Swedish songwriter, guitarist, multi-instrumentalist and producer: Magnus Karlsson, has just released his sophomore Freefall album entitled Kingdom of Rock out now on Frontiers (you can read the review here). I was lucky enough to catch up with him to chat about the new album, guitar gear, song writing, recording, his influences, and what he gets up to on holiday. The interview is available below as an audio file and as a transcription of the audio file.
Martin: Hi! It’s Martin from Moshville Times and I am here with Magnus Karlsson. Hi Magnus! How are you doing?
Magnus: Hey! I’m fine, how are you?
Martin: Yeah I’m good, good, good. Your new Free Fall album is called Kingdom of Rock and features a number of guest singers such as Jorn Lande, Tony Martin, Joe Lynn Turner and a host of other people. Were you happy how the album turned out and did you manage to get all the guests you were hoping for?
Magnus: Yeah, most of them, I got most of them. Yeah, I am very happy. It’s tricky to get all those great singers on one album. It takes a lot of time but it came out great so I am really happy.
Martin: How did you go about choosing the guests on the album?
Magnus: I am choosing the ones that I really think are great, they are my favorite singers so it makes it easier to write songs because I really like them all, I am a fan of them all and some of them I listen to them when I grew up up like Tony Martin, Joe Lynn Turner and it feels amazing to have them on my album. It’s almost unreal.
Martin: You’ve worked with some of the most well known names in rock/metal. Is there anyone you haven’t worked with that you’d like to?
Magnus: Yeah…a lot actually (laughing) there’s a lot of great singers, like for example Tate (Geoff Tate), it would be awesome and also it would be great to do something with Michael Sweet from Stryper, that would be cool. I have a long list of singers that I like.
Martin: Is everything on Kingdom of Rock written by yourself or was there any input from any of your guests?
Magnus: Yeah, it’s only one song that I co-wrote with Tony Martin, the one that he sings “When The Sky Falls”. It was his request, he wanted to change some of the lyrics and I am grateful because it came out much better! He did a great job and I wrote the rest myself.
Martin: That’s probably one of my favorite songs on the album, Tony Martin has such a great voice and I was a big fan of his Black Sabbath stuff…
Magnus: I listen to his Black Sabbath albums like I listen to Iron Maiden, Judas Priest…for me it’s really big, you know, so it feels strange now to hear him singing on my album.
Martin: That track’s got a bit of a heavier feeling, did you write that song with Tony Martin in mind?
Magnus: All the songs are written with the singers in mind and I remember when I talked to him first, he said that he can’t/doesn’t want to sing a song if it is too much AOR…he wanna have it in his own style…that’s cool.
Martin: It’s not quite Black Sabbath but it’s got that kind of feel…
The tracks where you sing on the new album sound great. Have you ever consider a solo album where you did all the vocals yourself?
Magnus: Yeah, that was the plan with this one (big laugh). When I started Free Fall and discussed it with the record company, Frontiers Records, I wanted to have a couple of guest singers and then the list just got longer and longer and then it was a lot of guest singers then I was thinking “Oh should I sing anything on it?”. I did a couple of songs in the end and that’s scary…with these guys! I think it worked out because my voice is a bit different so it’s hard to compare with the other guys. If I had to sing like Tony Martin but not so good everybody would complain but I have a completely different voice.
Martin: To my ear the new album doesn’t sound quite as heavy as the first Freefall album. How do you think the new album compares with Freefall’s previous self-titled debut album? Is it different musically?
Magnus: It could be that some of the singers on the first one are a bit more power metal…like Ralph from Primal Fear…as I said I write the songs for the singer so if I write for Joe Lynn Turner I wouldn’t do a Primal Fear song, it wouldn’t work out. Maybe it could be less metal on this one, but I think the sound, the production, is more metal to me, you know, Jakob Hansen mixed it and did a fantastic job.
Martin: Yeah, it sounds great. A lot of metal bands have lyrics that are quite dark or concentrate on the more negative sides of life. Your lyrics in the main seem quite positive and hopeful. Is that something that you made a conscience decision to do or just something that comes naturally. Are there messages you like to get across?
Magnus: I don’t think so much about it, this is what I feel when I listen to the music. I always wrote the song’s music first and then I work on the lyrics. I get that feeling when I hear the music so…
Martin: It just what comes to mind…
Martin: You mentioned in a previous interview that many of the songs on the self titled Free Fall album talked about stepping into the unknown and trying something new. Does the new album have a particular theme?
