by Todd K Smith
The heavy metal kings of Sweden return with their seventh long player, the self-titled Mustasch. Combining the whirlwind force of singer/guitarist Ralf Gyllenhammer, guitarist David Johannesson, bassist Mats Johansson and drummer Danne McKenzie the band expand their orchestrated sound into a full sonic cacophony equally as big as their stadium anthems. First single “Mine” is already a smash on Sweden’s national radio due primarily to its packaging with the Frölunda Indians hockey team. Video director Marcus Tinnerholm created an uncanny sequence morphing the face of lead singer Ralf into a roaring tiger, which might have something to do with his current trend in facial hair. Often compared to Metallica, the foursome has already sparked quite a year. In December the band played before 31,000 rabid fans at Europe’s largest hockey game when Frölunda HC met Färjestad BK at Ullevi, Göteborg. In January they were nominated for a Grammy (Sweden) in the Best Hard Rock album category and in February they won. It is their second Grammy as Latest Version of The Truth won in 2007.
After ten years together, original rhythm guitarist Hannes Hansson left the band in 2008 due to family obligations and was replaced by David Johannesson of metal band Sparzanza. A year later, Mats Hansson also called it a day with Jug McKenzie drummer Danne McKenzie filling the bench. The change has been challenging but positive for a band verging on the next big step. McKenzie called in from Sweden to talk with us about the band’s steady growth into stardom and what it will be like to open for Kiss on their Sonic Boom tour this summer. “It was kind of a surprise getting asked to join Mustasch in 2009,” says the drummer. “I had been the stand-in for the last couple of years so I had my suspicions.” Mustasch hail from the island of Orust between Oslo and Göteborg. However, McKenzie is from Stockholm on the other side of the country. “I had been playing a lot of festivals with my old band Jug McKenzie,” he says. “I had met the guys a few times as our paths often crossed. Ralf and I got would get together and talk about doing a project outside of Mustasch.”
Ralf Gyllenhammer is a busy guy hosting TV7’s comedy program Klipptoppen and featured as one of several guests on the double disc soundtrack for the Swedish drama series Upp Till Kamp. “One day we met in a café,” says McKenzie. “He told me Mustasch needed a stand-in drummer for a while and asked if I was interested. Of course I was. The band does very well in Sweden so it was a chance for steady work. After I joined and after working on this new record, we were all surprised we were nominated again for Best Hard Rock album. Then when we won the Grammy we couldn’t believe it. It was terrific.” Deciding to make a definitive statement, the band put their stamp firmly on Mustasch, which may have been the reason for the win. The record’s 12 tracks not only progress from their recent symphonic direction, but also have found added strength in the rhythmic rumble of McKenzie and bassist Johansson as well as the crashing guitars of Gyllenhammer and Johannesson.
“We like the orchestration with the heavy edge to our music,” says McKenzie. “It brings a new dimension to the sound. The band really started moving on that with Latest Version of The Truth and began developing it with producer Tobias Lindell. They wanted to bring something to the composition of the songs - a new idea or a new sound that would move the band forward. We’re at a point in the life of the band where the record company gives us complete control. They know what we are about and that we work best on our own without them meddling with us - they trust us. I don’t even think they came up to the studio to listen until the record was done.”
In the past, Gyllenhammer did most the songwriting. On Mustasch Johannesson co-writes four songs and McKenzie even gets a credit. “Ralf and I had been working on an independent project creating music he wasn’t sure he wanted to use in Mustasch. This was a couple years ago. Hannes and Mats, the two guys that left the band, didn’t like it so much. So he decided to try it with me. That’s where “Tritonus” came from. It was one of the ideas that came about as we were jamming. Ralf is definitely the final say in the group but he like to have everyone’s input. It’s more like a band when we do it that way. It’s not just Ralf. He’s pretty easy to get along with but wants to be in charge. He also can be very determined and intense but still wants a band vibe. It’s more fun that way and everyone seems happy. David and I bring a lot to the live show and it works really well on stage. Even Mats, our bass player is happy all the time especially when we are playing.”
Most of the songs for Mustasch were already written before McKenzie joined the band in the studio. However, he did do the entire drum recording with stunning results. “They were really great about letting me add my own flare and not overdub the drums,” says McKenzie of the band. “They wanted me to cut loose with my own style of playing.” Several tracks including the punkish “Damn, It’s Dark” with its isolated cowbell and machine gun guitars and the folk-like tribal beat of “Desolate” gave McKenzie the space he needed to make his mark. “The first drummer that influenced me was Tommy Lee of Mötley Crüe,” says McKenzie. “Later on I came across Ian Pace and John Bonham but it’s modern drummers like Dave Grohl and Joey Castillo of Queens of the Stone Age that I really like. Chris Adler of Lamb of God and HP (Jean-Paul) Gaster of Clutch are two other guys that are great to watch and glean inspiration from.”
With the disintegration of MTV as a viable music channel worldwide, Mustasch stick to traditional media outlets, like the radio and rubber-to-the-road touring to win their fans. “Teaming up with Frölunda hockey was a good move,” says McKenzie. “They play our single ‘Mine’ at every game. We also post all our videos on YouTube and get our songs played on the radio almost every day. We have a big rock station here in Sweden called "Bandit Rock 106-3” and they play us all the time. You can even listen to it on the web. Right now we’re pushing ‘I’m Frustrated’ as the second single. It’s our first ballad. People always see us a heavy band, they really don’t know us for ballads so this allows the audience to hear another dimension to our music.”
Having conquered Sweden the band’s next big target is Europe, primarily Germany and eventually tapping the US. “We are going to tour Germany in May and other festivals across Europe,” says McKenzie. “The biggest shows for us will be opening for Kiss in Sweden. I got my first record when I was four-years old. It was Kiss Destroyer, so opening for them is really big for me! The other guys try to act cool like it’s no big deal but playing in front of 35,000 people is very exciting! Sweden is a great country to play rock and roll. We love making music. We’ve come about success through touring, hard work and a lot of really great fans. We can’t wait to get out there and play these songs live.”
*For those interested in digging a little deeper, Danne moonlights with another band called Cable Hogs which can be found by clicking here.