by Alexandra Mrozowska
– Columnist —
It’s hard to think of any better news for the classic AOR/melodic rock fans than one of the most acclaimed bands back, geared up and ready to go! It’s Alien fans in particular who can’t really complain – their favorite band not only reunited in their original line-up, but also released the stellar Eternity album this year. The Swedish band’s bassist Ken Sandin talked both in detail in his recent interview for Hardrock Haven.
Hardrock Haven: First of all, can you tell us what were the circumstances of the band’s reunion in its original line-up? Was there any breakthrough moment, any particular event that led Alien to return?
Ken Sandin: No, just the fact that so many years have passed, and time flies. That first album has always stayed close to our hearts, and meant a lot in the progress of our careers. Tony had a wish to meet the others and end the Alien saga as it began, with the original lineup. So, we reunited for nostalgic reasons and to play the songs of the debut album, and if not all five of us had been up for it, we wouldn’t have bothered!
Hardrock Haven: The reviews were of the last album released as Alien – Dark Eyes (2005) was mixed, with only Jim [Jidhed, vocals] and Tom [Borg, guitars] on board. What is your opinion about it?
Ken Sandin: They did that album and to begin with it wasn’t supposed to be called Alien. All I can say is I wished they’d stuck to that plan and called it something else. Tony found that the original lineup has been impossible to emulate. Alien is a result of us five members, one missing piece and it’s no longer Alien. I’m glad he finally followed his heart, leading to the 2010 reunion.
Hardrock Haven: Who or what encouraged you to make a new record?
Ken Sandin: What encouraged us the most was the great response from fans at our reunion shows, and their wish for a new album. The Firefest (UK, 2011) show was probably the boost to get the ball rolling, feeling the support and love from fans gathering from all over the world (25+ countries).
Hardrock Haven: What’s the meaning behind the cover artwork of Eternity? Who designed it?
Ken Sandin: We decided early on that the album was to be a natural successor to the 1988 debut, as far as songwriting and style. Same thing goes for the artwork and layout, which I created. We wanted our old fans to feel they’re holding ‘Alien 2’ in their hands. I even re-used elements from the Scandinavian 1988 edition, the tower and the flying objects.
Hardrock Haven: Who came up with the album’s title and how do you interpret it?
Ken Sandin: I did, but I didn’t want to have a title written in letters on the front cover and had the idea of using the “laying-eight” symbol, the never-ending loop symbolizing ‘Infinity’. That title was used for a Journey album, so I chose Eternity, as the symbol works for both. One way to interpret is that our music, the art we create and leave behind, is eternal.
Hardrock Haven: Which songs on Eternity are your personal favorites and why?
Ken Sandin: “Summer of Love” was one of my favorites already during production rehearsals, and it turned out great on the record as well. But, after putting so much time and effort into the production, trying to find the best solutions for each song, I’m a bit too close to them still. Brainwashed, would be another word (laughs). I actually like them all, and how the dynamics of the album is balanced by the various types of songs. “In Love We Trust”, “Unbroken”, “Look At Us Now” are other favorites.
Hardrock Haven: The whole material except “I’m A Fighter” is written for the purpose of Eternity, I believe. Yet, there is this ‘80s AOR vibe to all the tracks. Was such a musical “journey back in time” a deliberate move?
Ken Sandin: Correct, the album was written during last spring, more or less. Well, we just want to do the type of songs we like, continue what we did best and got known for back then. We surely have different preferences within the band, but this is what comes natural when the five of us work together as Alien. I think it was a crucial thing to stay true to that, out of respect for our audience also. The production is something else; of course we wanted a good quality sound of today for the album.
Hardrock Haven: During the process of making the album, you also renewed collaboration with L.A. co-writers Pam Barlow and Janet Morrison Minto, a songwriting duo you worked with before. Did they write all the lyrics to the new album? Why have you decided to have Pam and Janet writing for the band again?
Ken Sandin: No, they wrote the lyrics to seven of our new songs. They are great writers, with just the right touch. Their lyrics really enhance the feel we’re aiming for with our songs. The renewed contact with them, due to our request to record “I’m A Fighter,” led to us inviting them to write new lyrics as well.
Hardrock Haven: One of the album’s highlights is a song the above duo penned back in the ‘80s – “I’m A Fighter.” What were the circumstances of re-discovering the song and why have you decided to include it on the album?
