INTERVIEW BY MARKO SYRJÄLÄ. PHOTOS BY NUCLEAR BLAST AND ARTO LEHTINEN
Cyhra is one of these new so-called supergroups, consisting of the former members of widely-known metal groups. The band was originally formed in 2017 in Gothenburg, Sweden. The current line-up is: vocalist Joacim “Jake E” Lundberg (Amaranthe), guitarist duo of Jesper Strömblad (In Flames) and Euge Valovirta (Shining), and drummer Alex Landenburg (Rhapsody, etc.) The band’s debut album LETTERS TO MYSELF came out in 2017, and NO HALOS IN HELL followed in 2020. I met the band’s Finnish guitarist Euge last month in Helsinki, and here’s what the man told about the birth of Cyhra, the progress, the future of the band, and some his past stuff too. Read on!
THE BIRTH OF CYHRA
There’s a lot of experience in this band, but Cyhra is still quite a new name. But this group was created in 2017, right?
When the band was first announced, it was advertised as “a supergroup featuring members of In Flames, Amaranthe, Kamelot,” and some guy from Finland in the band [laughter]. So, tell me something about the birth of Cyhra?
Well, it all started when Jake and Jesper met. They’ve been friends for many years. And they began discussing. You know, Jake was writing songs, and Jesper was writing songs. Jake had just left Amaranthe, and Jesper didn’t do anything at the time. They both were writing songs, and then they were like, “What if we write songs together?” Then they wrote songs together, and they didn’t have any idea if it would be a band or a project or whatever. Then they had a couple of songs, they sent it to me, as said like, “Hey, you know we have these songs.” Because I’ve been working with Jake a lot, cause many people might not know, but I was working for Spinefarm as an A&R, and I was Amaranth’s A&R manager. So, Jake and I go way back since the beginning of Amaranthe. So, he called me, “Hey, we have these new songs we’ve written with Jesper, and do you want to hear it? “Yeah, sure.” So, I listened to them, and I was like, “Wow, fuck, these songs are really cool.” I mean, “Yeah, what are you going to do?” “I don’t know? We thought that we were going to form a band. And would you be interested?” I was like, “Yeah, sure! Yeah.” But back then, as I said, I worked as a Spinefarm A&R, and I played with another Swedish band called Shining. And we were just about to release our latest album back then, which I think it’s still the most recent album they have done? The album X. We had agreed to do our first US headline tour. I told Niklas about it, “I’m thinking of quitting and joining this new band, which is closer to what I’m musical.” So, then we agreed that. Okay, let’s do the Shining album first, finish the tour, and then when I would officially quit Shining because there were also some contractual obligations. So, that’s why my role in Cyhra was announced a bit later. Although I played on the album and was a part of the group, I’m not on the first music video or the first promo pictures. But we just decided we do that out of respect because I want to focus 100% do one thing and then move to another. And then Shining was the thing. And then, when that was done, I joined the band officially. I guess it was the same how Alex Landenburg joined the group, the drummer.
How did the band find the connection with Alex Landenburg? He has played in many various bands, including; At Vance, Annihilator, Axxis, Rhapsody, Stratovarius, and Kamelot. So, how did he end up in Cyhra?
Many people don’t know it, but Jake used to sing backing vocals in Kamelot, and he has also done pyros for many bands, like Hammerfall and Kamelot. He’s a pyrotechnician. And during those days, Kamelot toured with bands who had hired Alex, and that’s how they met. Alex was the drummer for whatever band, and Jake was a pyrotechnician or background singer. They saw each other all the time, became friends, and then when Jake realized, “Oh fuck, we’re going to form a band,” and I guess Alex was the first guy Jake thought for the job, “Oh man, I know the guy for many years, and he’s a great drummer. Let’s see.” Jake called him, “Hey, I have these new songs.” And Alex was like, “Wow, it’s excellent stuff. If you ever need a drummer, I’d like to be a part of it.” “Well, now that you asked.” So, yeah. That was how it started. Jake and Jesper were writing songs together. Then they sent those to us, and the rest is history.
I remember when Jake announced his departure from Amaranthe, and he said it happened because he wasn’t happy anymore. In the statement, he stated: “the band wasn’t the Amaranthe I had helped to create at the start.” However, the band has become even more significant after his departure. So, does Jake have any regrets he left the group?
We haven’t talked about it, but obviously, Jake has written many the songs for the first four Amaranthe albums. So, the bigger the basket, the more streams, the more something, you know? So, obviously, he doesn’t mind if the band becomes huge because he was the founding member, and he is proud of what he did with the group. But at some point, he started felt like, like being in a marriage that isn’t happy, he wasn’t happy anymore. He wanted to do his own thing and. When Jake told me that, they had already started to write material for Cyhra. Well, it wasn’t Cyhra yet; it was just Jake and Jesper writing. They had no plans for anything. They were writing songs, and it then became Cyhra.
So, the songs on the first album were initially supposed to be on Jake’s solo album, which then evolved to the Cyhra band?
Yeah, yeah. He started it like that. Jake was doing a solo project, and Jesper was writing songs, and then they were, “Hey, why don’t we do this together and form a band and ask a couple of good friends of ours who can play a little. So, let’s have a band.”
THE FIRST SHOW AND CHANGES
You had a band together; you had recorded your first album, and it was time to play your first show in front of an audience. This happened in October 2017 at Club Nosturi, Helsinki. I remember that the show was announced at the very last minute. There were a lot of problems around that gig?
Yeah, I mean, we knew that the show– it wasn’t a surprise to us but– Well, let’s say after that show, the only way was up. There was quite a lot of technical problems on that gig. All the gear was new. We had the production rehearsals in Gothenburg where everything went well, and everything worked, but you know how it sometimes goes. A long story short, the guys missed their plane, our boat was late. We were supposed to have full-time rehearsals to make sure everything works. The guys were there with a gear-like two hours before the doors opened, so it was a complete mess. And then we were like. Everything was just not ready, and then just before the showtime, we just thought, “Right, let’s see what happens.” So, it was a start, “Laughs.”
There is a saying that any publicity is good publicity, even that bad one. The worst thing is if nobody says anything?
Yeah, I guess when you’re yourself there, and you hear, or you don’t hear anything from it, from all these technical problems we had, and when we’ve been doing this for so long, so we know how to pull it even though. It’s like, “Well, that’s good to hear if the audience didn’t remember,” but that was a desperate night. Jesper had troubles with his guitars, and then he got really, really frustrated, and then he kind of panicked and so on. But yeah, it was a start.
Anyway, it was just the first gig, and things started to work usually after that. You played a few headline gigs, and a bit later, Cyhra joined the Sabaton / Kreator tour package, which was a big success in the US. But at the same time, a few things happened in the band that eventually led to Peter Iwers’ departure from the group.
Well, we did five or six shows before the Sabaton and Kreator tour. Just before we were about to go to the stage to do the tour, Peter, unfortunately, couldn’t do it. He has a very successful beer brewing business with ex-In Flames drummer in Sweden. And that got really big suddenly, his restaurant business and everything. And he was like, “Guys. I can’t go on tour. I have so much now at stake with the beer. If this goes well, then I need to leave the band.” So, we went, “Okay, we understand.” And we were, “What the fuck we’re going to do?” It’s only a couple of days. There’s no chance of getting to work Visas to anyone. Then we were all like, “Okay, we have keyboards coming from the table,” because Jake and Jesper had played the keyboards on the albums. And obviously, they don’t play them live. So those came from the tape, and we were just, “Well, let’s put the bass in there. Let’s do this tour, and then let’s see what happens. If Peter is still involved in the band or not.” And the tour went really well. We thought that it worked surprisingly well. I was quite a skeptic because I’m kind of old school. I mean, with Shining, we didn’t use any backing track. I did not use anything monitors in my ears. It was always just drums, Marshall’s, old school. I was, “Ah, fuck, well okay, yeah.” But it worked out really well, and I guess most people didn’t even realize it. They might think. “Yeah, okay, there are four long-haired guys on stage playing metal,” whatever? [laughter]
The Doors never had a bass player either? “Laughs”
Yeah! [laughter]. So that’s what we did, and then we came back to Sweden. We were actually continuing the Sweden tour by ourselves, and then Peter joined, and it felt weird. It was like there was one extra guy on stage with us. Obviously, it was cool to see him, and he played great. It became apparent that he doesn’t have the time and the energy to invest and put 100% into the band, and we were like, “Okay, we’re still friends,” and stuff. And so, he just stepped out. He did a couple of shows with us after the USA tour. And then we were, “Okay, if a bassist comes in, a guy or girl, that fits the band, yeah. If not, let’s not stress about it.” So now we have continued with the backing tracks. As I said if someone shows up and we’re like, “Wow,” then we might just go with that, but we now have that good chemistry, so we don’t stress about it. Many people don’t know, but I also play bass. I played bass for quite many years, and I played bass in the bands, both live and on a couple of albums, where I’m not credited or mentioned because I wasn’t the official bass player. So, I ended up playing the bass on the second Cyhra album. Peter played on the first, and on this new album, I played all bass tracks along with the guitar.
So, when Cyhra plays new songs on an upcoming tour, will you use the bass tracks you recorded for the album?
