After years of recording with bands such as Snakes In Paradise and Razorback, as well as playing alongside Whitesnake alumni in The Company Of Snakes & M3, as well as The Don Airey Band, Swedish singer/songwriter/guitarist and producer Stefan Berggren has just released his 2nd solo album in 5 years. These Are The Times is a solid collection of blues rock songs, including the first track released “Wild Flowers” [featuring Don Airey of Deep Purple], “Superman”, the heavier “Burning Burning”, as well as lighter moments “Lost At Sea” and the country-sounding “New York” [complete with fiddle]. Love the title track as well, which is closer to old Whitesnake or Purple. Well worth checking out.
Below is my recent exchange with Stefan, discussing his new album, his other more recent projects, his time in New York and the late Lee Kerslake, *Also check out the links below!
First, how have you been doing during CoVid lockdowns? Keeping busy with new projects or non-music stuff?
I been working hard on my solo album; I am so happy that I made it. There is always a sense of achievement when it’s finished. I decided already in 2019 that I was going to work on new original material the whole 2020. So the pandemic has been good for that. But there’s absolutely nothing to do, no gigs. I believe I had the last gig on earth. My band played the last gig November 23, 2020.
(2) Stefan Berggren – Stranger In A Strangeland (Official Lyric Video) – YouTube [from 2016’s Stranger In A Strangeland]
Last time we connected was upon release of the album you did with Lee Kerslake. These Are The Times is your 2nd solo album since then, and you also did another Snakes In Paradise album[?] in 2018 [first one in 16 years]. Can you talk briefly about these 2 albums?
My first solo album Stranger in a Strangeland was ready before BKB. I put that [solo album] on hold when I met Lee, because we wrote some good songs together and we knew Lee’s time was limited. I am very proud of the BKB album. Afterwards, Lee became more and more ill so I decided to focus on my solo album. I had Bernie Marsden over to Stockholm a couple of times; he laid down guitars on 2 tracks – “Coming Home” and “Long Gone Down The Road.” All of the guests on the album are friends, musos I met along the road and enjoyed playing with — Neil Murray from Company Of Snakes and M3 played bass on one song. Snakes In Paradise did one gig at Rock Weekend in Stockholm, as the Promotor gave us an offer we couldn’t refuse 🙂 After the show I sent a song to Serafino at Frontiers; he liked what he heard and offered a deal immediately. It was a difficult and complicated recording as we all live very far apart. We might do one last album with Snakes In Paradise and do some farewell gigs for our fans. Our old songs have taken a life of their own.
When was the new album written & recorded?
I started to record These Are The Times in 2018, so it was written and recorded between autumn 2018-2020. The reason it has taken time is I played gigs all over, all the time – to pay the bills 🙂
Grand Jam is your own studio / recording company !? Have you worked [produced ] many other acts?
Yes, I had my own studio since the ’90s. But now I mostly produce my own stuff; there is no time for anything else, really.
You’ve worked with Don Airey in the past. He adds a lot of sound to the lead off track “Wild Flowers“. Can you tell me how that particular track came together, with Don?
I was thinking of having the Don guesting on my album as we played many shows together. He always plays like a beast, so “Wild Flowers” was a perfect fit for him. It turned out so well. I almost did just a keyboard and vocal mix, without bass and drums.. We’ll see 🙂
One track that stands out is “New York“, as it’s such a different sounding track here – very almost blue-grass or country sounding. Can you tell me a bit about how that song came about and the ideas or influences that went in to it?
I did a rock opera with Corky Laing (Mountain) in New York, ”Playing God” was it’s name. We played it at Kaye Playhouse, on Park Avenue. I stayed for 3 weeks in New York both in Green Port, Long Island & at the hotel – The New Yorker. The lyrics are about my experiences and observations I had, for example – sitting on a bench in Central Park watching people on their way – walking or jogging, (while having a drinky). New York is special, everyone wants to be a star. Stephen Bentley-Klein plays fantastic fiddle on it, to get the Pogues & Bob Dylan vibes. Believe me I played plenty of Irish bars to be able to do it authentic 🙂
There is a lot of good blues based rock on These Are The Times. Can you talk a bit about your own sound / direction as a solo artist, where as many years ago you’d started with ‘metal’ acts like Razorback and One Cent, and have covered a lot of musical ground over the years with various recordings and live bands.
