When you watch a video clip or listen to a song on your streaming devices, you only witness the finished product. When you visit a concert or a festival you witness the live music and the stage performance or your favourite artist! But before all that can be enjoyed, there are a lot of things taking place to make it all happen. Artists, musicians, bands, venue directors, they all have their own story to tell!
In this series I’m going to talk to several different people, to find out what the stories are behind it all! From a “big shot” artist, all the way to promotion and record companies. In this episode Bjorn Englen
Bjorn Englen can be known for his work as bass player in bands like Yngwie Malmsteen’s Rising Force, Dio Returns and Quiet Riot. Next to that, Englen is a founding member of Soul Sign and educates up and coming musicians. Bjorn Englen has built quite a name for himself over the years and has worked with some of the greatest names in metal music. Living in America for years, this Swedish born bass player started out as drummer! About his youth, finding his way in American music industry and loads more, I sat down with Bjorn for a fantastic talk!
Hey Bjorn! Thank for taking the time to do this! It’s a huge honour to Maizter Underground and myself to have the chance to talk to you!
How are you doing?
Thanks for having me! Yeah, I’m doing fine I guess, all things considered. It’s different to say the least. For us in the music business it’s a strange time. We all have to re adjust because times are so different. I guess we have to utilize the things that are available to us. Start writing and recording music is a good thing to do, and which I have been doing with several bands. And streams of course, because it still is very uncertain as to what will be possible to do in the near future.
Sadly it is.
Let us start at the beginning. You were born in Sweden. What was it like, growing up in Sweden and what part did music play in your early life?
I was born in a smaller city of southern Sweden. Music has always been a huge part of my life. In grade school I remember singing Swedish folk songs every morning, and later on I got involved in music more broadly. I got introduced to rock’n’roll by listening to Kiss when I was 6. I then formed punk band with a friend at age 11. We would beat on a pillow and played a 1 string home made electric guitar. I then started on drums at age 12. That was very short lived for various reasons, but mainly because most of all I wanted to play bass. Since age 12.5 I played bass and never looked back! When you’re young you don’t really look into labels and things like that, but as I grew older and got into bands that where more serious, I noticed that it was really hard for Scandinavian bands at the time to get noticed let alone signed by record labels. Each major label would possibly sign one HardRock or Metal act, and the times of medium size and independent labels was still yet to come. With all this considered living in a small city, it numbered the people I could play with and it limited my goals. So looking at all this I realized early on, at age 19 or 20, that I had to move. Los Angeles was one of the places I thought would be a good starting point to see what I could achieve!
Yeah, you moved to America on your own at a young age. How was that? And of course you joined Quiet Riot soon after arriving in LA. It must have been an exciting time for you.
It going to sound a bit strange, coming from a small city of Sweden to a metropolis like Los Angeles, but from day one I felt right at home. I did know one person when I arrived here, but made friends quickly. A lot of like minded people from around the same age crossed my path and gave me the opportunity to make friends, hang out and jam together. But it does take several years to get used to everything in a city like Los Angeles. Things like traffic and also the mentality of people where more difficult to get used to. Growing up in Sweden the mentality of people and the society in general was more closed and people tended to be more sincere. Los Angeles on the other hand, has a lot of people who use lies and prove to be unreliable to try and achieve things. That was an eye opener and quite difficult at the same time. I was naïve and believed whatever people told me. It took me a little while to get used to that. On the flipside I got picked up by bands because of my attitude and honesty so to say. I did not pretend to be anything I’m not and did not have an image or anything like that, that could obstruct things. I think that helped me out quite a lot over the years. I think that was one of the reasons I got involved with Quiet Riot. They saw me as a good bass player, but also as a thrust worthy person. It’s interesting because it was one the very few gigs I ever got not knowing any of the band members prior to first playing with them. We took a chance on each other hahaha!
But it turned out quite ok I think.
Yeah absolutely! By this time you were making a name for yourself. Did that effect your live as an artist?
Yes, you can say that it did. One of the things I noticed was that people in the music industry would approach me differently. Before they weren’t as open to me and my playing, but as my name grew bigger, a lot of name players that I had known for years started showing a lot more respect, although I was still the same person and the same musician. I was, and still am, shocked of how a lot of notible musicians surprisingly need validation from the outside to distinguish a great player.
You played with some of the biggest “guitar gods”. How was that?
It was fantastic and I learned a lot. One thing sort of led to another. Uli Jon Roth (Scorpions) witnessed my first show with Yngwie in 2007 which was with out any rehearsal. He was impressed and said: “Now you have to play with me too because I don’t like to rehearse either”. LOL. In his band I met Mark Boals who became the singer of SoulSign. Through Mark Boals I met Tony MacAlpine and I played with him for seven years. In 2011 I was concurrently touring with all three: Yngwie, Tony and Uli. Lots of songs, bass lines and riffs to remember! Haha They are all very different personalities and players but I learned a ton from them all and I am very thankful for my time with them.
