Interviewed by: Anders Sandvall
Thanks to GerMusica for the promo pictures of the band.
Promo pictures by: Cherie Wandroph.
Thanks to AOR Heaven for the promo pictures of the band.
Additional promo pictures taken from the band’s website.
One of the most influential Swedish AOR/melodic hard rock acts, Alien, has reunited with the original line-up and last year released the new album ETERNITY. I got the rare opportunity to speak to bass player Ken Sandin and found out what he thought about the new album, the reunion with the band and his thoughts on the band’s past, present and future. Here is what he had to say…enjoy.
Hi Ken, are you ready to kick off the interview?
Hi, I’m ready
Alien recently released a new album titled ETERNITY and I thought we could begin with talking about the album. How long did it take to write and record the album?
The work with writing, arranging, rehearsing and producing the album was spread out over a period of a year, more or less.
How was the song writing process this time? Did all of the members contribute with material? What are the lyrics about and who has written the lyrics?
All members contributed in the process of developing and arranging, whoever came up with the original idea for a song. Hence all music is credited Alien.
As far as lyrics, we wrote some of them ourselves and also invited our co-writers from the debut album (US) sessions. The lyrics are about life, relations etc. There’s an overall positive touch them.
I wanted to use a symbol in some way, and also wanted a one word title. I came up with Eternity and the laying 8, and the others liked it. There was no other special meaning to it, really. The art we create may be eternal, though.
You did the cover art-work to the album what was the thought behind the cover? Are the band and you happy with it?
The intention was to have it connect to the Scandinavian edition of our debut, since this is the follow up album – for us five, the original lineup. Hence, artwork in that line of outlandish fantasy style, first logo etc. Even the flying discs and the tower from the debut album artwork are there. It’s rougher and darker in contrast with the debut, and Emili Muraki’s live photos from our Firefest 2013 performance went very well with the layout of the booklet. No pastels this time 😉 Sure, we’re happy with it, this is what we aimed for.
You chose to feature the song “I’m A Fighter” which was written back in the 80’s by Pam Barlow and Janet Morrisson Minto. How come you wanted the song to be a part of ETERNITY?
We just had an idea of connecting with them again after all these years, since they were part of the process with the debut. Not that we had a lack of songs or anything, but I knew of “I’m A Fighter” and that it was actually an 80’s song, although we never heard it back then. Luckily it was never recorded by any other artist, so we asked to do it …and little did we know then that the regained contact would lead to co-writing for the new material as well.
I met Marcie Free (King Kobra, Unruly Child), who sang the demo version in the 80’s, at Firefest 2011 and actually talked about Pam & Janet…
How was it for singer Jim Jidhed to be singing songs he hadn’t written?
As long as a song has a feel to it, that you can relate to and ‘make your own’. We already knew that we like the way Pam & Janet write lyrics to this type of music, so Jim had no problems taking them to his heart. We wouldn’t have done anything on our album that didn’t feel right.
Do you think that ETERNITY continues down the same musical path as your previous albums or do you think that the band’s music has moved in a different direction now?
Well, we only refer to the recordings of the original lineup. Later albums may have gone in other directions. What I do know is that our fans were really happy about the reunion and excited for us to make a new album. So, it was a no-brainer that we should follow the same path we once created, became famous with and appreciated for. I didn’t want to do anything else.
Melodic rock, AOR, 80’s radio oriented hard rock, but with a touch of 70’s hard/symphonic rock.
I read some great reviews of ETERNITY but does the band care about what critics and media have to say?
In some sense we do. You obviously hope people are going to like your new album, and it’s rewarding to read good reviews. Plus you know it will spread the word.
In Love We Trust’ single EPK
Are there any plans on shooting videos to any of the songs?
Yes, there’re loose plans for a video. Not for any of the two singles (‘In Love We Trust’ or ‘Summer Of Love’), but we mustn’t say which one (yet).
Are you happy with the outcome of the album or do you feel you and the band should have done anything different?
We’re very happy with it, it’s precisely what we intended. We wanted to stay true to our signature sound, as far as style of music and performances, only with an up to date sound quality. I was very much involved producing, and I’m very happy with the final mix, given the way it was recorded.
We made a few YouTube ads/EPKs for the album and singles, maybe 20.000 views? Since the release I haven’t paid much attention to the clips, to be honest. I remember that people wrote nice things and were excited to hear the full album.
Did the band throw a release party for ETERNITY? If so, when and where?