Ken Sandin: After writing a full album’s worth of songs we just thought it would be a cool thing to add a song of theirs, as homage to our co-work on the first record. Our old fans would recognize and appreciate Pam & Janet being involved, we thought. I knew of the song, we all liked it and thought it would fit in. The girls always believed in the song and hoped for us to record it, but we actually never got to hear it back then. Better late than never… (laughs).
Hardrock Haven: You started working on the album almost a year ago. Many bands who debuted thirty or forty years ago now often compare the hurried recording sessions from the past with the present comfort of taking their time when recording. What is your view on this?
Ken Sandin: I know what you mean. When you’re not getting a budget anymore to spend a month or two focusing on nothing but a production, you have to make the recordings in between stuff, stretched over a longer period. The actual effective time spent on this production doesn’t differ that much, though. You might get to do a better performance with the technique of today, maybe at the cost of the live feel of a band interacting, sometimes. I think we caught the best of both worlds.
Hardrock Haven: After the band reunited in the early 2010s, the first release we’ve got to hear was a beautiful power ballad “Ready To Fly.” Why wasn’t it included on Eternity?
Ken Sandin: It’s a good song, but we started fresh writing for Eternity. We had already recorded it, besides it’s not written or produced by us. Instead, we’ll now add it to the Japanese edition, which is due for release June 18th by Bickee Music. That, and an instrumental piece based on the guitar feature we use live – now titled “Eternity” – plus a spoken “Introduction,” make up the bonus tracks for Japan.
Hardrock Haven: Alien’s reunited in its original line-up. What do you think about bands who continue under the old moniker and classic repertoire, but only one or two original members on board?
Ken Sandin: I understand when old fans of classic bands think it’s a poor thing to see, for instance Sweet, today. I have no interest in “Thin Lizzy” without Phil or “Queen” without Freddie, myself. Then again, I don’t see much wrong in Mick Jones continuing Foreigner, being the only original member. It depends …
Hardrock Haven: During the last few years, you performed on many renowned rock festivals throughout Europe, from England’s Firefest to your motherland’s Sweden Rock. Which of these you’d name the most memorable in the band’s history and why?
Ken Sandin: It’s got to be Firefest 2011, we couldn’t have guessed just how well-remembered and appreciated we would be by that crowd. Later, at our Madrid show in 2012 we got the same kind of undivided love.
Hardrock Haven: Do you have any big festival appearances scheduled for 2014? Or any tour in the pipeline?
Ken Sandin: We have one major one in Sweden, ‘Sabaton Open Air’ in August, and later the HEAT festival in Germany in November. We were a little late for most of the others, this year. What we’ll do is start playing clubs in Sweden, to get things going. In July we’ll take part in the broadcasted ‘Baltic Festival’, which is the Baltic countries take on the ‘Eurovision Song Contest.’ We’re really looking forward to play our new songs live!
Hardrock Haven: How do you pick songs for the concert set lists? Do you choose from the entire band catalog, or do you focus mostly on the new songs?
Ken Sandin: We have focused only on the songs of the debut album, this far. We had no interest in playing songs Jim didn’t sing, or we didn’t play. We added, of course, “Ready To Fly” and at Firefest 2013 “In Love We Trust” which is now our new single. Now we’ll start adding Eternity songs, a couple at the time, and I’m not sure how we’ll chose which ones to cut out or bring in. It has to do with the dynamics of the set, I guess.
Hardrock Haven: What is Alien up to at the moment? Any particular plans regarding the album’s promotion?
Ken Sandin: We’re doing as many interviews, radio shows etc. as we get, and other sorts of promotion, to get the EU edition sales going. At the same time, the Japanese edition is coming up before long. We’re providing bios, interviews and promo stuff for that also right now. I’m happy with the altered album cover and bonus tracks for Japan. And we hope for at least one National TV performance in Sweden this year.
Hardrock Haven: Thank you for the interview! Anything you’d like to add in the end?
Ken Sandin: No problem, thanks for having us. And no, I think you pretty much covered it all, Alexandra. It’s been a long, long time since Alien were in the US, we miss it and hope to come back. Maybe we should go for a license, for an US edition of Eternity, with an American label? All the best to all of you!
Visit Alien online: http://alientheband.com/