by Nikiforos Skoumas
– Columnist —
Keyboardist Niclas Olsson, the mastermind behind Swedish female-fronted AOR sensation Alyson Avenue, has returned with an all-male melodic rock proposition in the band Sapphire Eyes. As a band leader Niclas has recorded three albums with Alyson Avenue, one with Second Heat as well as the latest debut of Sapphire Eyes. Niclas gives us the latest on Second Heat and Alyson Avenue as well as answering the million dollar question: Whether he would be working again with original Alyson Avenue singer Anette Olzon.
Hardrock Haven: Congratulations on yet another outstanding AOR/melodic hard rock album; what has the market reaction been so far to Sapphire Eyes?
Niclas Olsson: Thanks a lot! The reactions have been great with really nice and uplifting reviews from all over the world. I think the music of Sapphire Eyes has reached an even wider base of listener than my recent work.
Hardrock Haven: On Sapphire Eyes you once again join forces with the incredible vocal talent of Thomas Bursell with whom you formed Second Heat in 2004. Did you consider using that name for this latest album and should we expect more Sapphire Eyes releases in the future?
Niclas Olsson: Yeah I did and I’m glad you like his voice. I never consider the name of Second Heat. That was a project built on a different vision we had at the time. It was fun and maybe we’ll do another album in the future. I will definitely do another Sapphire Eyes album as this is probably the most interesting work I’ve done so far. Some songs are already written and I have spoken to more musicians to be involved. I´m looking forward to it.
Hardrock Haven: In what ways would you say Sapphire Eyes differs musically from Alyson Avenue or even Second Heat?
Niclas Olsson: I always strive for a good melody in every moment of a song. I think there’s more depth in the Sapphire Eyes songs without loosing the hooks, something I will work even more with to the forthcoming album. I draw upon influences like Shadow King, The Storm, Joe Lynn Turner etc when I write for Sapphire Eyes.
Hardrock Haven: Sapphire Eyes also features Michael Erlandsson contributing lead vocals on the opener “You’re my Wings” and the unsurpassable ballad “Can’t Find the Words” how did that collaboration come about and why did you choose Michael’s lead vocals for those two songs in particular?
Niclas Olsson: Mikael Erlandsson is one of my favorite vocalists and I couldn´t dream of the chance to work with him until I made contact. Thomas broke his ribs at a critical time of the recordings and I just had to move on as there were so many people involved. Mikael said yes to do a couple of tracks so I just picked two songs that I thought would suit his voice and the result just blew me away! I would love to do some more with Mikael. Cloudscapes/Fullforce vocalist Michael Andersson also did one track due to the same situation.
Hardrock Haven: How do you manage to compose every album almost single-handedly and still maintain such high standards of songwriting and performance?
Niclas Olsson: Oh, thanks a lot for that compliment. Of course I want every song to have that special feeling. I wouldn’t put a song that is, in my opinion, ‘just ok’ on an album. Listeners will think songs are just ok anyway. So, no fillers on purpose, haha!
Hardrock Haven: Sapphire Eyes are signed to Avenue of Allies records which is also the home of Alyson Avenue, what is your relationship like with the label?
Niclas Olsson: Me and the label owner, Gregor Klee, had a thorough dialog years before we signed to the label with Alyson Avenue and did talk about this project already then. It all works fine and I am looking forward to see what the future will bring.
Hardrock Haven: In 2011 Alyson Avenue released their third and latest to date studio album Changes, which was the first to feature the remarkable Arabella Vitanic fronting the group. How close are we in getting a fourth studio album by Alyson Avenue?
Niclas Olsson: It’s hard to tell … We don’t know a this point! We are working on songs and some are recorded as we speak. Doing albums is really hard work and take a lot of time so we have talked about doing a digital EP with 5-6 songs to begin with. Maybe a limited amount of physically CDs as well.
Hardrock Haven: Original Alyson Avenue vocalist Anette Olzon has contributed backing/guest vocals on your latest albums. Is there a chance of you working again with Anette Olzon on a full length AOR project/album?
Niclas Olsson: I wouldn’t bet any money on that! She has her own plans and I have mine. There’s no room for more projects at this point. We still keep in touch and she’s as lovely as she’s always been, but her heart doesn’t lie within the genre I’m afraid.
Hardrock Haven: Are there any upcoming live dates for Sapphire Eyes or Alyson Avenue? Any chance of an international or US tour?
Niclas Olsson: No there’s not! We did some dates with Alyson Avenue last year but due to other commitments we have decided not to do more dates for now. Festivals would be the ultimate for both bands as touring is almost impossible for us to do.
Hardrock Haven: Finally is there anything that we left out that you would want the fans to know?
Niclas Olsson: I think you’ve covered it all very well! Please visit and ‘like’ Sapphire Eyes and Alyson Avenue’s facebook pages and we will keep you updated with videos, songs and news from our studio recordings! Take care!