Sweden's Cloudscape plays a hot mix of melodic metal and progressive rock that has garnered a lot of interest in their music over the last year, and the accolades are continuing with the release of their latest CD Crimson Skies. Sea of Tranquility's Murat Batmaz recently caught up with lead singer and composer Mike Andersson to talk about the new release, side project, and the future of the band.
Read on for the full interview!
Sea of Tranquility: Hi Mike! Cloudscape has just completed their second album Crimson Skies. How have reactions been so far?
Mike Andersson: I´m happy and relieved to say that the reactions has turned out
fantastic to say the least. We are really excited about the feedback we´ve gained so far, so, wow....we´re honored. The reactions for our debut in 2005 were also great but, it ain´t comparable to the reactions for Crimson Skies.
SoT: I'm sure our readers would be interested in how you'd describe the sound of Cloudscape.
Mike: Well, when I´m asked to describe the music of Cloudscape I´d always say
that we play "melodic metal with progressive touches". I think that is a decent description of our music. We don't compose music in order to make it progressive for the sake of progressiveness. It just turns out that way more or less in various songs depending on what our inspirations and musical minds leads us. We want to compose good songs with good melodies so, as long as we feel satisfied with our songs we´re happy no matter if it´s more proggy or less proggy. I think that has become the trademark for Cloudscape.... combining the semi-proggy elements to more straightforward melodic metal.
SoT: In what ways do you think does Crimson Skies differ from your debut?
Mike: I think the songs are more varied, a bit more proggy and futuristic,
also more melodic. The heaviness is still there. The obvious difference is that, on Crimson Skies all songs are completely new and written after finishing the recordings of our debut. On the debut there were 3 - 4 songs that were quite old (the oldest one was written in 1996 if I remember correctly), so of course we were kinda tired of those songs after all years of rehearsing. The bottom line is, I think all of us were a bit more inspired during the recordings of Crimson Skies compared to the debut. We feel that we have found ourselves musically....found a path (style) that makes us sound like.......us.
SoT: To give those unfamiliar with your band, what other bands do most Cloudscape fans enjoy?
Mike: Hmm, well, let me see.....I think and believe our fans and listeners generally also listen to bands like Pagan´s Mind, Royal Hunt, Symphony X, Dream Theater, Masterplan, Queensryche, Last Tribe etc etc etc as well.
SoT: Could you talk a bit about the writing and recording process of Crimson Skies?
Mike: The songwriting process began almost immediatly after finishing the
recordings of the debut. We don´t force ourselves to write music because our song ideas come naturally. I only compose music when I have real ideas that I believe in. I never like to sit down playing my keyboard with the ambition saying to myself; let's make a song, let's see what my fingers come up with. No no, I play when I have genuine ideas popping up in my head translating it onto my keyboard. Sometimes though I get song ideas by just exploring the sounds in my keyboard. The first song I wrote for Crimson Skies was 1000 Souls and the last one was "Take The Blame". We entered the Roastinghouse studio during the last week in December 2005, so Crimson Skies was completely recorded, mixed and mastered in mid March 2006. The whole recording session went really smooth and we were really inspired. The production turned out great thanks to our main producer Pontus Lindmark (Allen/Lande Project, Pax).
SoT: You've once again worked with the amazing Mattias Noren for your artwork. Did Mattias come up with the concept himself or was he inspired by your thoughts?
Mike: As far as I know he was inspired by our music for Crimson Skies. We
sent him a pre-production (demo recording) of the songs in order for him to listen to and find inspiration in. The only direction we gave him was to make the cover in red color. We are so satisfied with both covers and artwork he has made for us...he is awesome.
SoT: Anders Theo Theander is credited as the executive producer of your album. What's it like working with Theander in the studio and how much has he impacted the sound of Cloudscape in general?
Mike: Anders "Theo" Theander is an awesome producer in all aspects. He has
Good ears for our kind of music and he is very encouraging in the studio with great knowledge for his profession. Theo set the standards on our debut, but on Crimson Skies it´s Pontus Lindmark that is the main producer. He is the one who set the standards on the mix and production for Crimson Skies. I really hope that Pontus Lindmark
gets the recognition he really deserves as a producer. He (just like Theo) has great ears for our kind of music and also other genres as well. He is very broad in his "production-thinking", so I can´t find enough words to describe how satisfied we are with him as producer. Theo more like supervised the recording process this time while Pontus did the actual work and mix decisions.
SoT: Both guitarists in Cloudscape have a very melodic, warm playing, kind of like Magnus Karlsson a bit. Do you opt for this type of guitar work intentionally or does it simply develop that way in the studio?
Mike: They play what they believe fits the songs. They don´t opt for any specific styles except for what is fitting to the songs. Patrik is an improvising guitar player while Bjorn more like composes his solos. I love the combination between them in that aspect since they are so different from each other, but still so alike in other aspects. Both are great guitar players and match each other great.
SoT: The keyboard work is split between you and guitarist Bjorn Eliasson. Which one of you plays the keys during your live shows?
Mike: None of us . When we formed Cloudscape we decided to use backtracks live (pre-recorded keyboards) instead of hiring a keyboard player. The good thing about that is that we´ll get all keyboard arrangements when we play live because we would´ve had to hire 4 keyboard players if we´d choose to use live keyboards . We see our keyboard work more like "percussion/colors to the music" rather than genuine playing. The bad thing about using backtrack is that we can´t use any keyboard solos; it would´ve looked quite funny if we played a song live with a Jens Johansson-like keyboard solo without anyone on stage playing it . We have 2 great guitar players, so we do not consider us needing a keyboard player nor keyboard solos. Our music is guitar-based. I think most metal bands use backtracks nowadays even if they have a keyboard player as well.