Yes, in our home town Gothenburg April 24th. A listening party, where friends and fans got a chance to hear and buy the album the night before the European release… and celebrate with us.
When I listen to ETERNITY I found that there are more uptempo songs rather than ballads. Was it a conscious move to feature a few more faster songs this time?
Not really, we just wanted a dynamic blend of songs. Turned out to be an acoustic ballad, a power ballad, some mid- and some up-tempo songs… pretty much like the debut album.
Since the reunion, though, we noticed we had a lot of mid-tempo songs in the live set, so we might have gone for a few more up-tempo songs rather than too many mid-tempo, with the new material.
Studio & production
You recorded the album in three different studios. Which parts were recorded in which studio?
Drums, vocals, final mix and mastering were done at Bohus Sound. Guitars were tracked in Stockholm at Borg Music, bass and editing at SinProd, Gothenburg. Plus we were on a couple more locations, tracking keyboards and backing vocals.
You used Bohus Studio before and how was it to once again record there?
It’s a great studio, and I’ve been working there a lot during the years, with the in-house producers, mostly for final mixes and mastering.
Alien recorded a couple of singles there, including the very first release ‘Headstrong’ (7” 1987), cut on Dec 13th 1986.
But more importantly we did all our pre-production sessions (demos) there; it was kind of the hub for all our work.
Did you all rehearse together before you went into the studio or did you learn each parts on your own?
Absolutely, we had a couple of writing/rehearsing sessions during the spring, and final rehearsals before entering Bohus Sound for the first recording session, which was tracking all drums starting August 1st.
But, everyone is also responsible for preparing his own parts before tracking.
How was it to be working together in the studio again after all these years? Was the magic still there?
It’s been a long time since the old recordings… but yes, as soon as we got together for our very first reunion rehearsal we found that special chemistry right away. It was just there, after 20+ years… that’s kind of magical!
The entire band is listed as producers but was everyone in the band equally involved in the production part?
No, I was the only one involved in all parts of the production, including editing, final mixes and mastering.
Why did you choose to produce the album on your own this time?
Because we knew precisely what kind of album we wanted to make, and how to achieve it. No need for that kind of input, this time.
The mix and mastering was done by Stefan Karlsson and Dragan Tanaskovic. Was anyone in the band part of those processes and how come you wanted to work with those guys?
Yes, I was. Dragan was the obvious choice for mastering; being the owner of Bohus Sound and the mastering tech I prefer. When deciding on Bohus Sound for tracking drums, Dragan recommended new in-house engineer Stefan Karlsson. He then engineered the lead vocal recordings, as well.
Our initial plan for final mixes didn’t work out, logistically and schedule wise, but another great producer friend of mine also praised Stefan’s skills, so we gave it a shot and it turned out great!
The band re-united in 2010. Who was the leading force to make the re-union happen? Did you ever hesitate to join the band again?
When they did the Dark Eyes album, calling it an ALIEN reunion, I actually thought that would close the doors for a reunion of the ‘original lineup’ ever to happen. But, when Tony wished for us to meet and play the songs of the first album we couldn’t resist. For nostalgic reasons, and the love and respect of what we accomplished back then.
Borg and Jidhed recorded the Alien album DARK EYES back in 2005. What did you think of the album?
I just thought they shouldn’t have named it Alien. Tony says: “After completing ’Dark Eyes’ we both felt we missed the others (i.e. Toby, Jimmy and Ken). The original lineup has been impossible to emulate.
Alien is a result of us five members, one missing piece and it’s no longer Alien”.
The single “Ready To Fly” was released in 2010. What did the fans think of it?
We got awesome response when playing it live, right away. People love it and find it matching our old songs just great.
The same year you also performed at several festivals. How was it to once again touring with the guys?
We’re having so much fun travelling, playing and hanging out. No proper tours, really… not yet, anyway – but we love it.
You performed at Sweden Rock festival and Getaway Rock festival to mention a few. Which show was the most fun to do?
I have to say Firefest 2011, although it’s a much smaller festival. SRF was great fun too, meeting our Swedish audience again.
The band also did a show in 2011 at the well known Firefest festival in England, what are your memories of that show?
We weren’t prepared for such an overwhelming response! Old fans were happy to finally see us live. Those who didn’t really know us were surprised by the impact of the songs and our performance… from what we heard afterwards. We were proclaimed the ‘surprise of the weekend’ J
After the shows and the single what happened to the band, it got silence from Alien after that?
