World, and the title song for the album (something we were all unaware of at the time).
As work progressed, I realized that I was missing sounds, textures, possibilities to express what I wanted in the songs. And most of all… I was missing a real Hammond organ! So things escalated and quickly became a full blown studio with a two manual Hammond, Prophet Rev 2, Kronos 88, Moog Subsequent 37, and bunch of Roland Boutiques fed through a Soundcraft UI24r mixer and Neumann monitors. And the sounds and possibilities are fantastic! (Tom always laughs about me going all in with gear...!)
Laying down the keyboards has been extremely fun, but also difficult as Stoneface’s songs are very intense. Tom’s guitar playing is very chord rich, and riff heavy, Martin’s drums are heavy and intense, and Peter’s bass lines are very melodic. So the music is pretty packed with stuff. This is a challenge when you want to emphasize chords, melodies or just emotions you pick up on. Some of the songs changed character because I added chords to an ongoing riff and stretched the harmonies as much as I could. In some parts I stayed very basic, and in others I went as crazy as I could, you'll see...
It has also been a very emotional album. Two weeks after I got started Tom reveled that he had been diagnosed with cancer and that it was very bad. For me, having gone through tonsil cancer with 7 weeks of chemotherapy and 35 radiations during 2017 it was easy to relate to Tom’s feelings. It is hell, both in pain and in mind, while you're fighting for your life on the inside. And as the album has progressed, so has unfortunately also Tom’s cancer. As he has written himself, this will be his last album, his last music, and that of course makes all of us wanting to put our hearts into every tone that goes into this album.
And I hope you can tell while listening, because that’s how I thought about the keyboards. What I play on this album is often moody. It is scary, sad, powerful, massive, chaotic, pompous and hopefully also beautiful. It's a reflection of every feeling about the music, about Toms situation and the (despite all) healing feeling in both Tom and me, that we all got to play together again, this last time. We share a bond as friends, thru music, but also thru cancer. And it is all summed up in this album. Now for the songs!
Why Does it Happen: Tom asked if I could come up with an intro for a song on the album. I had just started on this one (at the time called Van Halen-ish) and the strings in the intro is basically the first take. I added the evolving Moog and a bit of Taurus bass and it was done. Enter Hammond, and we’re off! To reconnect with the intro in the verses I did a slow pad line following the guitar chord progression. The darker strings in the bridge builds up to the chorus where I added arpeggio strings on top of heavy Hammond chords. I let the Hammond and the dark string accompany Tom’s guitar solos and in the end there’s one of those sections where the rhythm was going on and I added a chord progression to build up a climax, also with the pad line in the end where Stefan’s vocals cries out in despair. A very good song with an ending you will remember!
Power: Very nice intro with Tom’s guitar picking. I added a muffled flute because I got the feel of an old Triumph song. It then starts like the title says, with Power. A small tines sound on the chorus and I hold back for the first part of the verse. Then the tines come back in a “walking” fashion and the bridge adds Hammond to the tines which carries on through the whole chorus. The B-section has an influence of Manfred Mann with dueling Moogs which progresses to a solo together with the Hammond, for a final part: A fast double bass drum driven duet between the Moog and the Hammond ending up in a halt with Stefan’s vocals and we’re back in the last verse. A cool an unexpected transition, I think. Tight end with an outro like the intro, nice! Overall a very pompous song with hit potential.
Bad Luck World: The first song I started to work on. Great intro by Martin, straight forward song and again I go to the Hammond (my favorite instrument). In the verses I keep to the marcatos and add chords and a piano arpeggio on the bridge, and behind that a thin pad for texture. Choruses are straight forward with only Hammond until in the outro choruses where I also add the pad on top. A classic and good rock song.
Never Ask About the Bones: This was a song I thought I would never finish. I tried 3-4 versions and I put it aside and came back to it over several months. In the end, I started with the outro and came up with an oriental inspired chord progression including strings, church organ and choirs. The guitar playing is very intense on the choruses, so I chose to break up the keys in a string figure that is then responded to with layered brass. The organ works its magic as always, this time with the chorus/vibrato section on for a more Kansas like sound. The song also has a one of my best Moog solos in it, played on a background of semi oriental strings that play a background melody. The solo part evolves nicely into the last verse, I think. Not your typical 3-minute hit song, but very interesting!
Change of Times: Starts as a straightforward song with organ and goes down to cool guitar riffing in the verses. In the choruses I only add strings to the Hammond to get a “wind-over-the-hills” feeling together with the vocals. The B-section starts with guitar and I add a dark choir, then all hell breaks loose and its heavy drumming with guitar riffs and dark strings, high strings, choir and “Psycho strings” until it breaks off with only a high string sound hanging on until the solo part starts which eventually evolves into the last chorus and outro which bridges into the waltz.
The Waltz: After I had done Change of Times, Tom asked me if I could do a bridge between two songs, "-Maybe this one and The Last Days..?". I had this Hammond chord hanging in the end of the song and started to play with a chord progression. The progression got longer and longer, and I felt it becoming something on its own. There was a rhythm to it, but I didn’t want drums, so I thought about the rhythmic strings of traditional waltz and added that in the bass. After that I wanted to empathize the melody and added another string to the top, and now realized there was a need for “conversation” in between. For that conversation I added a Piccolo flute, some Clarinets, Saxophones and English horns to a background of French horns and Trombones. And that worked its magic. And I couldn’t resist finishing off with a Gong to signal the end of it all. Great outro for Change of Times and a great intro for The Las Days. Mission accomplished!
