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INTERVIEW: Zack Anderson, Blues Pills – July 2014

| 7 August 2014 | Reply

INTERVIEW: Zack Anderson, Blues Pills – July 2014
By Shane Pinnegar

One of the hottest new bands on the European hard rock scene, Blues Pills, released their self-titled debut album this week. Bassist Zack Anderson called SHANE PINNEGAR from his adopted home of Sweden to explain how the multi-nationality band formed and created their genre-defying sound.

Blues Pills Zack Anderson 01

Anderson explains that he and fellow American drummer Cory Berry started jamming with Swedish vocalist Elin Larsson when she spent six months living in The States. Upon her return, they followed and Blues Pills was born, sans guitarist. Luckily the bassist remembered a young prodigy guitarist he had seen in France.

“I played in another band and did some tours in Europe,” he says. “When I was on tour in Europe one time, I just saw Dorian [Sorriaux] playing in this small little bar in France when he was just 15 years old. I think he basically blew away everyone that was watching that day. I remembered him after that and added him on Facebook and then once I moved to Sweden – because I guess I sort of consider the band Swedish even though I’m American – and we started Blues Pills, I just asked him if he wanted to come to Sweden and try playing with us. He came and we just connected right away and it just worked instantly. First, he would visit for short periods of time and then eventually he just moved here as well. It seems sort of strange how we’re all from different places but it actually just sort of happened that way.”

Anderson says that language was a hurdle to start with, but there weren’t any other cultural dramas to overcome for this unlikely foursome.

“I guess the biggest [thing] is just when Dorian joined the band he barely even spoke English because he was only 16 then. In France, they don’t speak English so much in school or just growing up. I think all their movies and everything are overdubbed in French so that can be part of it, but in Sweden, everyone speaks almost better English than we do. That wasn’t a problem I guess, just at first he didn’t really speak that much English but he got really good really fast after moving here. He’s pretty much fluent now.

“It’s been surprisingly easy [with passports and immigration] too,” Anderson continues. “Sweden is really relaxed about immigration and things so I was able to just get a job here and get a residence permit. Now that I’ve been living here so long, I have a permanent residency so I can live here for my whole life if I want to.”

Blues Pills 01

Blues Pills’ analogue sound is unashamedly old-school: it takes you back to the days of The Jimi Hendrix Experience and Cream, Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac and Big Brother & The Holding Company. Crucially, while the riffs are heavy and the solos fiery, Larsson’s soulful vocals soften the punch with an edge of Janis Joplin and Aretha Franklin. It’s an intoxicating mix that references without copying, and emphatically sounds very now: forward-thinking retro, if you will.

“There’s no question that [Classic rock and soul]’s obviously influenced our music a lot,” Anderson concurs. “At the same time, like you said, we really aren’t trying to copy anything. It’s just that we like a lot of that kind of music and then it ends up being what we kind of write, because we write music that we would want to listen to ourselves. It wasn’t like we just sat down and decided we wanted to sound like we were a band from the 60s. It was more just a blend of the music that we were listening to which is soul and blues and rock, all from that era. Then when we make music together that’s just how it sounded really. I guess that was the connection that brought us together and why we connected musically because we all liked that kind of music.

“There’s a handful [of more contemporary influences as well] – I love Graveyard and I love the first albums by Witchcraft. Then there’s also singers as well that I can really appreciate. I think the biggest thing about old music that I like is, a lot of it is just to do with the production actually that they were recording everything analogue so the music ended up being a lot more true. Nowadays with computers, they’re able to just fix everything so it kind of takes a lot of the life out of the music a lot of times for me.

“I guess usually me and Elin are sort of like a team a little bit I guess,” Anderson says, describing the writing process for the band. “We write all the lyrics together and work on arrangements and stuff. Then once we have a song idea we just bring it to Dorian and let him do his thing on the guitar. Because he’s just so good, he just makes everything sound better. That’s sort of like the formula that we’ve been using so far but of course every song is a little bit different.

“I think also Dorian is starting to bring a lot more riffs and ideas and things. I think he’s just maturing as a person and musically as well.”

Blues Pills 02

With analogue recording comes a warm, vibrant sound, and with their classic soul influences comes an abundance of emotion to match the power of the music. It’s intriguing, therefore, to see so many metal festivals on the bands European touring schedule.