We did just a few shows in 2012, Madrid being the most memorable.
Yes, the 25th anniversary of the debut album. I was super happy about that, since neither of the versions (Scandinavian nor US) has been available for years and years. Flourishing bootlegs and overpriced eBay auctions says it all, right.
I’m very proud of the anniversary edition; having selected bonus tracks and vintage promo pictures, written the liner notes and designed the layout.
On the bonus album to that re-release (which is the US version of the debut album) there are only two songs featured with the old singer Pete Sandberg. Why not feature more songs with Sandberg? Didn’t he sing on all of the songs on the US version of the album?
No, no, no!! These are the original versions, reissued (although remastered). The two bonus tracks added for this ‘Anniversary Edition’ are recordings made prior to the album, at Polar Studios (Stockholm) during the ‘Only One Woman’ session in 1987. Those takes on ‘Touch My Fire’ and ‘Feel My Love’ had never been published and we thought it would be an interesting bonus.
The ‘US’ edition – or rather the international version of the debut – came out when Jim had left the band, and the idea was to introduce Pete with the two songs of the first single we’d then released with him.
Which one of the versions are you the most happy with, the US version or the European edition?
Difficult… there are twelve songs on the Scandi edition, I’m glad it was released that way. Then again, the international edition really gained from the remixes, new cover etc.
Also the second Alien album SHIFTING GEAR was re-released under the name SHIFTING GEAR + 4 with 4 bonus tracks, why did you choose to re-release that one?
Again, those albums are sought after, collector’s items. At first, EMI was making sure our back catalog was made available for digital download and streaming. But, they recognized the demand for physical CDs as well.
The 4 bonus tracks are songs that didn’t make it on to the final edition of SHIFTING GEAR and the songs are sung by Pete Sandberg. What does he think about the fact that “his” songs are being re-released again?
Well, the thing is we wrote a full album’s worth of songs, for the follow up to be. Two songs of the first recording session – at ‘Townhouse Studios’ in London, again with producer Mark Dearnley (of the Only One Woman/Polar session) – were released as the single ‘Easy Livin’/’How Long’… and a third one ‘Wild, Young & Free’ later on the ‘Best & Rare’ compilation. Then, unfortunately, we disbanded in late 1989, before continuing/completing the album.
Anyway, the bonus tracks are further songs from the pre-production demo, which were never published (some others were, on ‘Best & Rare’). Three of them actually already ARE on the album, but we wanted to let our fans hear the original versions, played by the full band.
I have no idea (about Pete). The label owning the masters are free to release them as they want to… they’re making it available again for the fans, so it must be a good thing?
SHIFTING GEAR was recorded as a duo by Borg and Sandberg. Were any of the members in the original line-up involved in that album?
No, it was made when the band had already broken up. We had no clue, until it hit the stores. Did Jim do some background vocals, maybe?
No offense, but I have a hard time listening to it (and never really did, properly). Especially the songs I co-wrote, since it’s not performed by the band like we intended to, but with drum machines and stuff.
The band gave a show at Firefest last year, how was that show compared to the first one you did there?
It was as good a response as the first time, if not better. Only, this time we knew what to expect. The FF crowd is the warmest and greatest you’ll get, being a band in this genre! (…or was, if 2014 was the last FF)
Do you think that the old hardcore Alien fans are going to be happy with ETERNITY?
Yes, I really do. We made this album with that intention, and I think we succeeded in our aim to stay true to our unique sound and style of writing from the early days.
Label and management
How come you signed with AOR Heaven? Are you happy with the work the label has put into the band and ETERNITY so far?
After having the re-issues and digi/download editions released by EMI, there were long gone plans to do the new album with them. Unfortunately EMI Sweden was sold (to Warner Sweden) and everything fell through. Instead we produced and own the Eternity master ourselves, and license manufacturing/distribution. Yes, we’re happy with the work of our licensees, under the circumstances.
Were there many labels that showed interest in signing the band?
Once we had decided to produce and own the product, we went straight to AOR Heaven for a license, which they wanted. Simple as that!
I talked to a few Japanese labels once the album was done, all of them interested, but due to release schedule matters Bickee Music was best suited.
AOR Heaven is a small label, do you see that as any problem?
Not really, since they’ve got the good distributing network we were looking for. You obviously don’t get anything like the power of a major label marketing department supporting your album/career.
Yes, GerMusica was responsible for press/promo for Eternity in Europe (except UK), and they did great. We got lots of good reviews and interviews published.
