interview by Michael McCarthy
all photos by Dean Karr
One of the perks of doing Love is Pop is that I sometimes come to hear awesome artists that I never would have found on my own. Here’s the story of how I came to know and love the French rock band BlackRain, who deliver classic-sounding heavy metal tunes in English: I was going through my e-mail, looking for download links, which publicists are always sending me, and I found one for the new Bonfire album, Pearls, but the link had expired. So, I contacted the publicist who’d posted it and inquired about an interview (stay tuned) with Bonfire’s new singer David Reece. And I had just updated my e-mail signature to include a list of people I’ve interviewed over the years, so I could impress some publicists and get more interviews. Well, one of the people on this list was Tracii Guns of L.A. Guns fame. Seeing that, the UDR Music label publicist I’d been referred to asked me if I’d like to check out BlackRain. Naturally, I said yes, as I’m always looking to hear new bands of that ilk. She hooked me up with a link and I was blown away by what I heard. It was like a cross between L.A. Guns circa “Sex Action” mixed with some “Bathroom Wall” era Faster Pussycat and Guns ‘N’ Roses circa Appetite For Destruction. Very impressive stuff indeed. So, of course, I inquired about an interview with the band’s frontman, Swan, and it was arranged and here you have it. The interview was done at 3PM Eastern time here, which was 9PM in Sweden where Swan now resides, so thanks again to Swan for agreeing to do an interview at such an hour.
S: How are you doing?
MM: Good. So, you’re in Sweden right now?
S: Absolutely. I’m living here now.
MM: You got tired of Paris?
S: Absolutely. I was completely tired of the city. I moved a year ago. And I have no regret about it.[Editor’s note: the “Back In Town” video below was shot in Paris]
MM: Your press release indicates that your new album is called Released because you thought it was time to move to new horizons. Was moving to Sweden part of that?
S: Not really. Actually, we picked the name because many songs on this album have a reference to this idea of freedom. This feeling of being released. And, actually, it symbolizes a very specific period in the life of the band. Especially the fact that we’ve been released from many previous engagements. This means management. It means also the fact that we signed for the first time with a label that allowed us to have the CD released everywhere in the world and not only in France. A major step for us. That’s why we named this album Released.
MM: Released is your fourth album, right?
MM: How is it doing?
S: You mean the promotion?
MM: Yeah. And I mean, have you read any of the reviews?
S: Yeah, of course. Especially the ones we got in France. It’s the easiest for us. So far, in France, it’s very good. I don’t think there’s been a single bad review. It’s great there. I know there’s a couple of good ones in England. I couldn’t read the German ones but I think it was a little bit less good over there. Not all of them but I saw one or two that was not really good. I tried to read also the ones from Italy, Spain – those were great, too. So far, it’s been really good. And we’re very happy with the way it’s going now. People seem to enjoy it. We’re very happy about that.
MM: Did you get the record deal with UDR after you already made the album? Or did you have the record deal first?
S: We actually did everything before. We did the cover at the end, but when we signed everything was pretty much ready. I think that’s mostly the reason why they signed us. Because we brought with us a big package. We brought an album produced by Jack Douglas. Be brought the Pledge campaign that worked very good. And we brought also great pictures that we did with Dean Karr. And videos. We shot something like three videos. And one more lyric video. So, I think we came with much in the end. I think that’s good to convince someone to sign you today because labels don’t have that much money anymore. They’re maybe scared to invest in young bands. They don’t like them because they can lose money. I think it was a good idea to bring all of that stuff first.
MM: I love the cover of the new album. Whose idea was it to photograph you with the handcuffs?
S: The cover. We had the idea before but we didn’t really know how to make it. The idea was to to try to find the title to the album and to illustrate this title with the picture. So, yeah, we had a few ideas but, really, it didn’t look good when we tried to do it. It was actually Dean Karr at the end of the photo shoot that we did. He just took me into the back of the room and he started to do all of these things with the handcuffs. Right away when he looked at the pictures on the camera we knew we had the cover. He’s really good and really had a good eye.
MM: Were any of your previous albums in French or have they always been in English?
S: They’ve always been in English but [Laughs] to be honest with you I guess that, for sure, the first album was a kind of Franglais. Because, well, at first we didn’t have anybody around us. Being French, we don’t really speak English. So, when we grew up, we really had to learn that after. Yeah, that’s the one thing I really don’t like about the two first albums. I know my English – my accent – is awful. I can’t listen to it because of that.
