Interview by Robert Cavuoto
Norway’s Wig Wam have reunited and released the perfect hard rock CD, Never Say Die, via Frontier Music s.r.l.
Wig Wam formed in 2001 and released their debut album, 667 … The Neighbour Of The Beast in 2004 and never looked back. That same year they also won the Norwegian finale of the Eurovision Song Contest (similar TV show as to American Idol and Americas got Talent) with the song “In My Dreams.” The song catapulted the band straight to #1 on the Norwegian charts, where it stayed for over six weeks before going platinum like the album. The band released three subsequent albums, Wig Wamania , Non Stop Rock’ N Roll , and Wall Street , and two concert DVDs before disbanding in 2013/2014.
Fully reunited with the original members, Åge Sten Nilsen [vocals], Trond Holter [guitars], Bernt Jansen [bass], and Øystein Andersen [drums]; the band is back with their strongest and heaviest CD to date. Never Say Die contains 12 songs with the band’s distinctive hooks within hard rock anthems; all the elements that helped the band develop their monster reputation as an unstoppable musical force and source of never-ending fun! The solos on the CDs are equally as impressive as they are fast yet tasteful; so melodic you will be able to sing them back note-for-note.
I had the pleasure of speaking with Åge Sten Nilsen, and Trond Holter about the band’s reunion, how not focusing on writing radio hits helped them create their best CD to date, bringing fun back to Rock & Roll, and their 2021 outlook for touring!
There are no filler tracks on Never Say Die as both of you are tremendous songwriters who marry hard rock riffs with magical, lyrical melodies. Tell me about the chemistry between the members in developing the songs for this CD.
Åge Sten Nilsen: It’s something that just happens when we are together. Every time we meet, we work on each other’s musical ideas, in turn strengthening our chemistry.
How you like to write songs? Are you getting together in person, or are you sending files back and forth to each other?
Trond Holter: This time around, I sent Åge Sten a promo video with all my guitar riffs that I recorded from my studio. I placed it on YouTube for him to get some ideas. He then called me up and asked, “Are these all yours?” [Laughing].
Åge Sten Nilsen: There’s a riff coming out of him now [laughing]. That’s not typical for us as we rarely send riffs to each other. We like to meet up with each other in person, and that’s where the magic happens in person.
Because this CD was so strong, was there talk about waiting until COVID passes so you could tour to promote it?
Åge Sten Nilsen: This album and the comeback are quite a coincidence. We never sat down to discuss having a comeback. It started with us being off with us being friends again and simply getting together. We had an invitation from the Norwegian Broadcasting to do a one-off song during a break at the Melodi Grand Prix in Norway. We started to meet, and Trond began to write this amazing song called “Never Say Die.” We began to think that maybe we should add this song to the break performance instead of just doing “In My Dreams.” They permitted us to include it. Then we figured we should release it as a single as well! While we were at it, we thought we should do the Tons of Rock Festival held in Oslo, Norway. They wanted us to go out on the November 2019 bill, but that was too early for the Norwegian Broadcasting because they wanted us to be a shock performance. From there we thought maybe to do another festival and then a third festival. The Corona Virus came in, and all the festivals were canceled, so we had all the time in the world [laughing]. We had nothing to do, so we just kept working, and the material just kept coming. We were blown away by what we were writing.
Trond Holter: We were not planning anything. We just went along writing, and it came easy to us. We never sat down to try and make this or that type of record. We just let it flow and had fun making it. As we progressed, the result was an 80s type of record. We also didn’t want to overproduce it.
Åge Sten Nilsen: We didn’t think about writing hit radio songs like we used to. For this CD, we only thought about playing the songs live for the fans.
Being a new fan of Wig Wam, I went back to your older catalog, and the new CD seems to be heavier with songs like “Hypnotized” and “Shadows of Eternity” than what you have previously done. What was the catalyst for going heavier musically?
Trond Holter: We came out in the early 2000s when rock music was banned from radio. Nobody was interested in music from the 80s. We had to make our own brand of music, which became the Wig Wam brand. Never Say Die is the type of record that we always wanted to do.
Åge Sten Nilsen: Also, Trond and Bernt were playing in Jorn’s band, which was heavier than Wig Wam used to be. I was playing with a few heavier acts in Europe like Nordic Beast and Ammunition. So when we got together, it was just a natural progression. We are also more mature and not afraid of putting on some weight musically and physically [laughing]!
How important was it to have the glam image when the band first started versus just wearing black jeans and leather jackets?
Åge Sten Nilsen: We were a jam band who would get together on Friday nights to play songs that nobody ever played and just wearing jeans. Every Friday, we got paid to play in front of an audience. There was this 80s party in Trond’s hometown, and they wanted to book us. We decided to do it and have some fun with it, so we changed our band’s name from Friday Night Band to Wig Wam. When we got together in the rehearsal room, and brought in some fun props. Our image was created in three days. With the new name and look, it developed into something special and original.