Yeah! On new songs, you’ll hear double me. The other me don’t make mistakes, and the other makes a few [laughter].
THE NEW ALBUM “NO HALOS IN HELL”
If you compare the creating process of this second album compared to the first one, what was the most significant difference this time, except that you also played the bass in it?
Well, the first album was, like I mentioned, it was written by Jake and Jesper only, and the songs and the demos, they were already quite like finished when I joined the band. So, what I did, I doubled Jesper’s rhythm guitars, added some harmonies. And for the solo’s I was told, “do your thing.” So that was the only creative part I did for the first album; other than that, I was basically doubling Jesper’s rhythm guitars. “Okay, this is how this goes,” then I was saying to Jesper, “Yeah, yeah, it’s cool, do that harmony,” or whatever. But on this new album, I was involved in the songwriting. So, the riffs and the guitar melodies; Jesper and I mostly wrote those things. Jake then is responsible for a lot of keyboards, most lyrics, and the vocal melodies. But Jake also wrote excellent guitar riffs, like the title track, which is probably our most challenging guitar riff to play, because it’s pretty fast, and it’s all down picking. That was Jake who wrote that. And I was, “Oh wow, man, okay. You’re challenging me.”
What’s Jesper’s state in the band? He performs on the new video, he has a role on the new album, but it’s been a long time since he played live with the band?
Well, how do I put it? He is not doing well. If he were in a regular job, he would be on sick leave. For reasons that are not, they’re not my thing to go public. But the thing is, he can’t tour. Well, he can’t work, but he is still part of the band. But he can write. That’s a vital asset. Like I told you, he wrote stuff for the new album. Jake was the major songwriter, and Jasper and I were kind of the right-hands or the wing-mans. Well, I played the bass and the majority of guitars you hear on the album; it’s me. But that doesn’t take anything away from Jasper because he wrote some of that stuff. Our goal was to make the best album we can, and we had limited time in the studio, like three weeks. I’m pretty fast. I’m in a shape that I can work effectively and be 100%. And unfortunately, Jasper wasn’t in that shape. But he still has – as I said, I’ve been writing new stuff. And Jasper is too. We’ve been writing for the next Cyhra album already, and we’ve been in contact, bouncing ideas. So, Jasper is still a part of this band, but he is. I don’t know what might be the proper term, but he supports us from his home.
Do you see that there’s still hope that things might change in the future?
Well, as long as there’s hope, there’s hope. Jasper is a great friend and a really talented guy. But sometimes, problems and demons are a bit too hard to overcome. And Marcus has been playing with us now for over. He’s an amazing guitar player. He’s a perfect guy, and that’s the situation for now. Only time will show how things will go, but we’re pleased now. We’re fine. We have discussed everything, though, and Jasper is doing fine. He doesn’t have to stress. He can be home, write stuff when he feels so. And we’ll support him for his recovery or whatever we call it.
However, NO HALOS IN HELL was released a couple of weeks ago. So, what happens next with Cyhra? What are your plans for the near future?
Next, we’ll start our European tour with Battle Beast in Sweden. That’s four weeks all over in Europe and the UK, and then it’s Christmas vacation. The following year’s plans are partly open, partly not. But if things work out as planned, we’ll be touring a lot in Japan, Australia, Europe, and the USA. But as always in this business, nothing is sure when it’s really happening “Laughs” But right now, everything looks great. We have a new agency, TKO, which is one of the biggest in the world. They are representing us in Europe and the States. And we have a great manager, Adam Sewell, who used to manage or still manages, Motorhead, among other bands. So, everything looks good, and we have strong support from Nuclear Blast, so the goal is to tour as much as possible.
Do you think that when the second album, the band is getting rid of “the ghost of In Flames,” or is it something that will always follow the band?
I guess it is, and it will. And I don’t mind. I mean, I’m a big fan of In Flames. I mean, it’s amazing to be in a band with Jesper, who is one of the greatest metal songwriters of all time. And some of the Cyhra stuff that sounds In Flames, that’s actually written by me and not Jesper.” Laughs”
I find it interesting when people compare more contemporary bands to older stuff. “This band sounds too much In Flames.” Or “this band is a way too much like Arch Enemy,” and the list goes on. But the fact is that In Flames and Arch Enemy have their influences, and those are coming from the big heavy metal bands from the ’80s, like Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, and…
And Thin Lizzy. The guitar harmonies, you know?
Or Thin Lizzy, yeah, but that’s the thing. You can hear the early 80’s metal band influences on the next generation bands, like In Flames and Gothenburg metal in general, as some people call it. That’s funny that so many people seem to forget it, that but that’s the truth.
Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. I mean, those harmonies, I’ve learned to do songs from Iron Maiden. When I was a kid, I was like, “What the fuck are they doing? That was so cool!” But, you’re right. That’s where it all comes from. And I mean, I still love the new In Flames, but I’ve listened to bands since I was a little kid. And, well, Iron Maiden since I was even younger. So, I don’t mind. In Flames is a great band, but obviously, you would like to that to people say, “Yeah, you have created something unique,” but if you want to create something unique, then you, I don’t know, you might have to go to something idiotic things? Because we’re just trying to make good songs, and when you use a natural minor scale with third harmonies, it’s, for some people, it sounds like In Flames, for some people it’s like Thin Lizzy, and for some people, it’s like Iron Maiden.
Let’s talk a little bit about your previous band, Shining. At least, it’s a very different band from Cyhra? [laughter].
Well, Niklas Kvarforth is a character! [laughter] But musically, I mean, I wrote the two last albums, IX and X, together with Niklas. And musically, when you write with Niklas and work with him, he’s a friendly and professional guy. But then, there’s the other side of the coin, which is, well, interesting.
Does he have the dark side?
The dark side, yes. How the thing went was that I was supposed to fill in for a couple of shows. Then, I clicked great with Peter Huss, who is the other guitarist. But it was like the same guy. He loves Gary Moore, Thin Lizzy, old blues hard rock. Like me. I have no idea about black metal. I never listened to it, and it was the same with Peter. And we were talking about favorite guitar players, and we both were like, “Fuck, why are we going on stage with this guy [laughter]? “Why have you played with him for over ten years?” “I don’t know? But I enjoyed it. I mean, it’s nice when you look past the image. The songs are actually good. It’s cool stuff.” And then when we went through them, I was like, “Oh, fuck. There are some nice arrangements that Peter had created.” And then what we did together was good stuff. So musically, it was, I mean, it wasn’t something that I would probably listen to, well, maybe sometimes. But I’m proud of what we created. But then, at some point, I was like, “Ah.” I was supposed to do two shows with the band. Now, I’ve been here seven years” [laughter].
So, in other words, you got stuck in Shining?
Yeah. I got stuck. And then this thing happened. Jake made the call like, “Hey, you know what?” And I was like, “Fuck man. I’m in!” Do you know what I mean?
Before Shining, you played and worked with many Finnish bands due to your Spinefarm connections. One of those bands was Lullacry?
Yeah, yeah. I worked in Spinefarm for nine or ten years, so I’ve known Sami, the Lullacry main guy, for many years. I played the bass in Lullacry as a fill-in player, and I played some guitar for them also. I played the bass on some shows; when I was filling for Heavy. And I did one record with them, where I played one or two solos. And I was credited because I was like a guest on the album. And then, I filled in for Sauli, the other guitar player, now and then for shows. So that’s just because we were friends, and I just helped them out.
What was your first “real” band?
I think Godsplague was the first one. There were a couple of other bands with whom we did some self-financed releases. But with Godsplague, I think it was the first band I got a record deal. Nico Hartonen was singing. We did four albums and one EP.
If you were thinking about your entire musician career so far, how could you sum it up?
I started this music thing much later than most people do. Because until I was 20, I played ice hockey on a national level. And guitar playing was something I did as a hobby. But, after my shoulders had been operated, my back had been operated twice, and my elbows had been broken, at some point, I was like, “Fuck. I need to figure out to do something else.” And then I went to the army. I worked there for a few years. I was a professional soldier. And then I was like, “No.” I was like, “Well, I’m pretty good at playing this guitar. I’ll try this.” And then I started to take my first lessons when I was like 20-something with Petteri Hirvonen. And then, I began to understand the theory and the technique and stuff. And so, I was maybe 24, 25 when we released the first Godsplague album and got the deal. So, I started this fairly late, unlike nowadays, because now when the kids are like 16, they’re already fucking fantastic players. But back then, there was no internet or current technology. There wasn’t anything you could follow easily. You just had to listen to albums and try to learn. There wasn’t anything you could watch, like how to do something. It was a slow process, and it took me many years. And now, for the last ten years, I’ve made a living out of music. I’ve also been working on the record label on the side, but still like in the music. There was a time when I only played the guitar, so I did many cover band shows and stuff. And for the last year, I’ve been only doing Cyhra. I have been living and using my savings. So hopefully, next year, we will make it big time, [laughter].
You’ll never know what happens next?
You never know. So yeah. Things are going in the right direction. Cyhra is going in the right direction. So, I’ve been pounding my head to the wall so many years that maybe the wall will finally crack? [laughter].
CATCH CYHRA ON TOUR WITH BATTLE BEAST!!