I always try to capture the sound that is going on around me. But sometimes I just had to pay the bills. I never sing a song that I don’t like – that’s a rule I have. Nowadays I just play my own Root Rock. And what’s relevant for me.
As for my sound – I use analog hardware gear such as my Rupert Neve5060 a analog 24/2 mixer as mothership. Plus Neve 1073dpx Neve 8801 and universal audio 6176 plus neve master buss processor, Polar stereo VCA compressor. Real drums, Fender, Martin & Gibson guitars and Neuman mics m149, a vintage 1969 u87 plus more . cool stuff gives a warm, fat sound.
Any antidotes or inspirations on some of the riffs, recordings, or lyrics?
Little Angel – I see myself driving a old Cadillac through America.
Superman – Just good blues > Pomma bass & Johannes Nordell kills it on the drums. Very groovy. I play a Les Paul.
These Are The Times – was written before the pandemic; 2019 was a great year for me, I was in a good flow. Now with the vaccine I’m hoping for better days. So it’s starting to be a high time with the release of the album. Joakim Svalberg (Opeth) plays fantastic keys! Happy – I was in a good mood, on a sunny day 😎
This album also has a vinyl edition. Curious if you’re much of a collector and what you prefer to listen to at home?
I got my old vinyl collection and Stig Carlsson (genius) vintage speakers – it sounds great! These days I put on an old vinyl album when I’m cooking or having a glass of wine. Right now I’m listening to Queen Innuendo, then maybe Rick Rubin’s albums with Johnny Cash – Fantastic sounds!
Regarding The Sun Has Gone Hazy album you did with Lee Kerslake – I thought it was a really good album, but deserved more attention than it got. I am curious what might be leftover from those recordings [songs, edits, video] And if you might consider getting it reissued with anything extra, possibly even on vinyl?
Thanks! I think it would be great on vinyl, but it is really expensive to print vinyl. I have some leftover takes and ideas, picture films. If I can sell pre-orders to cover the cost, it could be a good idea. The sound on The Sun Has Gone Hazy is big, fat and warm, just the way I like it. Both Lee and I were very happy with it.
Did you have much contact with Lee in later years or hear any of his solo project?
Yeah ,a couple of months before he died, Lee had heard I was really ill with Covid 19 (double sided pneumonia), So he phoned me up and was worried. We had long nice chat. so it was a good closure. It hit me hard when he died. We spent a couple a years playing and writing together. I am proud to call him my buddy. He had to do his solo album, I liked it a lot! “Port And A Brandy” and “You’ve Got A Friend” are my favorites.
Also, I gotta ask – you performed 2 shows fronting Uriah Heep a few years back. How did your name come up for that and how did you like that show? Any favorite Heep tracks you particularly enjoyed doing?
Heep played on the same bill I did with Don Airey at Bilzen Rock in Belguim. They watched the gig from the side and liked the voice. The opportunity came up when Bernie had to have an operation. They snooped around and asked if I was a cool dude; they all said I was a keeper. I did 2 shows with them. Rosenheim, Germany, and one in Sibiu, Transylvania. Great Band and chaps! My favorite songs are “Bird Of Prey”, “July Morning”, “Easy Livin'” and “Sunrise.”
What other projects do you have in the works? Any band or solo things being written or recorded in the near future? With Covid restricting live shows, would you consider doing a live webcast [?] performance of some of the new album to promote it?
I was hoping doing shows this summer with these songs; we’ll see. In the worst case scenario I may go live on Facebook 😉 There will be gigs, it’s just a matter of time. My focus right now is with my solo band; I’ve got some heavy boys playing – watch out! If the right offer comes along I am willing to jump on the train. I will put in time to promote the album, slow but steady.
Stefan Berggren Interview (travellersintime.com) [my 2014 interview with Stefan upon release of The Sun Has Gone Hazy album.