JOHAN KIHLBERG’S IMPERA – Johan Kihlberg
Interviewed by: Anders Sandvall
Thanks to Birgitt Schwanke at GerMusica PR for the help and GerMusica PR for the promo pictures.
Additional promo pictures taken by: Paul & Gene without make-up/black & white picture: Mats Vassfjord
Picture of Michael Sadler taken by: Ulf Magnusson
Johan Kihlberg, mostly known for the band Impera which has released three albums, has just put out his first solo album titled JOHAN KIHLBERG’S IMPERA AGE OF DISCOVERY. In the interview we talked about the new label, the brand new solo album and where his musical influences come from. Instead of having one solid singer behind the mic, he let several voices like Patrik Johansson (Astral Doors, Lion’s Share), Göran Edman (Malmsteen, John Norum), and one of Kihlberg’s favourite singers Michael Sadler (SAGA) do the work. Since I had Kihlberg on the line I took the chance to incorporate some questions regarding the mighty KISS-book he released last year and I also asked why the only remaining member from the original band Impera is bass player Mats Vassfjord.
Hi Johan how are you today? Thanks for taking the time for this interview, are you ready to begin?
First of all I have to say that your new album is brilliant in every way! It’s titled AGE OF DISCOVERY but when and why did you first decide to make a solo album?
Thank you! Impera has always been my solo project but when I changed the line-up and record company it felt right to slightly change the name. I was against it at first but Lars Chriss, my co-producer and guitarist talked me in to it.
You’re now calling it Johan Kihlberg’s Impera; what happened with the rest of the band members from the last album?
After the third album I decided to write and work with other people to make the next album sound different. I like to change things around a bit to make it more exiting for me and the listener. Matti and Tommy are two of the most booked studio musicians out there so they have their plates full.
Was it easy to convince guitarist/producer Lars Chriss (Lion’s Share) to join forces with you?
It was very natural that Lars would take over the guitar dutys, he’s been there from the begining mixing and co-producing and he’s an awesome guitarist.
How much material did you two write together on the album? In the bio it says that Chriss said that friends of yours have helped you come up with basic ideas for the album; what does that mean and who are the friends he’s talking about?
I always bring my ideas in and sit down with Lars to work on them, then Mick Devine (Seven) works on lyrics and melodies. The new thing on this album is that we invited friends to send in songs and if we liked the song, we recorded it. I only co-wrote three of the songs this time. On the three first albums I co-wrote every song but I felt if it’s a great song it should be on the album whether I’ve written it or not.
How involved has Mick Devine been in writing the material?
Very involved, he’s been awesome and understood what we wanted. He did an amazing job, I’m sure I’ll work with him again.
You also managed to feature one of your own favorite singers, Michael Sadler (Saga) on the album. How did it feel when he agreed to sing with you?
We had a song with the working title “The Saga Song” because it sounded a lot like SAGA. Anders Rybank wrote it and when Lars and I talked about who should sing it, he said “Michael Sadler of course”, so I sent the song to him and he loved it. He did some small changes to the lyric so he’s co-writer on the song. For me, having my idol Michael write and sing on my album is just amazing.
A string of great singers like Göran Edman (Yngwie Malmsteen, Johan Norum etc), Mick Devine, Patrik Johansson (Astral Doors etc) and Michael J Scott make appearances on the album. Tell us how you and Chriss decided which singers you wanted to have?
When all the songs where done we sat down and talked about witch singer would fit the best for each one, so we hand-picked every singer for and luckily everybody said yes. It helped that Lars had worked with and knew most of them.
Was there anyone that you wanted to sing on the album but couldn’t make it?
No, but Tommy Thayer from KISS was supposed to do a lead solo on one song but that didn’t happen. Maybe on the next one.
Where does the title AGE OF DISCOVERY come from? What does it mean to you?
Actually, my art director Carl Beckston, who designed all the Impera albums, always comes up with the title of each album. It’s worked out great for me because then I can concentrate on the music. What does it mean? You have to ask Carl that.
Just like on the previous Impera albums, Carl-André Beckston created the cover art work; why did you want to work with him again and are you happy with the work he put into the new album?
Carl is awesome, I love everything he does. Lars connected me with Carl and he’s been working for me ever since and he will do the next one also, he’s the best.
Was he given free hand to create the art? I think the new album has a lot in common with the previous one when it comes to the art; you can see straight away that it’s an Impera album.
Carl is into sci-fi like me so I only say that I want a space feeling about it and that’s it, then he does what he wants. We like the same sci-fi movies so we think a lot alike and it always turns out great.
The only remaining member in the Impera camp from the last album is bass player Mats Vassfjord. Was he the only one you wanted to continue to work with from the previous band? The rest of the band members are new, how did they end up in the band, are you all old friends?
Mats stayed because he’s one of my oldest friends, the rest of the guys are friends of ours but it’s a project so on the next one it could be a totally new gang, you never know. That’s what’s great, I can hand pick the people I like to work with.
How would you like to describe the music Johan Kihlberg’s Impera plays?