Magnus: No, there’s not a theme. I just focused on the songs one by one and tried to make it really good. One thing I think a lot about is that of course the lyrics need to mean something. I also think a lot about the words, about how it sounds in the melodies, if the vocals can do it really nice…that takes a lot of time for me because I sing all the demos first and then send it to the singers.
Martin: Do you have a favorite song of the new album and why would that be?
Magnus: It’s hard but…like when we mentioned “When The Sky Falls”…that’s the one I don’t get tired of because when I am done with the album I listen to it a lot for a couple of months and try to analyze it and after a while some songs I heard too many times maybe so…but that’s the one I can’t stop listening to maybe because I co-wrote it with Tony.
Martin: It takes me right back to the 80’s, and Black Sabbath…I used to listen to that stuff.
Magnus: Yeah, I grew up in the Eighties so I love that style.
Martin: I interviewed Amanda Somerville earlier this year (you can hear that interview here), and we talked about City of Heroes which was an album you were involved in. She talked about how many of the projects she’s involved in were remote collaborations and she recorded her parts in a seperate studio. Is this something you did on the new album or did you manage to get everyone into the one studio?
Magnus: Only two singers came into my studio that was Jorn Lande and Rebecca De La Monte. The rest, you know, if they live in America it’s hard for me to get the time and the budget to go to all cities. That’s why I worked very hard on the demos and I tried to sound like the singer a bit so I make it easier, I can produce them in their studio. I know I can’t sing like Joe Lynn Turner but I tried to sing in his style so he will feel comfortable when he’s recording it.
Martin: Will we get to see these songs live or is it more of a studio project?
Magnus: I am sorry to say but I think it will be a studio project. It’s so tricky to get all these great singers because they are touring all the time. Maybe I could use something like Avantasia, they choose a couple of the singers and do it like that, even that, it’s hard. I remember with Allan/Lande, we got some great offers, and it was impossible because they are touring all the time, you know, big bands…Symphony X and stuff. That’s the problem of working with these great singers…
Martin: …you just can’t get them all together at the same time.
Magnus: Yeah…but I would love to if it was possible. I’d love to do it.
Martin: You’re probably best known for your melodic rock and metal releases. Is there any other genres that you’re interested in either from a a listening, or playing, point of view that might surprise people?
Magnus: I play lots of Irish music. You know riddles and jigs. I play banjo and stuff and also folk music from many parts of the world and I play jazz and stuff too…and I write a lot of pop music too.
Martin: I didn’t know that. Can you tell me a bit about your musical education? I read you started playing classical guitar at the age of 10, is that right?
Magnus: Yeah, that’s because I could not get a teacher for electric guitar! I had to play that for a while and then, after a while, I focused more on electric guitar.
Martin: You’re quite a prolific songwriter can you give us some insight into your songwriting process? What techniques you use, do you write melodies or harmonies first or the lyrics?
Magnus: I start with the music…actually, sometimes I start…I am not that good at piano but it could be a great tool for me to start on, with an instrument I am not that good at ’cause if I start with the guitar I have all this fast stuff in my fingers and it’s easy just to get stuck in this stuff I’ve done a lot of times so it could be a good thing to play an instrument I’m not that, you know, used to.
Martin: …or maybe you are tired to sit and play things you already know or are familiar with…
Magnus: Yeah because when I pick up a guitar the fingers start to move by themselves. It depends what I do. If I write for Primal Fear I often start with the guitar because the riffs are so important in that music and then I work a lot on the production. I really like to have a great song, it’s important to me, if I have the best song in the world but I have a crappy sound I don’t think people would like it…and then I work very fast, I do the basic ideas, I like to work, not that I am stressed or anything but, I like to have a flow and maybe do the album in one or two weeks but then I can work for another six months to do it better. To record the basic ideas I like to work very fast.
Martin: I’ve seen photos of you with your ESP Les Paul style guitar. Can you tell me a bit about how you achieve your guitar sound? What gear and setup you use? Which guitars, pedals, amps, strings, plectrums etc… do you favour and why?
Magnus: It changed a bit through the years but now on the last album I am using the Kemper, do you know it?
Martin: Is it the amp, is it? No, I don’t know it…
Magnus: It’s like a rack and that’s really good for me. I have Engl amps and stuff but when you are in the small studio and I don’t wanna play it that loud it’s a really really great tool. I still use the ESP Guitars…
Martin: …so in the studio you wouldn’t use an amp at all? You just plug straight into the board or something like that?
