Chips Kiesbye – Legendary Swedish punk//rock ‘n’ roll band Sator
Interviewed by: Anders Sandvall
Thanks to Johan Haller at Sound Pollution Distribution AB for setting up the interview
Thanks to Wild Kingdom for the promo pictures of the band.
Legendary Swedish rock ‘n’ roll act Sator, which celebrated 30 years as a band back in 2017, is still alive and kicking. They’ll soon release a new album and have recently re-released earlier albums UNDER THE RADAR and BASEMENT NOISE on vinyl this year. I have been a fan of the band since the early beginning and love almost all their albums so I had to hook up with band leader/singer/guitarist/producer Chips Kiesbye in order to know more about the re-releases.
Besides touring in Scandinavia, the band have toured heavily in Europe, especially in Germany, throughout the years. As for Kiesby, he is a busy guy and is well known for producing bands like The Hellacopters, Michael Monroe, Sahara Hotnights, and Backyard Babies, to mention a few. This is the first time Sator is featured in Metal-Rules.com so keep on reading to learn more about one of the most legendary hard kicking acts from Sweden.
Hi Chips, it’s really nice to talk with you today. I hope you and the rest of the band members are healthy! Are you ready to talk about the band and the vinyl re-releases Sator recently made available?
The band recently re-released a few of your older albums on vinyl. Which albums did you pick to re-release and why?
Chips: We picked these two first because they have been most asked for by the fans. Plus, it was easy since we own the rights to those albums.
Who came up with the idea to launch a re-release?
Chips: They were always meant to be released on vinyl but for some reason it didn’t happen at the time. That was a bit annoying so it feels really good to finally have them on vinyl – now they are for real.
UNDER THE RADAR was re-launched in a coloured as well as black vinyl version, do you have any idea in how many copies the new version sold so far?
Chips: It’s too early to say but as far as I know they been selling pretty good. Seems like a lot of people that bought the CD now want it on vinyl instead.
Wanted: Hope & Pride before I die Offical Video
The albums we’re talking about are UNDER THE RADAR and BASEMENT NOISE. UNDER THE RADAR re-launched in March and BASEMENT NOISE in June on Record Store Day. How did the fans respond when you broke the news regarding the vinyl releases?
Chips: A lot of nice comments on Facebook. The most common reaction seems to have been, “Why did it take so long?!” And I have no answer to that…maybe we’re just lazy bastards.
We’re all gonna die! Video
Why is BASEMENT NOISE is only available on black vinyl and not in any colour version?
Chips: There are 500 copies of coloured vinyl out now. We wanted it to be ”shit brown” just because the album was named after our old rehearsal place and it was a real dump that stank. Sadly the pressing plant didn’t have ”shit-brown” so it became sort of ”piss-yellow” instead.
The band have more albums that can be re-released, is that being considered?
Chips: I think next in line will be MUSICAL DIFFERENCES; it’s been out of print for many years now and was never on vinyl. We would also love to release STEREO on vinyl with the original cover. It was supposed to have another front sleeve with two boys on. I have never liked the one that came out; it’s the wrong one! There are records that should be re-released but it’s always more fun to make new ones instead.
Are you a fan of the vinyl format?
Chips. Vinyl is for real. Digital and CD’s are just copies.
You and Kent Norberg wrote the material to BASEMENT NOISE back in 2006. What are your memories of the writing and recording process?
Chips: We wrote for a long time on lots of different occasions. Some of the stuff was even written in the mid ’90’s. In the old days we used to write every day 9-5 for three or 4 weeks when it was time for album. That’s not possible anymore since we live in different cities.
I remember that we only had one rule with BASEMENT NOISE: every song should be possible to play live just like it is. So the album is more or less live in the studio and very basic, without many overdubs and tricks. Really, it’s the opposite of the album before, MUSICAL DIFFERENCES. That one really was a studio product, which I love too. It’s just a different thing.
I think the first Sator albums were inspired by punk/metal music, but as the ’90’s came it felt like the band leaned more towards the garage/punk rock ‘n’ roll genre. Is that correct, what do you think?