It’s a mix of the music I love. You have some heavier stuff, some pop, some slower stuff and even some classical stuff. It’s the best of all differen’t kinds of music, it’s the kind of album that I wanna buy.
What will you say is the difference between the three previous Impera albums and this one when it cames to the music?
Because there’s a lot more different song writers involved on this one than on the first three albums where Tommy, Matti and I wrote everything, this one is much more diverse in music styles.
In the bio you say that you grew up listening to bands like KISS, Queen, Abba and The Beatles, bands that weren’t afraid to go their own way. Have you been inspired by those bands to create your own musical path?
Absolutley, if we take KISS or Queen, two of my favourites, their music is very diverse with a lot of different styles. That’s what I like about them so this is my way to pay tribute to bands like that.
What do you think are the biggest musical differences between AGE OF DISCOVERY and the previous Impera albums?
It’s diversity, for sure.
Why have you chosen to call the band Johan Kihlberg’s Impera. Could that make people believe there’s still a band and not your solo album?
Beacuse I’ve changed the line-up and signed with a new record company we felt that was a stepping stone to something new so we just added my name. It was actually Lars’ idea to do it, to show that this is something new and it´s gonna stay that way in the future.
What did fans think of the lyric video to the single “Fear” that came out at the end of January?
They loved it, I think all four lyric videos from the album made by Paolo Vallerge from Italy is awesome.
Fear (Official Lyric Video)
Were there any songs left out when you chose the set list to the album?
Yes, there always is, some of them will be on the next one, great songs but they didn’t fit the mix on AGE OF DISCOVERY.
“Fear” is a duet between Patrik Johansson and Mick Devine, how did you come up with that the song should become a duet?
I think it was Lars’ idea to mix both singers and I think it worked out great. It’s very cool and exciting to mix two such different singers. It makes the whole song more interesting, I think.
Do you have any particular favorite song on the album? If so which one and why?
It changes from week to week. “Fear”, “Falling”, “The Right Stuff”, right now it’s “Just a Conversation”; I love the production and Göran Edman’s vocals and it just make me happy to listen to that one.
Göran Edman does a brilliant job in “Just a Conversation” as well as Patrik Johansson in “Fear” and “That’s the Way That Life Goes”. Was it hard to pick which song the singers would sing?
No, we just hand picked the singer that we thought would fit the song the best and luckily everybody was on board.
Do you think fans of your older albums is going to like AGE OF DISCOVERY?
I think so, even though it’s a small difference in the song writing, the production ties everything together and you’ll here it’s an Impera album.
I think that the music on the new album has a lot in common with your past work. In what way do you think the music has changed if you compare the albums with each other?
Like I said, this album is much more diverse than the first three and I think we’ll continue to write like that on the albums to come.
You and two other are listed on keyboard, how much do you play on the album?
I play keybords on eight of the tracks, Anders Rybank plays on “Why Does She Care” which he wrote together with Michael Sadler, and Kay Backlund plays additional keyboards on “Fear”, “Just a Conversation” and all the keyboards on “Prelude”.
Lars Chriss really impresses on guitar, how was it to work with Chriss as a musician?
Just awesome, he’s one of the best I’ve ever worked with and also a great song writer. I’ve known him forever so that helps.
Previous Impera albums have been recorded in several different studios, is this one also recorded in various studios or have you kept it to only one?
This one we recorded in even more different studios than the first albums since there’s a lot more people involved. We used studios all over Sweden a few in England, and one in L.A., USA.
Were you or Chriss part of any recordings when it came to the vocalists?
No, the vocalists recorded their stuff in the city where they live and then sent the files in for Lars to mix.
You and Chriss produced the album but who took on the majority of the work? How was it to work with Chriss as producer this time?
I have to say that Lars did the most production-wise because he was in the studio all the time. If I couldn’t be there some days he sent me songs for my approval. It worked out great and he did an amazing job.
He’s also mixed the album, where did he do that and were you a part of that process as well?
The mixing was done at LS Studios in Stockholm, Sweden and I was not there at that time. Like the recordings, if I´m not there Lars sends me everything for my approval.
Label and management
The three previous albums were released by Escape Music; now you’re signed to AOR Heaven. Why did you part ways with Escape Music?
I had a three record deal with Escape Music and because I was going to change the line-up I thought it was time to look at other record companies as part of that process; you’re always looking for better deals.
Are you happy with the work AOR Heaven have put into you and the album so far?
Absolutely, they’ve been working hard to promote the album.
Are you happy with how many copies the previous albums sold?
No, cause no one has big album sales anymore due to downloading, but they have sold pretty good. I’m not complaining.
Is AGE OF DISCOVERY available at Spotify, Itunes etc?
Any plans on releasing it on vinyl?
I want to release all Impera albums on vinyl but nothing is set yet but some day, I promise.
What are your thoughts on the downloading and streaming industry? I know that many bands/artists turn to writing biographies, launching alcohol, hosting meet & greets in order to make some proper cash nowadays; what’s your take on that?
I understand when artists are coming up with other things to make money and I have no problem with that. I mean the whole record industry collapsed when downloading started. To this day I have never downloaded anything but I’m old school, I wanna hold the stuff in my hands, same with movies that I collect, I wanna have the original DVD, Blu-Ray or whatever, that’s just me.