Magnus: I know many guitar players don’t want it like that but it’s much better actually. When I compare it, sometimes I’ve been in big studios, which cost a lot but I still get better sound with this set up I have now.
Martin: I guess it is consistent as well you always know what you…
Magnus: Yeah when I got it I tweaked for weeks on it to make it better and changed small stuff and I had a pre-amp having to change that too and when I got it I don’t touch it, you know, the same sound. I might add a bit of distortion sometimes, it depends on the music. But now on the Freefall album I know that Jakob Hansen he loves to re-amp stuff, he has a lot of amps in the studio so I recorded a line signal too. So on the new Freefall album it is re-amped by Jakob Hansen in Denmark. I actually asked him about Pretty Maids because I like the last album, the sounds, and he did it so “Woah can you use the same stuff for me?” and he says “Yeah, of course” so I now have a Pretty Maids guitar sound on my new album.
Martin: As a guitarist and a songwriter who would you say were your main influences and biggest inspirations?
Magnus: I always got more inspiration from bands than guitar players. When I was younger, like 16 or something, I would listen to a lot of guitar players like Steve Vai and Steve Morse. I still think they are fantastic and great but bands are more important for me. Bands with great singers and great songs like Queensryche for example Operation:Mindcrime and that kind of stuff and also Judas Priest, Iron Maiden and Dio and all NWOBHM, all of that is great.
Martin: I guess doing an instrumental Satriani type album would not really be that interesting for you?
Magnus: No, I thought about it but I don’t listen to that kind of music anymore. Maybe I would throw in one instrumental song on an album. I did that with my old band Last Tribe a couple of times.
Martin: Many guitarists are known for particular techniques. For example Joe Satriani is known for his legato, Vai for playing in the Lydian mode, Eddy Van Halen for tapping etc… Do you have any techniques you favour that you feel are a part of your style.
Magnus: Yeah, I am also a legato player and I play other stuff too but I listen to a lot of Allan Holdsworth that stuff too. I really like that tone and Michael Romeo of Symphony X. The thing that separates me from a lot of guitar players is I don’t play a lot of pentatonic., that’s normally 90% of rock guitar, and I play it too of course it’s impossible to stay away from it 100% but I like to play more different scales, lydian and minor stuff…yeah, I think that makes my sound a bit…you know…
Martin: …that’s your style…
Magnus: …yeah, as my style, and also I like to play fast and shred sometimes but I always thought a part of the solo I should be able to sing it. I’ve always had that as a goal.
Martin: Yeah when I listen to your playing it is very melodic but then sometimes you’ll do insanely fast alternate picked runs and some sweep picking stuff which is just crazy.
Magnus: Yeah, it’s a cool effect but if I would do that all the time I think you would forget about the solo right away but with a nice melody is easy to remember it and it’s a good part of the song…you don’t just sit around waiting for the next chorus.
Martin: I saw you recently on a YouTube video doing some warm up sweep picking. Would you ever considering expanding into that side of things, for example doing some guitar teaching videos, books, or perhaps a guitar column in a magazine? Would that be something you’d be interested in?
Magnus: Yeah absolutely, I actually work as a guitar teacher in my studio and I really like to teach. I did some clinics and stuff but then all my albums, and projects, and bands take a lot of time so I don’t spend so much time on it.
Martin: Yeah, there are only so many hours in the day. So what does the future hold for you after this album? What’s next on the horizon?
Magnus: I just finished the next Primal Fear album that will come out early next year: Rulebreaker. I think the news came out today, I’ve seen it on Facebook, and I’m also writing on the next Starbreaker with Tony Harnell and my band mate Matt Sinner has his own band called Sinner and I am writing with him too on that album so there is a lot to do…
Martin: Yeah, you sound like you’re gonna be busy…
Magnus: …but it’s fun, I need it! I tried to take a break last summer and I went for two weeks and I just started again ’cause I feel empty if I don’t write or create something.
Martin: You were lying on a beach wondering what to do with yourself…
Magnus: Yeah I’ll be singing new melodies (laughs) on the beach and recording on my phone!
Martin: Final question. Do you have any message you’d like to say to your fans?
Magnus: Yeah, I have to say I’ve never worked so hard on any album before so I really hope that you can hear that and you will enjoy it.
Martin: Yeah, it’s a great album! It sounds great. Thanks for your time Magnus, it’s been really good speaking to you.
Magnus: Thank you very much, thanks for having me!