Chips: We have always had lots of influences. Anything from ’50’s rock ‘n’ roll, ’60’s garage bands, The Kinks, The Beatles, Rolling Stones, lots of ’70’s punk and power pop and some hard rock too. Not that much metal actually, but more classic hard rock like AC/DC, Nazareth, Motörhead, Bachman Turner Overdrive. ’70’s glamrock like Sweet, Slade, Kiss, Alice Cooper are are part of it too. We move between the genres depending on the mood.
It took the band quite a while to follow up MUSICAL DIFFERENCES from 1998 with BASEMENT NOISE from 2006. Why did it take the band so long?
Chips: The main reason was that we all had kids around the same time. We decided that we didn’t want to miss the children growing up and be absent fathers always on tour, so we stopped touring for a couple of years. Sadly it was just around the time when Swedish bands became really hot all over the world. We missed out a bit on that because of our break. We never broke up, just slowed things down until the kids were big enough to take it up again. I don’t think anyone in the band regrets that decision.
In 2003 bass player Heikki Kiviaho, who was a session musician in the band, became a solid member which meant that Kent turned to guitar (like you) and the band became a 5 piece unit. Was it nice to have another guitar to rely on?
Chips: Kent is a guitar player so he was always meant to return to guitar. He just played bass until we found someone permanent; it just took a little longer than planned. Before Heikki we had another hired gun on bass, Daniel Levin. Heikki is perfect. We have the same background musically and socially too. Borlänge and Eskilstuna are quite similar – quite depressing industrial towns, both of them.
BASEMENT NOISE was also the first one with Kiviaho as a solid member. How was it to record with a “new” member in the band?
Chips: Heikki started playing with us in 2001 so we hade played quite a few shows with him so it felt very easy in the studio. The main difference was that we recorded most of the stuff live in the studio this time;
we usually don’t work like that. BARBIE-Q-KILLERS VOL 1 was also made in a similar way with live takes.
Escape from Pigvalley Beach Audio
Do you have any fun stories to tell from the recordings of the album?
Chips: All recording memories seems to blend into it each other in a big blur so it’s hard to remember details. Making records isn’t that much fun actually; it’s mostly hard work and struggles with tiny moments of joy in-between. I do remember that we had the brilliant idea to get really drunk the evening before we started recording. We never drink the studio so we thought it was a good idea to ”get it out of the way”. The first day of recording was a hungover nightmare. It was not a brilliant idea.
You and Henryk Lipp produced the album together, who took on the biggest responsibility?
Chips: The arrangements were pretty much done so Henryk’s main responsibility was getting the sounds right. When we get to the studio most of the decisions are already made. We don’t go in and jam. Of course there where times when he helped out with ideas too, especially the keyboards because he’s a great keyboard player.
How was it to work with Lipp, what’s his strongest feature as a producer?
Chips: We have worked together on many other albums before that so it was easy. He knows what we like and what don’t like. One of his strengths is to never give up until it sounds perfect. He could be crawling around on the floor to listen for the best spot to put the microphones.
What’s it like to produce your own band? Is it hard to stay objective and what does the rest of the band think of having you as a producer?
Chips: I’ve been ”part producer” on all our recordings so it was no difference really; it’s just that I got credited this time. We are a democratic band but someone must keep it all together and that’s always been my job. I don’t think it’s hard to be objective; you just have to find a way get the best out of everyone. That’s actually easier if you know the person well.
This Ain’t the Way Home Audio
The info sheet says that “You Ain’t Nothing To Me” and “This Ain’t the Way Home” are modern classics. Do you agree and which are your favorite songs on the album?
ChipsS: Ha ha! ”Modern classics” is hard to live up to. It’s impossible to pick a favorite. When you are a song writer they are all you ”babies” You like all of them in different ways. Sometimes you leave out songs that when you look back should have been on the album, but on BASEMENT NOISE there’s nothing I would like to change. The songs we left out were OK but worked better as B-sides and on compilations. Some are still unreleased. One song that I think we should play more often is ”Escape from Pigvalley Beach”, I love that it’s part two of the Pigvalley Beach Saga. One day we will write the third and last part of the story. I think it will be called ”Return to Pigvalley Beach”.