You’re a huge fan of the band KISS, tell us why you were hooked on the band in the first place?
I saw a picture of them late ’75and knew that this must be awesome. Then I heard them and I was hooked, I was in the right age also like 8 years old. They’ve got me.
Last year you, together with rock journalist Carl Linnaeus, and photographer/bass player Mats Vassfjord released a book about the band. When did you start to write it and who came up with the idea?
Since I’ve known the band for almost 30 years and worked for Polygram Records in the Eighties and been to almost a hundred KISS concerts around the world and even played with Vinnie Vincent, Bruce and Bob Kulick, I was asked to write a book about KISS for years.
The book is called KISS Klassified: War Stories from a KISS Army General. Was it fun to share all the stories with Linnaeus? Were there any stories that you couldn’t tell the readers about, ha ha?
It was great to go down memory lane with Carl and Mats and we had material and photos to make ten books so there was a lot of stories and photos that didn’t make it into the book. Maybe we’ll release some more in the future, there’s an interest for sure. I mean, the first edition sold out in three weeks!!!
You did a pledge campaign in order to release the book, were there many people that contributed to the campaign?
Not correct, I have never done a pledge campaign, ever.
Is it correct that the book is only available in English? Is it going to be translated to any other language later on?
Yes, only English, maybe Japanese in the future, there’s a huge market over there, we’ll see, I hope so.
What was the most fun part of making the book?
Talking memories with Mats and going through thousands of photos, a lot of work but fun.
It was a solid book with 340 pages and 750 pictures, was it hard to choose which pictures you wanted to include?
Very, like I said, we could have done five books with only Mats photos and no text.
Gain Production AB released the book, are you happy with the outcome of your co-operation?
Extremely, they’ve done a great job getting the book released worldwide.
Where can you buy the book?
Everywhere they sell books but outside Sweden I think Amazon is the place. Bruce Kulick did a short video promoting the book (he wrote the foreword) and he recommended Amazon.com.
Do you have any plans on continuing releasing more books about Kiss in the future?
I think so, will see.
Have you had any response on the book from the KISS camp; have you heard anything from Gene and Paul?
I know Gene pre-ordered the book, I think he wanted the extra stuff we put in (a poster and other stuff) in the first 500 copies of the first edition. I will meet Gene in May to give him a copy of the second edition, I’m sure he liked it.
Past and present
At the end of February you threw a release party at Hardrock Café in Stockholm, Sweden how was the party? Did you perform live?
The party was awesome, a lot of people turned up that I hadn’t seen in years so that was fun. We didn’t play live cause I couldn’t get everybody together, my plan was to perform with Michael Sadler as a special guest but he had a SAGA show to do in Canada the day after.
The lyric video to “Why Does She Care” came at the beginning of February, how was the response to the video?
It’s been great. It’s actually a video/lyric video. I met Michael in Stockholm last November when he played two sold out shows there and the day before we filmed Michael for that song and it came out great. It´s the most viewed video of the four we’ve released so far.
Why Does She Care (Official Lyric Video)
Are there any plans on shooting a proper video to any of the songs?
I think so, I’m talking to the record company about that, everybody want’s to do it but it’s hard to get everybody together since we all live in Sweden, England and the US. We’ll see.
You left the make-up and the name JK Impera behind with the new album, why did you chose to “re-new” yourself?
It was time to re-invent myself, JK stands, of course, for Johan Kihlberg so it’s not that big of a difference.
Are you still friends with former singer Alfonzetti and guitarist Denander? Do you think you’re going to work with them again?
Yes, I talked to Tommy the other day but I don’t know if we work together again, they have their thing and I have mine but you never know.
What’s the next step for you and Impera? Any plans on another solo album?
All the albums to come will be under my name so there will only be soloprojects from now on when we talk about Impera.
Do you see Impera and Johan Kilberg’s Impera as a project or a band?
I like to see it as a band but it is my solo project.
Are there any plans on doing some shows promoting this album?
We are planning to do some shows this Summer/Fall and the cool thing is that Michael Sadler is on board so that should be fun.
Would you like to do shows to promote the album or are you satisfied doing interviews etc?
I love to play live, there’s nothing better, doing interviews not so much, hahaha.
Falling ( Official Lyric Video)
Are you happy with what you have achieved so far in your career? Is there anything special you want to do in the near future?
I’m pretty happy so far but I’ve always have some new ideas/projects in my head, we’ll see. First off is the next Impera album, the release of my classical music project and the metal album me and Lars plan to record in the near future and maybe one more book.
What would you like to say to the ones who haven’t heard the music of Impera or Johan Kihlberg’s Impera?
If you like melodic rock music, this is for you. Simple as that.
Could you give them three reasons why they should buy AGE OF DISCOVERY?
Great songs, awesome production, Michael Sadler.
Well that was all for this time. Thanks a lot for making this interview with me and metal-rules.com, I really hope to see you on a stage near me soon. Do you have any final words of wisdom to the fans?
My pleasure, please visit us on www.impera.org / Facebook or Instagram. Thanks for your support.