Do you think the band would have been as successful without the glam image?
Åge Sten Nilsen: Back in those days, No! On the radio, in 2003, the only rock music they played was The Darkness. They were one of the first bands that came on the radio in Europe and then our music was the second in 2005. Suddenly after a few years, 80s hard rock music came back. In the beginning, we dressed up because it gave us more gigs [laughing]. We put the fun back into Rock & Roll. Everybody took themselves so damn seriously back then, and we just put on a show to make Rock & Roll fun! Even though we only played cover songs for the first year, people still came out to our shows.
Trond Holter: We were Steel Panther before Steel Panther [laughing]!
Not only did the music progress to be heavier and meaner, but your new look seems more unified like dirty road warriors. Tell me about the evolution from the glam look to a more hard rock look.
Åge Sten Nilsen: Our image was one of the things we discussed when we got back together for the Norwegian Tons of Rock. I, for one, didn’t want to go back to that act or cabaret thing again of being “Glam.” We talked about staying true to who we are and keeping our real names. We still wanted to put on some kind of costume or uniforms, so when “Never Say Die” was written, we started to think about doing a video of us getting back together from the ruins of what we left behind; dirty and shitty. [Laughing] That was the first thing we talked about having for the video and then carried it through.
During the press conference for the release of this CD, Trond, you cited Eddie Van Halen as a major influence. Most people who cite Eddie as an influence often sound like his clone, yet your playing is quite unique and equally as impressive. How did Eddie’s influence impact your playing and writing for Wig Wam?
Trond Holter: When I was 14 years old, a friend of mine came over with two records, Van Halen I and Van Halen II. News traveled slowly in those days [laughing]. As a 14-year-old kid, I was blown away by them. Of course, I started with tapping and copying him, but I always wanted to develop my own style because all the other guitar players were trying to sound like him. Then Steve Vai, Yngwie Malmsteen, and all the other guitar players came along, and they all affected me in one way or another, but Eddie was the best as he made it look so easy. In the last few years, I pulled out those records again and got back into them. Eddie is a fantastic player.
You incorporate so many different playing styles, and the solos at the end of “My Kaleidoscope Ark” and “Silver Lining” remind me of Neal Schon’s melodic and soulful playing. Not everyone can play that melodic and be so emotionally moving. Tell me about that ability.
Trond Holter: Thank you, Neal is one of my favorite guitar players as well. Those notes bring emotions to a lot of people. I always look for those lines in my playing. As a guitar player, I incorporate some blues playing and a bit of blues shredding. Neal is the master at that.
Your instrumental track “Northbound” is another perfect example of your tasteful and melodic playing.
Trond Holter: Thank you. It incorporates Norwegian folk harmonies, which we all love. I wrote it a couple of years ago and played it for Åge Sten, and he felt we had to add it.
Åge Sten Nilsen: With most of our albums, we have an instrumental track. Instead of having a guitar solo in the show just to show off, like most guitar players do. We want to perform something composed with melody so Trond can really show off on it! [Laughing]
Trond Holter: We were talking about Van Halen’s first album, and in those days, nobody in Europe cared about them or hard rock. We recorded a guitar track called “Erection” [laughing], and it was a total rip off of Eddie’s “Eruption.” It was tongue and cheek just to see if anyone cared or got the joke.
Åge Sten Nilsen: Trond used to do that in concerts as well.
After listening to Never Say Die pretty much nonstop for the last two weeks, which CD of ours would you recommend that I dive into next?
Trond Holter: I would say Wig Wamania.
Åge Sten Nilsen: I would say Non Stop Rock’ N Roll. It’s a good CD, but not as good as this one. We started to develop from Wig Wamania and were about to transform. Wall Storm was done by a band torn apart, but Non Stop Rock’ N Roll was a CD that shows we are on the way to Never Say Die.
Are you guys living the Rock & Roll dream, as it seems like you are having so much fun on and off stage?
Åge Sten Nilsen: The videos on YouTube are most from the past, and we did have a lot of fun on the 2010 tour where we started to be more decent and straight [laughing]. From 2005 or 2006, I was a big drinker. I was trying to cope with the pressure of doing three shows a day. Those are pretty crazy and messed up times. We had lots of fun even though we do respect parts of that lifestyle.
Trond Holter: We had great chemistry when we played together and always had fun.
Did you ever tour America, and when this virus settles down, do you see yourselves coming out here?
Åge Sten Nilsen: Yes, we would love to come to America. We never played overseas at all! We toured Japan and mostly in Europe. I did my first US concert in Chicago with Ammunition. I think Trond played America with Jorn?
Trond Holter: We toured South America with Jorn but not North America.
2020 was a crazy year for everyone; what is the bands’ outlook or goals for 2021?
Åge Sten Nilsen: We would really hope to do play Monsters of Rock Cruise. One of my dreams is to get on that tour bus and play clubs all across the US. To have a good time while experiencing the country and meeting the people and show them what Norwegian rockers are like.