The Last days: When I started to work on this song it felt very monotonous. It was grinding along and there were no ups and downs. But I soon realized that was the song’s strength. An intro with strings, a ghost whisper sound and (actually) a Rhodes piano with tremolo. Hammond on the verse marcatos of course, and I found some string harmonies that made the bridge more mysterious. Halfway through my own work, Stefan mailed his vocals, and they made total sense. The bridge became very powerful, and all I had to do on the choruses was to empathize with the Hammond and some top strings, to what guitar and bass did. This song has become one of my favorites and it holds so much nuance and just pushes along like a freight train. It is massive, Tom plays a great guitar solo and all the progressions really match up. I love it!
After B: This song was very emotional to do. Tom had just decided to stop his treatment and Christer’s lyrics was spot on, so sometimes I couldn’t hold it together while recording. Anyway, I had this eerie sound in the beginning and kept that. In the verses I stayed with a thin chord sound to leave room for the guitars. The bridge has a string melody that plays behind the vocals which I think worked out really well. There’s also an ugly but fitting “flying egg” sound that plays on the Bond theme. The choruses are built up with two sounds, the Hammond dubs the guitar riff and as an answer (and to express the frustration in the lyrics) I added a dramatic string. In the calm solo part, I let two sounds blend together to create an organic transitioning sound. As a total I think this song became everything it could be. I wouldn’t change a thing. It is perfect!
Evil is what evil does: Starts up like an AC/DC song and I come in with a hanging Hammond note which turns into riffs in the verses. I added some brass figures to the bridge and two intertangled solo melodies (they actually sound awful soloed, but works great in the mix, strange...). The chorus is very melodic and shuffles in a great swinging fashion. Then there’s a b-section where I riff along on the Hammond before staying more with chords behind the solo. After the solo the whole song changes with dark unison playing by Tom and Peter and I add a lot of stuff, there’s brass sections, organ, choir, African singing, Hells Kitchen trumpets. I basically threw the kitchen sink in there! It is Mayhem, and it corresponds well to the lyrics, I think. And we're back in the verse leading up to the final bridge and chorus, (I squeezed in some oriental Hammond playing there as well...) then followed the final chorus rounds with intense playing.
A final note about this song... listen to Martins intense, powerful and extremely tasteful drumming in the last 16 bars. Crank up the volume and enjoy!
Afraid to love: An intense song where I decided to dub some of Tom’s guitar tones with piano and an eerie voice song. From the second half of the verses the Hammond “replies” to Tom’s riffs making it very intense. A string sound on top ties it together harmonically. The solo part is very different. I reply to Tom’s solo parts with Gamelan Bells and a Turkish zither before the organ enters inte a kind of Middle East ride. That ends up in unison with Tom’s guitar figures and we’re back in the intro part again. It is different from our other songs, and I like the unique identity and the “cleverness” of this song.
Next Time. Starts off with Tom’s great guitar picking. I came up with a big eerie sound that adds emotion to the guitar and vocals. Long marcatos bridge into the verse and a total new character of the song. Hammond, powerful brass and choirs. A pompous statement about everything. Hammond, double bass drum playing, big vocals. There’s nothing subtle about this song. The second chorus continues into a Hammond solo which is joined by brass and choirs for a Rainbow-like solo progression over to the guitar solo. Massive choruses till the end where it halts for a bit of reflection with a long solo part and almost ballad like ending. A great song with many layers. And a very emotional guitar solo!
Fare Thee Well. As soon as I heard this song, I knew what to do. And I knew it should be the last song on the album (it had no lyrics at the time). The song was very intense and straight forward. Marcato strings, verses with “suspense” strings and full on with choir and Hammond on the choruses. The instrumental part is one of my favorites. It starts with the suspense string sound and progresses to the dialogue between a wasp like Brass sound and Tines. After some heavy marcatos its time for a full-on Moog solo in two parts (thank you Manfred Mann for the inspiration on the oscillator detune). All along the Hammond roars in the background. The strings thereafter emphasize the progression in the guitar solo towards the final marcatos into the third verse. After the fourth verse there’s a complete chaos in the Hammond as it roars and screams its way towards the pause where it takes a calm Pink Floyd like approach leading up to the solo part. The last part of the song is fantastic. While being so sad, it is such a fare well in the guitar solo and to me this solo embodies Tom’s way of thinking guitar melodies and handling the strings. What great way to say Fare Thee Well!
Putting down keyboards on this album has taken most of my spare time for a year, and it has been worth every second of it. As I write this, all the songs will soon be ready for release. Reconnecting with Tom and the rest of the band has been great and we've all experienced that our “magic” never disappeared. For me personally it has also been a healing process and a reconnection with the hardships of cancer treatment and what only people with cancer will understand: Regardless of how much support you are surrounded with, you always feel alone with the enemy inside your body. You are fighting a war that no one can help you with. Tom unfortunately knows this all too well. And he's been in my heart and my thoughts every step of the album process.
So, with all this in mind, I hope you enjoyed the reading, and I hope you listen with joy, sorrow, hope, fear and above all, enthusiasm, love and remembrance...
Peace and love to you all!
Johan Chasseur, Stoneface 2020