After you parted ways with Yngwie Malmsteen you joined Dio Disciples/Dio Returns. I was wondering, what is it like playing a live show with a hologram on stage?
Well, it’s interesting. Our drummer (Simon Wright) has to play to a click track to keep us all in sync with the hologram. It leaves no room for errors or mishaps but has not been an issue at all. The vocals of Ronnie were recorded live through the years, so it gives us a feeling as if we are playing live with him. Of course all the music is played live on stage. The hologram is present less than half of the show so it isn’t the main thing so to say. Never the less it is a great addition to the production
Let’s circle back a little bit. In 1995 you started Soul Sign. How came that to be and what can you tell me about that time in general?
I had just left the band I was in at the time and started jamming with a guitar player. We were thinking of starting up our own band, when I got the call from Quiet Riot. So in a way, that delayed and stopped our plans. After I left Quiet Riot I met up with a different guitar player and we started jamming and recording together. Without a vocalist at first and with the help of a drum-machine. Soon after we started searching for members to complete the band. We did lots of live shows from 1997 till about 2001. After that things got interrupted multiple times due to the fact that we were all sought after session musicians. As band members moved and left the band Soul Sign became dormant for nearly 5 years.
Around 2007 we got back together and that led eventually to the release of Life In The Dark (2011) but after that Soul Sign was put on hold again. The line-up hasn’t changed really since 2012 so that makes things easier. We all have the same goals and passion with Soul Sign and everyone brings their “A-game”!
We worked hard on new Soul Sign material during the pandemic. We still have one or two songs to finish, and some video’s to shoot, so all in all I’d say we’ve used our time well! We truly are proud of this upcoming new work! Each and every song sounds strong and could be a single in its own. Everybody played really well and we really are excited to release it! An exact release date has yet to be picked but somewhere in 2022 should be realistic. We are rehearsing on a regular base but live shows aren’t booked right now for obvious reasons.
Next to being a musician you taught and guided up and coming musicians. What do you prefer to do? Being a musician and have the thrill of being on stage, or guide young and upcoming artists and transfer your knowledge?
Both are fantastic in their own way. Teaching can be very rewarding but also very draining at the same time. It has taught me a lot about humans in general and I learned to deal with different kinds of personalities. When things work out the way you imagined it is very rewarding and satisfying. Teaching has taught me a lot.
Being on stage is a whole different game. That was always what I intended to do for the rest of my life when I moved to the USA. It’s still fantastic to entertain and just play your heart out so to say.
You’re right there man!
Word reached us you joined the new line up of Of Gods And Monsters. New music is in the works?
Yes! The band was initially put together by Kevin Goocher and together with Ira Black, Simon Wright and myself the line-up is complete! A brand new album is going to be released this year, and we just released a new single and video clip called Bring Out Your Dead. We perhaps have some show planned in March but it all depends on Covid regulations.
Ow wow! Something nice to look forward too!
We are coming towards the end of the interview but there is one thing I was wondering about. You have been part of well-known bands and projects as well as being part of projects that are just starting. Most of your social media however, you do yourself. How come? And what do you prefer?
It can be very time consuming. However it is still often more efficient to do it yourself. Being Swedish, self-promotion isn’t my strongest quality, although I do enjoy and appreciate direct contact with friends and fans, and for that social media is a great avenue. I have a publicist that handles all other promo and press.
Ok! Thanks man!
One final question. You moved to Los Angeles over 20 years ago. Was it always your intention to stay in America or do you ever want to go back to Sweden?
Well, its been almost 30 years since I left Sweden. I found and built my life here. Never say never, but Sweden isn’t the way it was when I left at all. Neither is California or the US. With the exception of working with Soul Sign I could live anywhere and still do what I do, but I love the weather and the nature here in Southern California, and US is in my opinion still one of the best and freest countries in the world.
Yeah, I can see why.
This concludes the interview Bjorn! Thank you ever so much for taking the time for this great talk! On behalf of everyone at Maizter Undergound we want to wish you all the best with all you take on in the future!
TO MAKE SURE YOU WONT MISS ANYTHING BJORN ENGLEN OR ONE OF HIS BANDS/PROJECTS RELEASES OR ANNOUNCES, PLEASE FOLLOW THEM THROUGH THE FOLLOWING LINKS!
DIO DICIPLES/DIO RETURNS
OF GODS AND MONSTERS
IF YOU WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT BJORN ENGLEN AND THE BANDS HE PLAYS WITH, CHECK OUT THE FOLLOWING PLAYLIST!