MM: How long have you guys been around now?
S: We’ve been around about ten years, I guess. If you really count when we started back in high school in my room playing covers. That’s about ten years, definitely. Quite a long time. Time flies.
MM: When you were in Paris, what was the music scene like? Were there a lot of heavy metal clubs?
S: No, there’s a lot of venues. There’s definitely a lot of nice places to go. I can’t say how many but there’s really a lot. But, unfortunately, there’s no rock bar or club like you would find in the States or in many other countries. There’s no rock culture, really. It’s very special down there. There’s a heavy metal scene for sure. Especially an extreme metal scene. I guess the French people are better at doing strong metal.
MM: The new album was produced by Jack Douglas. He produced your previous album, too, right?
S: Absolutely, yeah.
MM: How did you first connect with him?
S: In Paris we had previous management and the guy in question actually worked with Jack Douglas back in the day. I don’t remember exactly when but it must have been late ’70s and early ’80s. Something like that. Then they just stopped working together and didn’t have any contact for a long time. More than twenty years, I think. When we were done with the demos from this previous album called It Begins he contacted Jack Douglas and the chance is that he was in France at that moment. So, we were lucky enough to be able to meet him. We made him listen to the demos at that moment. So, that was very nice, to meet him face to face. Then we were able to talk about everything and he accepted to produce the album because he really liked the demos. He thought there wasn’t much to do other than what we’d done already. Yeah, he was happy to produce it and then we contacted him again for Released and he really wanted to do it. He really insisted to do the album. That was very nice. I must say we’re quite proud of it, actually.
MM: Twenty years ago grunge kind of killed heavy metal here in the United States and it’s never fully recovered, but I know when I was in Paris in the late 90s there were still big sections of heavy metal records in the record stores and things. So, does the heavy metal music do well in France? In terms of selling CDs and so forth?
S: I couldn’t tell exactly that. For sure, old bands such as AC/DC or Iron Maiden. The big names from the ’80s and before, they’re still selling and you can go watch their show in the big stadium, which is quite an extraordinary thing in France. I don’t think they sell much CDs in France when it comes to heavy metal. But, yeah, grunge killed it. Killed it everywhere. Well, if it killed it, it’s because heavy metal somehow became a trend in the ’80s and grunge became the next trend. And that’s the way it goes. I mean, it’s a cycle. I guess it wasn’t time for the spandex and big hair. It wasn’t time anymore.
MM: You’ve played in Japan where I know heavy metal is very popular. Are you guys very popular in Japan?
S: I have no idea, actually. We haven’t been there for a long time. It was a very special time for us. I actually met some people who told me that we actually have a fan club over there. It’s cool. I know the CD, there is a label there, so we really hope to go back and play there. It was a crazy experience for us. It happened at the very beginning of the band. We had this crazy, crazy idea to go there. We actually just made it like that. We’d never really played before. We were really bad at playing, I guess. I know we were bad. It was like the first tour we ever did and we played every day. It was a month, I think we played every day for a month. That was pretty tough for a band that never played like that before. We definitely learned a lot by doing this. It was also the trigger that made us realize that we really want to play rock ‘n’ roll on stage, much more than heavy metal, which was more the style of the band at the very beginning. So, that was intense for Japan.
MM: Did you go on any of those crazy Japanese talk shows?
S: [Laughs] No, we didn’t. Actually we found what was the most popular rock bar/heavy metal bar in Tokyo and every night I was there. I haven’t seen anything like this bar, I think. My friend wanted to go see [something] but we never made it because we would drink every night after the show. Well, it would be interesting to go back there. To see more typical Japanese things.
MM: I know when some bands go play there, like TNT or Dokken, when they get to the airport there’s all kinds of fans waiting to meet them at the airport as soon as they get off the plane.
S: Yeah, they’re pretty crazy.
MM: So, that’ll probably happen to you next time.
S: Well, they’re pretty famous for the ’80s as well. They’re a very good crowd, actually.
MM: When I looked you guys up on Spotify, I saw that there are a couple other bands that call themselves BlackRain as well. Were you guys the first ones to use the name? Will you sue them to stop them from using it?