I really love the tribute song to Joey Ramone, “Goodbye Joey”. Is it true that you had to change the lyrics when you got the news that Johnny and Dee Dee also passed away?
Chips: It was written just after Joey died. Since it took a while before it was recorded, Johnny and Dee Dee passed away too and we felt that we had say something about them too. Now Tommy is dead as well so we have to write a song for him too. It’s very sad that there are no original Ramones members left alive.
Goodbye Joey Audio
Has the music of The Ramones had a big impact on Sator?
Chips: The influence is always there more or less. One of the first songs I ever learned to play on guitar was ”I Don’t Care”. We have played many Ramones songs over the years. One time we played the whole first album under the name The Carbonas. The encore was the first song on the second album.
How would you say that BASEMENT NOISE stands compared to the rest of your albums?
Chips: It was a happy time for the band. We had started touring again and the album is probably the Sator album that is closest to how we sound live. It has a special place in our hearts. I mean HEADQUAKE was a great success but the recording was very hard. Not many good memories. Things like that goes into what you feel about your albums.
A colored version of the album was released at RSD, how many copies are available of that version?
Chips: 500 copies and no more.
You also re-released the album on CD. Why?
Chips: It’s been out of print for many years so it started to be very expensive on the second hand market. We’re not interested in creating rarities. We want as many people as possible to hear our music. That’s why we put the out on Spotify even if doesn’t generate much money.
UNDER THE RADAR was re-released on colored and black vinyl but not on CD, why?
Chips: It’s still in print and have been so all the time.
How many copies are available of the colored vinyl version of UNDER THE RADAR?
Chips: Just 300 copies. So I guess we have created a rarity after all.
The band is currently working with Wild Kingdom Records. Are you happy with the work the label have put into the band so far?
Chips: We have known the people at Wild Kingdom/Sound Pollution for many years, even before we started working together. They are people who do this because they love music, not just to get rich. If you are on the big major labels you are more like a product, this is different with more heart involved.
When did you ink a deal with them and what made you choose Wild Kingdom?
Chips: Not sure when we started working together. We did some compilations and other projects before the albums. I have also produced other albums before for their label, so we go way back.
Through the years the band have been working with several labels, what’s your opinion regarding labels in general?
Chips: Times have changed. You could not be successful without a major label before but now you don’t really need a record label anymore . You need distribution and promotion. We have always been left alone in the studio when we record so we have never been pressured by any label to change make hits or anything. We have delivered the album we want to do. We are not really signed to Wild Kingdom, we have our own label Planet of Noise Records, so it’s a license deal. We will never sell away the rights to our songs again.
The band also had their own label in Planet of Noise Records, how was that? Was it fun to release your own albums or was it mostly hard work?
Chips: Planet of Noise Records was my label and I released a bunch of vinyl singles. I didn’t want to release the Sator albums so we always license them to another label. I probably lost a lot of money but it was worth it, it was for the love of music. I don’t have the time or money to do it anymore unfortunately.
The other problem was that it was wonderful to make the records and release them but not as much fun trying to sell them. I’m not a businessman. I still have a lot of copies left of some singles. But there are no Hellacopters singles left, so don’t ask.
Who own the legal rights to Sator’s older albums today?
Chips: HEADQUAKE, STEREO and BARBIE-Q-KILLERS VOL 1 are owned by Warner Brothers.
Bonnier owns MUSICAL DIFFERENCES. The rest are ours.
Many of the band’s older albums are sold out, do you have any plans on re-release more of the older items?
Chips: Yes we are talking about re-releasing most of them, even the Sator Codex stuff. We also have lots of unreleased songs from every period. Some of them are really good but got left out for various reasons. We might release an album with those outtakes. We could do rare stuff compilation too and a ”Tributes” compilation; I think we have been on twenty tribute albums. The only problem is that it’s a bit boring digging through old stuff. We want to move forward and not be stuck in the past.
