Heart of Steel: Interviews

Johan Liiva
Vocalist for HEARSE

Interview by Anders Sandvall
Promo pictures provided by the band

Here is an interview with Johan Liiva who is known for his membership in Arch Enemy and Non Exist among others. Johan is now the lead singer in Hearse who have recently released the follow up ARMAGEDDON MON AMOUR to the debut DOMINION REPTILIAN. I’ve also asked him questions about his fairly new band Hearse.

Where in Sweden does the band-member live?

Max and Mattias live in Stockholm while I am stuck in the southern mud just outside of Helsingborg.




Would you please tell us a bit about Hearse?

Hearse is a 3-piece formed in the fall of 2000. Max initiated the whole thing, recruited Mattias first and then me just after I got out of Arch Enemy in October… We recorded a bunch of demos in Studio Gubbsjuk which we sent to some record labels and then Hammerheart signed us for I think it was 3 albums or so. Then we entered the studio to record our debut-album + a 2-track 7” in July 2002…wrote more songs and recorded our 2nd album in July 2003…well, that’s basically it!


When were you debut album “DOMINION REPTILIAN” released?

It was released sometime during spring of 2003. Don’t remember the exact date though…


How did the press/fans receive it?

Well, it was kind of mixed I’d say… some people thought it was brilliant, some thought it sucked, some said it was too experimental and some said it was too monotonous. It was very interesting to get the reactions, that just shows the depth of peoples interest (or lack of it) in music, but I’m sure we got a lot of fans anyway because of the debut, so…


Are you satisfied with it if you look back on it today?

Yeah, it’s a cool album. It’s a great debut, still there’s a thousand details we would’ve done differently if it was today – but what the heck?



Why didn’t you do any touring on the debut?

There was simply no time for it. We were busy writing new songs, then we entered the studio again and the ball just kept rolling.


Where was it recorded?

In a studio called (at that time) Dog Pound Audio in Stockholm.


How long did it take to write and record it?

The writing-process took about 2 years and the recording approx. 5 weeks or so.

How does it work when you write new material in the band? Who does what?

Max comes up with all these nice tunes, Mattias puts his solo’s there and finally I destroy the whole thing with my vocals, haha… yeah! I write the lyrics when the songs have been pre-recorded in Studio Gubbsjuk and Max’s got some input there as well ‘cause he usually have ideas for the vocal-lines as well. You should hear his suggestions, sounds like a resurrected corpse in a coffin 6 feet under, haha!! Very nice indeed…



Do you play any instrument besides taking care of the vocals?

Yes, I play violin and ukulele. Sometimes also bass, but I prefer not to though. It’s too complicated for me, 4 strings and all that.



Your debut was released last year and now you’re going to release your follow up, why so fast?

Because we’ve got A LOT of songs and we are very eager to record and release them. Otherwise there’s a risk that we might get tired of them and then it’s like old stuff already, at least to us. We’re in kind of a hurry, 3 restless souls y’know…



Who came up with the band name? Does it mean anything special to you?

Max and I discussed the name of the band and totally agreed that Hearse was the best option – short, catchy and connected to death. No, it doesn’t mean anything special really, it’s simply a great name for a band we think.



Does the title “ARMAGEDDON MON AMOUR” mean anything in particular or was it just a cool title?

Hmm… it’s basically just a cool title, I borrowed some parts of it from a book (“Hiroshima Mon Amour”) and made some changes. In today's world it seems like a lot of people (especially the ones in power) just love being provocative and still – like in this, the 21st century – can’t solve problems without the use of violence and military actions. It’s still on some kind of “caveman-stage” where it looks like the world hasn’t changed much the last 50 years. Unfortunately, greed will have us all killed. Sick isn’t it?



Where did you record the new album?

It was actually in the same studio as for the debut, but now it’s called Basement Audio System.


Are the lyrics about anything special?

It’s basically about everything between life and death. Things in life like suffering (to become stronger), fate, the “life-line”, contemplation, questions of “sin”, immortality, heart-aches, deceit, anger, conflict, living in the past and moving on… there’s sometimes also a bit of a political touch to it, but that’s not intentional – it just happens.



Who made the awesome cover and who decided that you should have that cover?

It’s a guy in Holland called Marco Jeurissen (www.101images.com) who helped us out both times. He’s excellent! It was our label who recommended him and it’s worked out great so far. He knows pretty much what we want so it’s very easy and smooth to work with him.



Do you think that your new album is better than the debut? If so why?

I think it’s waaay better than the debut – in every aspect. The songs are better, more mature and with a more solid structure. We managed to pick and record a great cover (“Cambodia”), the production is more powerful and it just sounds a lot more convincing in general. The first one was just like entering the studio, record as quickly as possible and then get the hell out! The 2nd round was much more focused, more like “let’s make one helluva album, boys!”…



Personally I think you’re doing a brilliant job on the new album, you still sing as good as you always done, what do you think about that?

Well, thanks! Personally I feel that this was my best effort in a very long time. It was a lot of hard work really, not just grab the mic and pretend that anything goes… felt much more focused, hungry, pushing myself beyond the limit all the time…


Did the band do a lot of rehearsing before you went into the studio?

Yeah, we rehearsed as often as we could. There’s a bit of a distance between us, but we managed to arrange everything so that we felt pretty confident before recording.



How was it to work with Jonas Edler as a producer? Have you worked with him before?

He’s the perfect producer for Hearse, we couldn’t think of anyone else really. It’s a pleasure to record with him as he’s very patient, full of ideas and simply just a great guy! He produced both of our albums and will produce the 3rd as well now this July.



It says in the booklet that the pre-production was made in Studio Gubbsjuk Mobile System, where is that located?

That’s Max’s home-studio. He carries it in his pocket, more or less, haha…



Why have you chosen to do a cover of the old Kim Wilde song “Cambodia” from the 80’s? Is she a big influence?

It’s one of the best songs ever written, so it was a simple choice for us to pick this one. It just HAD to be on the album. Yeah, I guess Kim Wilde is one of our biggest influences… weird isn’t it?



The instrumental track “SODI” and the half-instrumental “ARMAGEDDON MON AMOUR” falls a bit out of the frame of the other songs, why have you chosen to put those tracks on the album?

To create a certain atmosphere and put more variety into the whole album, to avoid the “180 km/h-syndrome”.



I think that Hearse has big musical similarities with what the legendary Entombed plays today, death’n’roll. How would you describe you music?

Well, Entombed is a great band that’s been a big source of inspiration since the early 90’s. If people wanna categorize us as death n' roll or whatever, that’s cool, I don’t mind. At the end of the day we just let the music speak for itself.



How does the co-operation with your label work?

It works great, they’re doing a terrific job.



There are just three guys in the band. You sing, Max on drums and Mattias on guitar, who takes care of the bass on the two albums?

We all share it, but there’s not like a big fight about it – seems like none of us wants to do it full-time, haha.



On your web-site it says that you’re going to do some gigs in Holland later this year, are you going to do more shows than that and are you going to tour in Scandinavia?

No, right now the only thing scheduled is this trip to Holland and Belgium.



How does it feel to go on stage in Holland for the first time? Are you a bit nervous?

It feels great, a little nervous but it’s OK.


When you’re playing live who’s going to take care of the bass playing?

A friend of ours, Joakim Knutsson, who’s also in a band called Rise ‘n’ Shine.



Do you get a lot of fan e-mail? How big are your fan-base do you think?

Most e-mails are connected to promotion like interviews and so on. As for the “fan-base”, well, we have no idea really.



Do you find any problems with the fact that your label isn’t based in Sweden?

No, it’s not any problem at all. Most things can be dealt with via e-mail or phone, money transactions are also smooth these days, so… no, it’s totally alright.



Are you planning to be so productive that you’re going to release one album a year?

That’s our goal, yes!



Is there any new material finish so far for a new album?

The entire new album is now ready to be recorded, just a few more lyrics to write and some guitars to tune.


Why did you leave Non Exist?

Because one band is more than enough and Hearse is more the kind of stuff I wanted to do, so it was a easy choice for me + that Max and I are old friends since our teens.



Are you happy with the final result on the Non Exist album? Is there anything you would have done different?

Yeah, I’m happy and proud of it… of course there are a lot of things I’d like to change on it (production, lyrics, some vocal parts etc.), but all in all it’s a cool disc.



Are you involved in any other band or project besides Hearse at the moment?

No, not that I know of anyway. I usually go out and get drunk, then the day after I’ve formed like 10 new bands with people I’ve met, haha.



If I say that you’re a living legend with all the bands and stuff you been doing within the musical scene how does that feel?

It makes me feel old, haha! No, seriously, I’m very happy to hear this and definitely take it as a compliment. When I think about it, I do this because I love it – and the music literally saved my life many, many times…



Are there a lot of people coming up to you that wants to talk about your old bands?

Yeah, every now and then… especially about Arch Enemy of course. That’s cool, people are genuinely interested and I’ve never been like too arrogant or stuck-up to ignore anyone. It’s just cool that people actually care and not just see you as some kind of “rockstar”… which I am not – and never was.



Do you get disturbed of people who want to talk about Arch Enemy today?

No way! It’s totally cool with me. I’m really proud of the years with Arch Enemy and it’s always a pleasure to share this with people who wants to know stuff, who are interested…



Which musical achievement that you’ve done so far are you most proud of today?

Hard to say, but the Arch Enemy debut “Black Earth” is probably something that I consider to be the most important thing in my musical “career”. It totally rocked my world, haha! The best song should be Furbowl’s “Dead and gone”, it was really special to me. The best show I’ve ever performed must have been in Bergara (Spain) in 1999 when Arch Enemy went out for 5 weeks as support to In Flames. That was amazing!



Can you live on being a musician or do you have a regular job as well?

I guess if you really try hard enough you can make a living out of almost anything. Still, I have a regular daytime-job and I like it (I must be sick, haha), but of course if I won a million bucks tomorrow the desire to work as a printer 40 hours a week would most definitely decrease a little bit.



What are the plans for Hearse during –04 except for the shows in Holland then?

Not much, just writing more and more good music and enjoy our lives in the shadow of success (what???)… nah, seriously, we’ll just have to wait and see what happens. Now we’re about to record the 3rd album and what comes after this we don’t really know much about. Hopefully we’ll do some more shows, I’ve got a feeling that this Holland-thing will make us hungry for more, so…



Is there anything else you would like to say to the readers in metal-rules.com?

Check out our new album “Armageddon mon amour” and our website www.hearse.se  Hope to see you all someday!


Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions.

No problem, thanks for the support!!!

Read the review of the CD ARMAGEDDON MON AMOUR here.

Band Website: www.hearse.se

Labels: www.karmageddonmedia.com / www.soundpollution.se