S: Yeah, we knew actually there was some other bands but I really, definitely think that we were the first because we’ve been around for quite a long time. Most of the bands that were called Black Rain, they don’t exist anymore, but there’s always one that is coming back from time to time. And, well, you know. Usually we just wait. Usually bands don’t stay. That’s sad, but that’s the truth. So, we’ve never had any problem with it. We’ve released four albums. Anyway, I think it’s really hard to protect your name. There was a movie before us, that’s for sure. It was called Black Rain. Even Ozzy Osbourne came out with this album much after we started.
MM: You got the name for the band from the movie, right?
S: Yeah. It’s really silly. A silly story, you know? We were just looking for band names and I went into this video place and there was old VHS tapes and there was Black Rain and I saw that and I thought, that sounds good, I’m gonna pick it for my band name. That’s how it happened. I never even watched the movie, actually. I mean, I watched it years later because because I felt like a liar. I really had to watch it now. Now, it really was just like a coincidence. I saw that name and it sounded good to me and I took it.
MM: How does the songwriting work in the band? Who does the songwriting?
S: Mostly, I do it. We started in the beginning to do that at rehearsals, trying to put stuff together, but I really never enjoyed that. It becomes very quickly a big mess. You’re going nowhere, usually. Then we started to use computers. It became very easy to do your own demos when you’re home. That’s what I do now. I think it works very, very well, actually. You can record pretty much everything you can record in the studio so you get a very good idea of how it’s gonna end up in the end. I think everybody in the band likes this process. I think it works pretty good.
MM: Do you write the songs alone, or do they contribute to it, too?
S: I write most of the songs, but I’m not a drummer. I’m not a bass player. I’m not good at the lead guitar. Actually, yes, everybody contributes with his own parts, brings his own stuff. But once everybody brings his ideas then we listen all together and we decide what’s good, what’s less good and we agree on what should be changed or not. Everybody is involved.
MM: Could you tell us what a few of the new songs are about? Maybe “Home” and “Puppet on a String”?
S: Yeah, well, “Home” is actually about – you know, you were asking me about Paris – this talks about Paris. It’s my feeling about the city. The lyrics are a little bit complicated maybe on this one. So, you’re not supposed to understand right away what it’s talking about. It’s kind of pictures. But, yeah, it’s talking about my feelings about this city of Paris. “Puppet on a String,” I have a funny story about that. The lyrics are talking about my old manager and the fact is, it says all kinds of things like I’m sick of him. And we’d actually been working this song together. He helped me to arrange it for now and he never realized that it was about him. [Both laugh] Because French people don’t understand and don’t speak English, so, yeah, we’d been listening to that song together for, I don’t know, 100 times and he never realized what it was, what we were saying.
MM: That’s crazy. What is “One Last Prayer” about?
S: Actually, I didn’t write that song. I just wrote the lyrics. It’s Max, the guitarist, that brought the music to me. And so I wrote the lyrics about his brother. Because it’s very personal. He’s got a brother… To cut a long story short, he’s a psycho. Because he hurts everybody around him. It’s not on purpose. It’s because he’s sick. So, yeah, that’s the story of the song.
MM: Who are your influences or favorite bands?
S: Influences could be anything because we are very open-minded. We definitely can listen to whatever music. Sometimes even hip-hop. Max, the guitarist, he’s more into Foo Fighters. That would be his favorite band. He likes also bands like Katy Perry or Lady Gaga. I would be more into Guns ‘N’ Roses. Matt, the bass player, is more into Queen. The drummer would be more into Rammstein. It’s very different.
MM: So, what do you think about this Guns ‘N’ Roses reunion? Are you going to go see them?
S: Well, if they ever make the trip to Europe I would probably go to see them. And I would say I would enjoy to be the first act. That would be great. But, I don’t know what I think about it, really. I always like Guns ‘N’ Roses. I even like them when it was only Axl Rose. I don’t really have any problem with that. It’s cool that there’s a reunion, but it would have been even better with all the original members. I think it was very good, the thing they did at the Troubadour. It cost like ten bucks for a ticket. And I think that was a great, great thing to do.
MM: What did you think of the Chinese Democracy album? I really liked that.
S: I really liked it. I wouldn’t say I like it as much as I like the other albums, like, you know, Appetite For Destruction, but I really like it. I think the songs are great and the production is great. It’s definitely the best produced album of Guns ‘N’ Roses. It took time, so, in a way, it better be well-produced. I think there’s hits in this album. “Chinese Democracy,” the song, is great.