Would you recommend a new band to work with a label or release albums independently?
Chips: Own your material if you can. I mean it’s a matter of money of course, but you also need to work with someone if you’re gonna make it big. The price of being on your own label is that you won’t be allowed play with ”the big boys”. The major labels have all the muscles to make things happen. The small labels can’t compete with that.
The band first started out in Borlänge Sweden back in 1981 under the name Sator Codex. Could you ever imagine that the band would be alive and kicking 40 years later?
Chips: Not in a million years. We were sure that we would make it one day but not that we would do this for such a long time. It’s still the best job in the world.
Why did you shorten the band’s name to only Sator?
Chips: Our singer Björn Clarin left the band in 1985 just after we had recorded the WANNA START A FIRE? album. That album was sort of an end report of the previous 5 years so it was time to leave the gothic scene behind and go back to our roots. We decided to the change the name to make it clear that it was a different band.
We were thinking of changing to a completely new name but we thought that we would lose what we had accomplished so far, so we chickened out and kept the name Sator. We stopped playing Sator Codex stuff though.
The debut album SLAMMER was unleashed 1988, how did media respond on the album?
Chips: The response was really good all over but the big thing for us was before the album was released and we played the mixes to out friends and colleagues. Everyone was blown away by what we had done.
So we got the feeling that maybe we had made something special.
The same year you did a cover version of a very well-known Swedish song by the sister duo Lili & Sussie called “Oh Mama”. Why did you pick that song?
Chips: It’s a funny story. We bought a new sequencer for the studio and wanted to try it out and learn how it works. So we needed a song to experiment with. I thought ”Oh Mama” was a fun song with some bubblegum feel to it so we recorded it just to fool around with the sequencer. We had no intention to ever release it. When the guys from our label Radium Records heard the song they said, “You must release it, it’s a hit!”. We were not so keen on that so we said OK but only if you use this painting as cover art (the one with the female genitalia on). That was our idea to sabotage things a bit. We went to USA for some shows and thought no more of it. When we came back they told us we had a hit in the single charts.
We were taken by surprise and asked with what song? We never thought they would release it. ”Oh Mama” helped to open some doors for sure and it’s a fun song but we never play it anymore. Maybe one day if Lili and Susie sings it. They have sang it once with us back in 1988.
The second album STOCK ROCKER NUTS! came out in 1990 and put Sweden in ruins. I still love the album. What’s your lasting impression of that one?
Chips: I think that’s the album where we arrived at what is ”the Sator sound”; the perfect mix (according to us) of all our influences. We haven’t really changed much since then. In a way that’s my favorite Sator album.
The band toured heavily in both Sweden but also in the rest of Scandinavia. How was it to be out on the road back then?
Chips: Yes we were always on the road for 7-8 years in a row. It was hard work but lots of great times too. The main difference from touring now is that back then you became friends with many of the promotors and people working at the clubs. They were the same age as us and into the bands they booked. We are still in contact with many of them. There were more people who arranged shows for the love of music back then, not just to make money. Nowadays you often don’t even know who the promoter is. You don’t even meet them. There are exceptions of course, we still get to know new fantastic people along the way.
That’s always been one of the great things about touring – meeting new people.
Was it a natural choice that both you and Kent would share the lead vocals?
Chips: Lots of bands we love have more than one lead singer, so it was very natural. I don’t think we even discussed it It gives a band an extra dimension with more voices. On the forthcoming album RETURN OF THE BARBIE-Q-KILLERS, Heikki gets his first lead vocal on a Sator album. So now we have three lead singers. Even Hans have recorded a lead vocal; just one song so far but there might be more in the future. We’re not sure about Mikael; four lead singers might be enough. A singing drummer doesn’t really work visually.
At the beginning there must be a lot of metal fans that turned their interest to your music, what did the band think of that?
