by Alexandra Mrozowska
– Columnist —
Five years after their splendid debut hit the stores, outshining perhaps all albums their heroes Def Leppard made since 1992 Adrenalize, the Swedish act Grand Design returns with what is their third album to date – Thrill Of The Night. It was a good opportunity to talk with band’s current lead guitarist Janne Stark, whose involvement in Grand Design actually reaches back into the days of Time Elevation – covering all hot topics in the band’s camp, from the significant line-up changes to the new album and the Leppard-esque flavors to their music.
Hardrock Haven: From 2011, when the previous Grand Design album Idolizer was released, the band has been through a lot of personal changes. Please, tell us a bit about it – what do you think is the strength of the current line-up?
Janne Stark: Yes, there’s only singer Pelle Saether and guitarist Dennis Vestman left from the original line-up, even though actually I’ve been somewhat involved as well since the start. I came up with the band name, made the logo, came up with the title of the first album, and also added some guest solos. So, when former lead guitarist Peter left, Pelle thought he might as well include me in the band. We go way back, and we work well together. Pelle found bass player Mats Vassfjord, who is also in Impera and formerly a member of Scaar, while I found drummer Magnus Ulfstedt, whom I had shared bill with when he was in Torch. He’s also played with numerous bands and people like Mitch Malloy, Jimi Jamison, Talisman etc. We are all very committed to the band and work real hard and well together, which is why I think this line-up is as strong as it is.
Hardrock Haven: Grand Design’s third effort Thrill Of The Night is due to be released this September. What are your personal highlights – and, I’ll add a bit teasingly, downsides – of the album if they’re any?
Janne Stark: That’s always an interesting question. I usually have a couple of favorites that stick, but this album feels very strong and very even, so my favorites have actually been switching around from week to week. I guess this week I’d say “Rawk ‘N Roll Heart Attack,” “The Rush Is Gone,” “Thrill Of The Night” and “U Got me Good.” Next week, who knows. Downsides … (laughs), well, at first I felt “You’re The Only One” was a bit too poppy for me, but it’s really grown to become one of my favorites. I love the chorus!
Hardrock Haven: How did the songwriting process look? Is it a collaborative effort of the entire band, or its specific members?
Janne Stark: Well, Pelle is the main writer. He’s has a very strong vision of what he wants the band to be. We’ve however all pitched in ideas, and also worked on the arrangements of the songs and our respective instruments.
Hardrock Haven: Do you write and demo more than the standardized number of ten songs that eventually end up on the album? Are there any outtakes of the recording sessions and if they exist, do you plan to release them someday?
Janne Stark: Yes, there were a bunch of ideas that were not used and are still unfinished for various reasons. Some we may use for the next release. We also have a couple of songs that may be used as bonus tracks. We deliberately wanted to keep this a classic ten-track album, five on each side. Sometimes bands include 14-15 songs, where 4-5 could be excluded because they don’t live up to the standard of the other ten. We simply just included the ten great ones (laughs).
Hardrock Haven: Although it’s been said for the thousand times the band’s trademark sound is much influenced by Def Leppard – what are your other influences?
Janne Stark: Slayer, Watain and Venom (laughs). Just kidding! We actually have a wide variety of influences in this band. We have two guys who are avid KISS collectors and fans, I’m into seventies heavy rock like Montrose, Sir Lord Baltimore, Mountain etc, Pelle is a big fan of bands like Kansas and Boston and Dennis is a big Mötley Crüe fan. I was personally a big fan of the early Def Leppard stuff from the start, the early singles and the first two albums in particular.
Hardrock Haven: Speaking yet about Def Leppard, have you heard another bands that cite Def Leppard as their biggest inspiration – sometimes to the point of emulation, as LoudLion? What do you think about their music?
Janne Stark: Yes, I’ve heard LoudLion and I’d say they sound even closer to like Def Leppard than we do! They’re a great band! I mean neither of us tries to hide the fact that Def Leppard is the band’s biggest inspiration. There are some other bands that have a song or two that sound very Leppard-ish, but I guess the two of us take it a bit further. This time we even included a leopard on the cover.