SoT: Where did the idea of using a female vocalist on "Will We Remain" come from?
Mike: That was actually Mattias Norén's suggestion. He listened to our pre-production and called me one day and asked me what I´d think of using female choirs on "Will We Remain". The chorus on that song is quite epic/big in a catchy way (I think), so when I fantasized about having female choirs on that song I totally agreed with Mattias. I called our good friend Annette Blyckert (Alyson Avenue) and asked her if she´d be interested in recording some choirs on "Will We Remain". She has a very, very beautiful voice that sometimes remind me of Anneke in the Dutch band The Gathering. She definitely made that song something special according to us.
SoT: You've also sung on Marcel Coenen's recent solo album Colour Journey. Are there any other projects you're involved with?
Mike: Yes. I´m the lead singer and partly a composer in a project band called Planet Alliance that includes well-respected musicians like Bob Daisley (ex-Ozzy Osbourne, Gary Moore), Magnus Karlsson (Allen/Lande Project, Last Tribe), Magnus Rosén (Hammerfall), Anders Johansson (ex-Yngwie J. Malmsteen, Hammerfall), Carl-Johan Grimmark (Narnia, Rob Rock), Mattias "IA" Eklundh (Freak Kitchen), Jaime Salazar (Allen/Lande project, ex-Flower Kings) and Janne Stark (Locomotive Breath, Overdrive) and Me Mike Andersson . The musical direction is melodic metal/ hardrock. I think the album will be released in September 2006. The album is being mixed in the Roastinghouse studio as we speak. It has been a great honour and pleasure being able to work with all these musicians.
SoT: That is a fantastic lineup. Are you the only lead singer? Who exactly is behind this project and how did they contact you? It seems to me you must be quite a popular singer among melodic metal circles in Sweden since you'll be singing on Project Alliance.
Mike: Yes, I´m the only singer. A record label contacted Roastinghouse president and producer Anders "Theo" Theander and asked him to put together an interesting lineup with me as the lead vocalist backed up by well-known musicians. Me and Theo talked about it and together we discussed what musicians we wanted to be included in the band based on skills and musical background.
Me....popular? I don´t know if I´m popular.....but, of course it´s an honour to be handed this chance of working with these musicians. Some of us have grown to be good friends as well at the side of "music". I do have come to a point where I have to turn down a lot of offers due to lack of time.
At the side of Cloudscape I´m also the lead singer in a Swiss band called Silent Memorial. They are a quite unknown band since they have only released 1 album and that album was unfortunately only released in Asia in 1998. On that album they had Thomas Vikstrom (Stormwind, ex-Candlemass) handling the vocal duties. The new album is almost recorded and will be mixed during summer. I was asked to join them last summer (2005) so, since they are not a "live band" (which would take a lot of my time if they were...maybe) and the fact that I liked the songs they sent to me I agreed to become a member of Silent Memorial. Maybe we will do a live show some time depending on what´s being served up (a festival appearance for example but...), but Cloudscape is my main band where my heart belongs so, I have to use my free time for Cloudscape's advance. The music of Silent Memorial is very progressive in the same vein like Dream Theater so, because of the musical differences between Cloudscape and Silent Memorial I also saw it like a stimulating thing to be a part of where I can do different things vocally.... a
SoT: That is exciting news indeed. How did you hook up with Silent Memorial and are you guys recording the music together or do you just send your demos over to Switzerland? It should be interesting to hear you in a more Dream Theater-inspired band. Are you thinking of using other aspects of your vocal abilities for Silent Memorial?
Mike: I have already recorded all vocals on the forthcoming Silent Memorial album. I did that during the first week of March 2006. Silent Memorial was looking for a new lead singer, so Chris Häenggi (keyboards) was in contact with a few singers around the world (including me), so he found out about me by buying the Cloudscape debut album. He sent me a few songs so I could make up my mind about accepting their offer. I loved the songs I heard, so it took me a few days to think about it and....well...now I´m a full-time member of Silent Memorial as well. I have written all vocal melodies and almost all lyrics on their album, but the music is written by Christoph Baertschi (guitars) and Chris Häenggi (keyboards). The music of Silent Memorial gave me the opportunity of doing a few different things vocally which was very stimulating, so I think when the Cloudscape fans and listeners that are familiar with my voice listen to the Silent Memorial album will lift their eye-brows on some vocal parts which shows a broader side of me and so far unused type of vocals so far on an album by me . I´m not gonna exaggerate because mainly I sing the way fans and listeners are used to, but there are a few parts that show different sides of me.
It´s quite far between Switzerland and Sweden, but despite the distance me and Chris Häenggi have a very close friendship which is a good and important thing. We got along so well during the vocal recordings in the Roastinghouse studio, so all I can say is that I´m really happy and honoured to be a member of Silent Memorial at the side of Cloudscape and being a good friend of theirs. I will meet Chris and Christoph again at Sweden Rock Festival in June since they are coming to support Cloudscape in the audiance....make sure that EVERYONE HEADBANGS AND SHOUTS AS MUCH AS INSANELY POSSIBLE during our show .
SoT: When can Cloudscape fans expect to see you guys live? Any dates yet?
Mike: Well, our next confirmed gig will be at the big metal festival called
"Sweden Rock Festival" on June 9. Other bands that will perform there Are Journey, Vanden Plas, Whitesnake, Deep Purple, Porcupine Tree, Def Leppard, W.A.S.P + 54 more bands. We have also been asked to do a small tour in Germany but, that ain´t official or completely sure yet. It is in a planning process by the German booker right now so, we are really hoping to get this tour organized. Overall we really hope to be able touring in 2006/2007 in as many countries as possible. We´ll see what happens but, we are longing to meet our fans on the road so, keep Your fingers crossed .
(Click here to read our review of the CD Crimson Skies)