Does the band work with any booking agency?
Yes, but no one exclusively. It varies for different territories.
You have been in the business for a long time, many artist and bands say the industry is dead with all the downloading and streaming of music etc. What’s your opinion on that? How much has the industry changed since you first entered it?
It’s completely changed! It’s a complex matter, with the new media/platforms. It does NOT work, the way it is now … not for writers, musicians or artists (most of them anyway).
Alien was founded back in 1986 but by whom? And which member was the last one to join?
Tony Borg was the founder member, with drummer Toby Tarrach as his right-hand. Tony had previously worked with all the others except me, so I might actually have been the last piece of the puzzle.
Did all of the members know each other when they joined the band?
We knew, or knew of each other. Some had been playing together in various constellations, but I never played with any of them before.
The band recorded two songs back in 1986 which landed you a deal with Virgin Scandinavia. How did it feel to land a record deal?
A wonderful feeling, rewarding. We had found a unique band chemistry and sound, and they saw it right away. Shortly Virgin Scandinavia presented us to the board at the London head quarters, who re-wrote our contract into a worldwide deal. We could sense great things lying ahead of us…
How was it to tour back then? Was it a lot of partying? Is it correct that the band wrote the debut album out on tour?
We were always pretty modest with partying.We wrote the debut album during 1987, while only touring sporadically in Scandinavia. We spent most of the time at rehearsals (and Bohus Studio).
The summer of 1988 was something else!! With a #1 single in the charts all summer, being all over media, breaking box office records with a massive tour.
That was the time of our lives, no doubt. The summer tour of 1989 wasn’t that intense, but on the other hand preparations for the big international launch were taking place (shooting videos, cover photos etc). The international back up was fully covered; Virgin America responsible for the (remade) album, top notch manager, you name it! And then, of course, the band breaks up…
The cover of “Only One Woman” became the big break-through for Alien back in 1987. How come you choose to make a version of that song?
We were asked to give it a try by the Virgin Scandinavia CEO, who was very fond of us. Don’t ask me where he got the idea, but it was a good one!
It’s so cool that it was also the break through single for Graham (Bonnet, in 1968), who’s now a friend of mine, and we’ve performed it together live.
In Sweden? Mixed response, I think. Newspaper music journalists in Sweden were often difficult to please, weren’t they? Especially if you were the talk of the town, OKEJ magazine reader’s favorites and so on. Tall poppy syndrome (Jantelagen).
What was the reason to why singer Jidhed left the band first time around?
Well, he couldn’t really explain, at the time. It felt almost unimaginable to quit right at the verge of a (good chance for a) big international break-through, to the rest of us. Plus, his decision affected four other musicians’ careers (to be), at a most vulnerable point. It was tough…
Anyway, it was not the right time for Jim to put his heart and soul full-time with the band, since he was expecting his first child. He wasn’t really comfortable in the role as a rock star at that time, either, I think.
Borg recruited Pete Sandberg (Madison, Von Rosen) as the new singer, what did the rest of the band think of Sandberg as new singer?
Actually, I was the one to recommend Pete to the others; it was a friend of mine. I think we were all in a state of shock from Jim’s sudden departure, plus we had to find a solution quickly, with the international launch just around the corner.
I actually asked Göran Edman first, with whom I’d been in a band up until Alien was formed. Göran was too busy already involved with John Norum, Talisman and Swedish Erotica, and decided on staying with Norum. Pete had sung on two ‘Von Rosen’ singles, and we knew he’d be a good voice for our type of music.
In the liner notes to ‘SHIFTING GEAR + 4’ Borg said that even though Sandberg was a great singer he found it was hard to fit in with the rest of the band because Jidhed was such a phenomenal singer. In your opinion did Sandberg had a hard time fitting in with rest of the band?
We did our best to make him feel welcomed, and I hope he did. But, we were in the midst of promoting the debut album (sung by Jim) and it couldn’t have been easy to be compared (if not judged) by our then massive Swedish fan base.
How was it to tour and perform with Sandberg behind the mic?
I did like his stage presence; we all made up a strong unit with a high energy impact during the summer tour of 1989, I think. Again, it was an unfortunate circumstance he had to sing all the Jim material and inevitably be compared. Might have been different if we had first made a new album, with Pete, and then toured with a mix of songs.
During 1990 the entire band except Borg and Sandberg quit. What happened?