Chips: We don’t judge or categorize people; everyone is welcome to a Sator show. Music is music, country or metal is not that different in the end. I think that Sator is one of those bands that doesn’t belong in any specific genre, so metalheads, punks or rockers can get away with a wearing a Sator T-shirt. We are a basic timeless rock ‘n’ roll band, never really in style but never out of style either.
Sator performed at the Hultsfreds Festival back in the ’80-’90’s. How many times did the band perform there? Was it fun?
Chips: Hultsfred was our home turf. No other festival has done so much for our career. We sort of grew up together. It’s hard to say how many times we have played there. We’ve done it under different names sometimes and also with Thåstöm and White Flag. We even love Hultsfred so much so we gave them Kent, he now lives there permanently.
Hultsfreds Festival was a great festival and it is very sad that it’s gone. I did see you play there many times though. What was the best band you saw at the festival?
Chips: So many great shows, Motörhead, Black Sabbath, Hard Ons, Only Ones. Soul Asylum. Midnight Oil, Joe Strummer, Screaming Jay Hawkins and many more.
How was it to tour in Europe, did the European fans understand the greatness of Sator?
Chips: Yes we were doing pretty good, especially in Germany, We stopped touring abroad when we took a break, but we still play abroad now and then. We get a lot of requests to play but it’s hard to find time for a tour on the continent. We are talking about Norway and Finland next year and maybe Italy.
We would love to play in Germany and Spain again.
Back in 2017, Sator celebrated 30 years as a band. How was that and did you celebrate in any special way?
Chips: In 1991 we had a huge three day party and a special show to celebrate the first ten years. We got the feeling that it will never be as much fun as that weekend so we haven’t done it again. We did a 30 year tour where we played songs from all periods though. It’s hard to grasp.,30 years is a very long time.
It’s 40 years this year since the formation of Sator Codex. Sadly it’s not possible to do anything.
I read in an old in interview that Kent said the band was nearly put to rest in 2008? What happened?
Chips: I think it was earlier. It was more like, do we want to have the band as a hobby or take it it seriously? We all agreed that having it as a hobby was not an option, so it was either to break up the band or get going. We chose to get going.
Chips K producer and other projects
When did you first get into producing and what was the first album you produced by yourself?
Chips: The first album I produced on my own was The Psychotic Youth, SOME FUN album. I never thought of producing other bands before but they asked me and I said yes. After that The Nomads asked me to produce their SONICALLY SPEAKING album because they liked the sound on the Psychotic Youth record. Then someone asked because the like The Nomads album and that’s how it went on and still does. I have now produced over 100 albums. Not bad for an unplanned career!
Do you own the Music-A-Matic Studio where you and Henryk Lipp work?
Chips: Sator owns 50% and Henryk Lipp the other half of Music-A-Matic studios. The studio will close down in 2022 because they are going to build a hotel on the whole block; the usual story. I’m building my own studio right now in Limmared, close to Borås. It will be done in September hopefully. I already have a small studio in Limmared but it will be much bigger now.
You worked with The Hellacopters, Michael Monroe, Bonafide, and Backyard Babies to mention a few, but which band and album have been the most fun to work with/on?
Chips: Impossible to say. They are all fun in different ways. Some of the more ”entertaining” sessions
have been the ”Limmared sessions” the last two years. The studio is in our basement at home so you get a very relaxed and creative vibe. No expensive studio clock is ticking away. I’m thinking of The Headlines WARPAINT album last year and the forthcoming albums with Cat and The Underdogs, Zoo Party Bonafide and Wilmer X. All done mostly in Limmared. We are also working on a Sator ”semi-unplugged” album now which is very interesting.
How do you choose which bands you’re going to work with?
Chips: They ask me and I say yes or no. It’s that simple. I never work with anything I don’t like.
Which genre do you enjoy the most to produce, rock n roll, sleaze metal, garage rock or punk?
Chips: The Chips is all of them. That’s what makes it interesting, not to get stuck in one place or style.
I’ve learned a lot from working with different musicians.