MM: They’re doing some of those songs on the reunion tour, too. I didn’t think Slash and Duff would want to play them, but they’re doing some of them.
S: Actually, they do. Yeah, you’re right. I think it’s nice.
MM: What was the first album you ever bought with your own money?
S: Um, I can’t remember really because I’m always hesitating between three albums and I don’t know which one was the first, but they came at the same time anyway. I would say I bought an album for the first time with my money, it was The Number of the Beast, Iron Maiden. Just because the cover looked so good to me. I can remember my parents telling me it’s not because you think the cover is good that the music is gonna be good. Maybe you shouldn’t order this. But I was like nah, nah, I want this. And I liked it, actually. I think it was one of the first albums I listened to. Then I remember buying the tape Ride The Lightning, Metallica, and also Nevermind from Nirvana. Those three albums really changed my life when I was young.
MM: Those were all good ones. Who are a few artists that people would be surprised you like?
S: Usually when I say that I really like The Beach Boys people think that I’m joking but I’m not. I think they are great. I like to listen a lot to those bands from the ’50s, ’70s and ’60s. I think there was great songs. The songwriting was crazy good. I like those kind of things. But, like I said earlier, also a good song from Lady Gaga, I like that sometimes. Because the melodies are good. That’s what we like in music.
MM: I saw that you’re selling signed copies of your album on vinyl, but the site that you posted the link to on Facebook was in German. Is there somewhere where the site is in English or French – I know some French – where someone can order a signed copy?
S: You actually don’t need to know French. On the German page, if you look, I think it’s on the top on the left, there’s a little English flag, actually, so on this exact page you should be able to change it to switch it to English. I’m sure about it. I did it a few times.
MM: And how can people get your earlier albums? I looked on Amazon France and Fnac –
S: – It’s very complicated. It’s a very complicated thing. For some reason, the previous album, It Begins, is not with a label anymore, not at the moment. We will hopefully release it again soon in the future. I don’t know when because we changed management and the label, we don’t have the rights yet and we need to have them again. So, it will come again soon. For the first, License To Thrill, you should be able to get it because I know the record company is still releasing this one from time to time. And for the second one, I have no idea. I think you can find it. But since you’re in the States it makes it a little more complicated. That’s probably the reason why.
MM: Well, I looked on Amazon France and on Fnac.com, but neither of them had them.
S: Honestly, I don’t think it’s available anymore at the moment. Keep on looking from time to time and I’m sure it will be released again.
MM: At the end of our interviews we always ask some random questions. The first one we have for you is, what song is stuck in your head right now?
S: Right now? I must think about something because, actually, right now I’ve been working on new songs all day. So, I have the song I’ve been working on today. Otherwise, I was listening to actually a new band called The Biters and the song was “1975,” which I think was cool.
MM: What’s the song that you were working on today called?
S: “Slay The Freaks.”
MM: “Slay The Freaks”?
MM: If you could get any person alive today to come to one of your concerts and see you, who would it be?
S: I would pick someone that hates me. [Laughs]
S: So, he can enjoy to watch me live, yeah. [Both laugh]
MM: What’s the most awkward encounter you’ve ever had with another musician? Did you ever get in a fight with anybody from another band or anything?
S: I don’t think so, but what could it be. Yeah, actually, I don’t know if I can really talk about it, but that time when we – my wife and I – when we went to that Guns ‘N’ Roses show in Paris the keyboard player, actually, he really liked my wife. And he would have liked to invite her backstage after the show. The problem is that I showed up with her. He was very not happy about it. Anyhow, we managed to get into the backstage and we went without him because, yeah, you know… He was mad about the fact that I was there, too.
MM: That’s that guy, Dizzy Reed?
S: Yeah, I think so. Yeah. Yeah, that was him.
MM: Finally, who was your favorite Star Wars character?
S: I love the Star Wars movies but I’m not like a crazy fan. Who could I pick? There’s some cool people in there. I don’t know which one is my favorite, but I like Darth Vader. Because he’s all dressed in black, so he’s a cool guy. He has this pretty voice that I like.
Special thanks to Swan for agreeing to do this interview and for doing it at night! Thanks also to Serena Furlan for setting it up!
Official Site: http://www.blackrain.fr/