“Really, none of us listen to any metal I guess other than maybe the really early stuff like the first Black Sabbath but that’s more almost blues rock or something!” Anderson chuckles softly. “Yeah, it’s kind of strange that the metal scene has embraced us so much. I don’t really know why… I was kind of worried before at some of the first festivals but it’s really just gone well and they really enjoyed it and we get a good response every time.”

The band have been touring the new album through Europe for the past couple of months, despite the album not being out yet. Anderson says crowds have been lapping up the new material. Unusually, Blues Pills built themselves a buzz before dropping the album, with only the Devil Man EP and a 4-track live EP available before now. They’ve even played a few shows on Australia’s East Coast already, as well as through Europe and America.

“It’s working amazingly well,” enthuses Anderson, “which is kind of a pleasant surprise to us because we didn’t plan it that way. If it was up to us, we would’ve released an album a long time ago but opportunities just kept coming to us and it was almost luck I suppose. It just feels like we kept being in the right place at the right time. We did one small tour and then we got booked already onto [a couple of big festivals], and just from playing those two shows afterwards we had four different labels interested in signing us. That was just our maybe second tour we ever did. It’s been a lot of luck and timing I guess and it’s just gone really fast.”

Blues Pills 03

After considering those offers, Blues Pills signed with Nuclear Blast – a label who just a few years ago were mainly known for their championing of extreme metal, but with Graveyard and Black Star Riders and the like, they’ve been expanding into more blues rock areas.

“Yeah, definitely,” agrees Anderson. “I really think Graveyard kicked the door open for the whole retro thing because I think that was the first [non-metal] band they signed and then they had some success, so I think it made them realise that people really like this kind of music and that just opened the door for a lot of other bands and definitely for us, which I’m thankful for.”

Anderson obviously relishes rare and obscure nuggets – the name Blues Pills came from an obscure German music blog, the cover of the new record was painted by a Dutch psychedelic artist in the 60s, and his favourite records are hard to find, to say the least. I’ll let him explain.

“We got the name Blues Pills from a German guy who’s our friend now. He wasn’t our friend at the time but he had a music blog that I used to download a lot of 60s and 70s music from – just like rare records and things he would post and you could download the music. That was a way that I discovered lots of obscure unknown bands and things from the 60s and that blog was called Blues Pills. Then I guess later we ended up becoming friends with him because he books shows in Germany and we just got done playing his festival and he made us the headliner and stuff so that was kind of a cool moment. Basically we just liked the name and it kind of means for us, it just sounds kind of like medicine for the blues, or it also can hint towards psychedelic blues or something.

“Marijke Koger-Dunham [painted the cover art] and she’s from the Netherlands, but now she’s living in LA I think,” Anderson continues. “She was kind of known in the 60s for painting for the Beatles and she painted Eric Clapton and Cream’s instruments on tour and things like that. Then the way that we found her is, I always loved this album cover by The Incredible String Band, which is called 5,000 Layers Of The Onion, I think. When I was going to different artists, I would always show them this album cover as like an inspiration saying we wanted something like that. Then we weren’t ever finding an artist that really we liked enough that we wanted to make it the album cover. Finally, I just had the idea to see if this artist was still around. I just looked her up and found her website with her contact email and I emailed her. Then she got back right away and said she really liked the music. Then we had the choice for her to either paint something brand new or to use something that she had painted before and just license that and then she sent me a handful of different paintings that she did in the 60s. That one was one of them and right away we just thought it was amazing and we told her we’d take it right away. Yeah, we just thought it was the perfect match. It can’t really get much better if you’re looking for a 60s inspired artwork you might as well have something that’s actually from the 60s.”

To finish up, I ask Anderson our favourite hypothetical question: If he could magically go back in time and be a part of the recording of any one record in history, which would he choose?

Blues Pills 04

“I think actually I’d have to say right now it would be The Undisputed Truth, the album Cosmic Truth which is produced by Norman Whitfield and it’s like a psychedelic soul album,” he says, relishing the obscurity of his choice. “The production I think is like one of the best albums I know of and Norman Whitfield is my favourite producer. I think it would just be amazing to get to witness that and see how he worked. I just love that kind of album a lot.”

Blues Pills self-titled debut album is one of the albums of the year, and it is out now on Nuclear Blast Records.

This story was first published in edited form in X-Press Magazine’s 31 July 2014 issue

Category: Interviews

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