You, Kent, Nisse Hellberg from Swedish act Wilmer X, and drummer Patrik Herrström did the project Bo-Dogs together in 2014. How was that and who came up with the idea to gather and record an album?
Chips: I’ve been working with Nisse a lot over the years, so we know each other quite well I guess.
He had dream to make a real garage-rock album so he asked me and Kent if we wanted to back him up.
Can’t say no to that. I think Kent suggested Patrik on drums. At first Kent played bass and I played guitar. It sounded OK but something was missing. So I switched to bass and Kent guitar and suddenly something clicked. Nisse wrote all the songs and sang all the lead vocals so it was very much his baby.
We rehearsed the songs two or three times and then we pressed record. Henryk Lipp did a great ”dirty” mix of the album. It was very satisfying to make, one of those moments when it’s all fun to be in the studio.
Are there any plans on do some more with Bo-Dogs or was that a one-time thing?
Chips: The band still exists so I suppose something more could show up, especially since the bass player has his own studio now.
Past present and future
Sator’s website is really nice looking but poorly updated, who runs it?
Chips: It’s our friend Dennis that runs it. Websites have lost a bit of interest these days when Facebook and Instagram are what most people use. We do upgrade it now and then when something big happens.
It also has a really long biography for those who want to dig a little deeper. I’m about to send Dennis an update soon, but it’s been a slow year.
Besides Instagram and Facebook is the band active on any other social forums?
Chips: Not really.
How many followers does the band have on Instagram and FB?
Chips: It’s hard to tell. I can see that there’s a lot of people checking out Facebook and Instagram without joining. The cool thing is that the followers are quite active. It’s a very friendly little community. We have never bought fake followers as some artists do.
Last year the COVID-19 pandemic struck the world. How has it affected Sator?
Chips: Same as everyone else, all our gigs got canceled. We were supposed to release RETURN OF THE BARBIE-Q-KILLERS last August but had to postpone it. There was no point releasing an album that we can’t promote. So we are just waiting for the pandemic to end.
The band chose not to do any live streams because you think the fans and the band should be together sharing a live situation. What did the fans think of that?
Chips: I think most of them understand why. I mean, it was really a tribute to the fans. We are nothing without them.
Do you think it’s going to be possible for Sator to do live shows later this year now that people are being vaccinated and so?
Chips: I doubt it. We might do some smaller gigs if possible.
I’ve seen the band has been in the studio recording stuff, any plans on releasing any new material soon?
Chips: Yes, the RETURN OF THE BARBIE-Q-KILLERS album.
How does it feel that Sator is considered a legendary act in Sweden today?
Chips: A bit strange because we still feel like underdogs. But It’s also a very nice feeling being a legend. Ha ha!
I’d say that two of the best albums ever in the world are STOCK ROCKER NUTS from 1990 and HEADQUAKE from 1992. Which are your personal favorite Sator albums?
Chips: As I said if we have to pick just one it would be STOCK ROCKER NUTS or always the latest one.
You and Kiviaho live in Stockholm and the rest of the band lives in Gothenburg, any problems with rehearsing or so when you live in different cities?
Chips: Now it’s only Hasse remaining in Gothenburg. I live in Stockholm and Limmared. Mikael lives close to me outside Ulricehamn. Kent’s in Hultsfred and Heikki lives in Eskilstuna. Rehearsing is no problem. We rehearse about once a year nowadays. We also rehearse at soundchecks when we put new songs in the set.
What would you like to say to the ones who haven’t heard the music of Sator yet?
Chips: Check us out but even more, come to a show! You will have a good time.
Could you give them three reasons why they should buy UNDER THE RADAR or BASEMENT NOISE?
Chips: Because they are damned good records and they sound even better on vinyl. We promise to be really interesting billionaires if you make us rich.
Well, that was all for me and Metal-Rules.com his time around. A huge thanks for taking the time making the interview, it was an honor! I really hope to see you guys on stage really soon! Do you have any final words of wisdom to share with fans and readers?
Chips: Keep the rock ’n’ roll flame burning !