No, that’s not what happened. I never quit. The band mutually agreed to disband! We didn’t agree on musical directions, and decided to go our separate ways leaving the band and the name to rest, obviously useful as a reference for us all.
What happened later is another story and totally out of my control.
It’s an obvious mistake we didn’t make a proper press release about breaking up, in the fall of 1989, ‘cause people don’t know what happened and there are so many misconceptions.
How do you feel for the fact that Borg continued with Alien even though also Sandberg then later left?
Well, it wasn’t supposed to happen, or even allowed due to our mutual agreement, so the rest of us weren’t exactly happy about it, at the time…
After the big drop out in 1990 did you keep in touch with the rest of the members?
After Alien broke up in the fall of 1989, I continued writing and recording with Jimmy and Toby for a follow up project. In 1990 Jimmy and I joined Jim Jidhed on his first solo tour. Tony moved to Stockholm and we lost contact for many years.
This past summer the band did a few shows and one of them was at Sabaton Open Air festival. How has the summer been for Alien?
We performed in the big season’s finale of the TV show ‘Bingolotto’, the very last show for hostess Marie Serneholt (A-Teens). We also participated in the Baltic Festival and Baltic Song Contest, representing Sweden. Sabaton Open Air was great fun, as well. I shared stage with Sabaton already in 2010 (with Kee Marcello’s K2), at the Masters of Rock festival in Czech Republic, super nice guys!
In October the band performed in Varberg and in Gothenburg Sweden, how was that? Were there many people attending the shows?
The Gothenburg show was a success, sold out, and we really enjoyed finally performing several songs of the Eternity album live. Varberg wasn’t that well promoted, but we performed pretty much the same show and had a great time.
What did the fans think of hearing the new Alien songs live?
I think most of them have got the new album, or have been streaming it. They seem to dig it a lot.
Does the band play songs from the entire career or only songs from the original line-up?
We have no interest in performing songs that Jim didn’t sing, or we didn’t play, originally.
Are there any plans on continuing touring on ETERNITY?
Sure, we’ve just started playing the Eternity material live, and it’s great fun!
Last couple of shows has been a 50/50 blend of new songs and classics, and it works really well.
The band performed at the HEAT festival in Germany…
Yeah, November 30th. It was a blast! Like with Firefest, it’s great to meet just the right audience, true fans of melodic rock, gathering from all around.
Nice meeting Fate, Return and other bands from back in the days.
Are there any plans on doing a Scandinavian tour soon and do you have any festival shows booked for the next summer?
Yes, we plan to play Scandinavia this year. We might be part of some tour package constellations also, abroad as well. Nothing confirmed, but we’ve got some booking agents looking into it.
How’s the interest for Alien in Asia and America?
Our fans are really spread out all over the globe. There are some fans in the US as well, of course, but if Virgin America could’ve followed through with the 1989 launch… it would have been a totally different story!
We have dedicated fans in South America, but Japan is where we have the most loyal following… by far!
What are the plans ahead for the band?
We long for further touring now, as I said, now with lots of songs of ‘Eternity’ in the set. Maybe writing and stacking up some new song ideas, individually.
Is Alien here to stay this time?
It’s not for me to say, but surely for yet a while. We’re still having too much fun to call it quits.
When can the fans expect to see the next Alien album out in stores?
That’s impossible to estimate, or predict… too many ifs and buts. And again, the issues with the music business. Let’s see, let’s hope.
What would you like to say to the ones who haven’t heard the music of Alien before?
If you’re into classic aor/melodic rock with strong melodies, refined harmonies and great vocals – in the vein of Journey, Survivor, Rainbow etc – then Alien might be it for you. Go check us out!!
Could you give the readers three reasons why they should buy ETERNITY?
‘Classic Rock Magazine’ listed Eternity the #2 best AOR album of 2014, so according to them it’s a must-have! J
– if you like what we did on the debut, you’ll dig this one, too!
– ‘Eternity’ is packed with strong classic aor/melodic rock songs, no fillers!
– this production is clear and powerful (whereas the debut was indistinct).
Do you have any final words of wisdom to share with fans and readers?
We’re happy and proud to find there’re so many fans still out there, and the reception of the new album was just overwhelming. Thanks so much!!
Please, support your favorite bands/artists playing the (type of) music you love, by buying their music. Music is such a strong force, it’s uniting and healing and whatnot… we all need it!
Thanks a lot for taking the time making the interview. I wish you and the band all the best in the future and I really hope to see you on a live stage soon.