Hardrock Haven: How did you hook up with Erik Mårtensson (of Eclipse, W.E.T) who co-wrote “Who’s Gonna Rawk U Tonite” and “You’re The Only One?”
Janne Stark: I’ve known Erik for quite some time and Magnus plays together with him in a side project. He’s a great musician and writer, and he has written some really great melodic stuff pretty close to what we are doing, So this time Pelle and him sat down for a couple of hours and wrote those two songs together.
Hardrock Haven: The producer’s tasks are again handled by Pelle (Saether, Grand Design’s singer). Weren’t you tempted to try and hire someone from the outside with a fresh look over the band’s efforts?
Janne Stark: Nope. This is definitely Pelle’s vision from start to finish. John “Mutt” Lange is and has always been the lodestar for the Grand Design sound. Pelle has the sound and big picture clear in his mind already when we start working on the first ideas for the album. He won’t even let any of us in the studio when he’s mixing! We had another guy mastering the album, but that’s it.
Hardrock Haven: Do you plan to promote the album by making a music video? What do you think about the music videos in the era when the public attention of music fans shifted from MTV to YouTube?
Janne Stark: Yes, we will record the first video in a couple of weeks and we are also working on a couple of lyric videos that will be out before the album release on September 26. There’s no way you will get a video played on TV, but YouTube and FaceBook are the perfect media for getting people to see the band and hear the music. I actually rarely watch TV myself, but I browse a lot on YouTube, trying to find new bands and good music. Since the business is the way it is, it also has to come out of our own pockets so we’d better make the most of it.
Hardrock Haven: Speaking about the album’s promotion, I believe there is an option to pre-order the album to get some bonus memorabilia from the band. What a die-hard Grand Design fan will find in their bonus package?
Janne Stark: Yes, we decided to give the fans an opportunity to get some extra goodies. You get one song in advance, digitally, then you get a signed CD, a signed postcard, a sticker and some custom Grand Design guitar picks.
Hardrock Haven: Undoubtedly, Grand Design’s music is deep-rooted in the ‘80s Rock/Hair Metal scene. Now a part of the ‘80s music fans’ experience returns with the re-emergence of vinyl record. Do you plan to release the new album, or maybe the entire discography on vinyl?
Janne Stark: We have talked about and I think we may give this one a vinyl release, most likely a limited edition in some cool colors. If it turns out well, the others may also be up for vinylization (laughs). We are also planning to re-issue Time Elevation on CD this fall, since its long discontinued and has even become a collector’s item already!
Hardrock Haven: The band performed on many outdoor festivals, Väsby Rock Festival 2014 being one of them. Are there any big open air concerts, or maybe a tour, in a pipeline?
Janne Stark: We are going to Chicago in October, to play the Melodic Rock Fest, which is gonna be great! There are also some shows in the U.K. and Switzerland being planned in the fall. Plus some shows in Sweden when the album is released.
Hardrock Haven: How would you recommend Thrill Of The Night to those unfamiliar with it, or perhaps, the band’s entire discography?
Janne Stark: Well, if you’re a fan of melodic eighties-sounding hard rock, with big choruses and catchy songs, maybe with a tad of Def Leppard touches thrown in, just a tad, you should definitely check out Thrill Of The Night. If you like it, then don’t miss out on the previous releases Time Elevation (once it’s been re-issued) and Idolizer, all on AOR Heaven.
Hardrock Haven: Towards the end, one more question as to the band inspired with Def Leppard – Pyromania or Hysteria and why such a choice?
Janne Stark: For me it’s Pyromania, since I think it had a bit more edge to it. That’s also what we have tried to accomplish with this album. This one is a bit more rocking than its predecessors, a bit more biting guitars and heavy drums, but still as melodic.
Hardrock Haven: Thank you for the interview! Is there anything you’d like to add in the end?
Janne Stark: We hope you will love the new album and that you actually purchase your own copy or a download to help support the scene. Of course we’d also like to come play for you, wherever you are!
Check out the album trailer: