The Night Flight Orchestra: A trip through classic rock

The Night Flight Orchestra - David & BjornThe fashion in rock nowadays leans towards retro, with a superabondance of bands offering their own version of the “seventies” or “eighties” spirit – with various degrees of success. The Night Flight Orchestra and their retro sound have a certain something that clearly sets them aside from the teeming masses and will make you feel that they did not simply jump into the bandwagon. The following interview does nothing but strengthen that feeling: first of all, the musicians’ experience gives them a certain intuitive freedom in their music and allows them to explore every aspect of classic rock. And above all, The Night Flight Orchestra never lapses into 70s pastiche or 80s irony. Their music is genuine, passionate, and full of joie de vivre – all qualities that are clearly highlighted in their second record, Skyline Whispers, that we just can’t recommend enough.

We talked at length to the two men behind one of the most exciting classic rock projects of the last few years: vocalist Björn “Speed” Strid and guitarist David Andersson, both of them known for playing in Soilwork, a highly different but still extremely talented band.

The Night Flight Orchestra

« We all have that road trip thing in the back of our heads when we’re writing […] The one exception to the road trip rule would be 80’s Jane Fonda workout sessions »

Radio Metal: You’ve just released your second album Skyline Whispers with The Night Flight Orchestra, but first of all how did the idea for this band formed in the first place?

David Andersson (guitar): It was back in 2006, I did my first tour as a session guitarist with Soilwork, it was a US tour, and I didn’t really know Björn before that tour but we instantly bonded over classic rock. So we spent those four of five weeks in the tour bus, travelling across the US, listening to classic rock. Somewhere along that tour we said that we gotta start a classic rock band sometime, and that’s the kind of thing you always say when you’re drunk on the tour bus but in this case, we kept in touch. Eventually we started writing songs and Björn talked Sharlee D’Angelo into it, he knew Richard [Larsson] and I had Jonas Källsbäck, the drummer, and we figured five years later that we actually have a band and we’ll actually do this! That’s how we started doing the first NFO album, Internal Affairs. It was great fun, so we haven’t stopped! We just continued our classic rock quest! [Chuckles]

Björn « Speed » Strid (vocals): Yeah, and I think it also really started with jam session that we had, like in between Christmas and new year’s. It was so much fun! Personally, I can’t recall the last time I had that much fun! That’s really how I felt when we started jamming together. It was a great kick for me to try out singing something like that as well. It was just so much fun and we just got together for three days, drank and ate really good, I don’t know, drank a lot of champagne [laugh] and whatnot… It definitely led into something very special.

Like you said David, you weren’t officially in Soilwork yet when NFO formed, so did that band really brought you two together closer?

David: Yeah, I mean, this band has nothing to do with Soilwork. This band is all about me and Björn bonding over classic rock records, so I guess even if I hadn’t joined Soilwork as an official member, eventually we’d still do this band. I mean, we did the first album before I was a member of Soilwork, so this is more of a labor of love rather than a business [laughs]. But then, I guess, the fact that I’m in Soilwork now, as well, kind of adds to the whole thing. I think Soilwork affects Night Flight and vice versa because we have to sort out our priorities. We both love classic rock, we both love heavy metal and having those two bands, we have the best of both worlds all the time.

But what is your history with classic rock? Because this is pretty far away from the extreme metal that you guys play in Soilwork but also that Sharlee plays in Arch Enemy…

Björn: Me personally, I think I definitely grew up with it. My mom was playing a lot of stuff in the car: Fleetwood Mac, Bruce Springsteen but also stuff like Eurhythmics. She was playing a lot of different types of music in the car and I think that’s where I really discovered music. And I also was into WASP and Iron Maiden back then , even when I was like seven years old, even six years old, I think, that’s when I bought my first album, Number Of The Beast by Iron Maiden. But I never really just stuck to typical heavy metal of the 80s. I was into all kinds of 80s music. I guess I kind of discovered more of the 70s, like the later 70s, a little bit later, maybe during the mid-90s, that’s when I got into it. Especially when I met David: he introduced me to a lot of stuff that I didn’t know about. The latest five or six years, I’ve got to know so many bands that I didn’t have a clue that they even existed and so many great songs! It never really ends! There’s so much to discover!

The opening song “Sail On” sounds a lot like a Deep Purple Mark IV kind of song. Same thing for “Lady Jane”. Is this a special influence for you guys?

David: Yeah, the Mark IV album Come Taste The Band, I guess that’s one of our biggest influences; everyone in this band were influenced by that album. Perhaps not the songs or the album itself but more the whole vibe surrounding that album. You have Tommy Bolin, which is one of my favorite guitar player ever. The whole spirit of that album is something we wanna channel. We wanna have the same spirit ourselves when we play. And “Sail On” is pretty much our tribute to the Mark IV era of Deep Purple.

Björn: I guess it’s kind of like a “Coming Home” tribute.

David: Yeah, our plan was having an opener where everything was slightly over the top. It’s supposed to sound like all of a sudden you’re dropped in the middle of our crazy party, with swimming pools, cocaine, strippers…

Both: [Laughs]

Björn, you even do some screaming that sounds a lot like David Coverdale or Glenn Hughes… Have they been influences for your vocal style?

Björn: For sure! I mean, I even had a band before that was very much, I don’t want to say “copycat”, but close to Deep Purple with Glenn Hughes and Coverdale. I think that’s when I really started to discover that I could sort of pull that style off. I would say that I’m maybe a bit more fan of Glenn Hughes nowadays than Coverdale, but I also love everything Whitesnake have done. But, if you would ask me, I think Glenn Hughes is still sounding absolutely amazing! David Coverdale, I guess, is struggling a little bit compared to Glenn Hughes but they’re both great singers and definitely a huge inspiration.

Do you guys think that the Come Taste The Band album has been overlooked in the Deep Purple discography?

David: Yeah, definitely. It might not be the best album; it’s the greatest album [laughs]. They’ve never done songs like “Getting Tighter” or… What’s the last one? Björn? Where Glenn Hughes… [he sings a riff].

Björn: “You Keep On Moving”?

David: Yeah! Those two songs alone make that the greatest Purple album ever, even if I… I mean, I grew up listening mostly to the Mark II era of Deep Purple. When I was like twelve, I learned all the solos from Made In Japan, but when I discovered Come Taste The Band, it opened up whole new dimension of classicness for me. So it’s always gonna be my favorite.

The Night Flight Orchestra - Skyline Whispers

« When people play 70s kind of music it just becomes a little bit too much of a pastiche. And if somebody does something that sounds like 80s, it’s usually more ironic. And this is real music to me. »

I’ve read that the first Night Flight Orchestra album, Internal Affairs, was conceived as a sort of road trip. Have you kept that state of mind for Skyline Whispers?

Björn: I think that’s just really the keyword when we create music. I don’t think we even have to talk about it, it’s just there. It needs to work in a car, you know. It needs to work when you’re in motion. Me and Dave, we love travelling, especially if there’s alcohol around [chuckles], so we’re kind of traveling alcoholics in that sense, I guess. But we also need the soundtrack, that’s always planted in our mind. We need the perfect soundtrack for traveling and drinking.

You even have some Spanish flavors on the album…

David: Oh yes, we’ve travelled in Spain!

Björn: [Laughs] Oh yes, we’ve travelled in Spain…

David: We have some sort of framework or context for every Night Flight Orchestra song and it’s kind of abstract and unspoken. But at the same time, as soon as we write a Night Flight Orchestra song, you know it’s a Night Flight Orchestra song. So we all have that road trip thing in the back of our heads when we’re writing and playing this kind of music. Even if we bounce around when it comes to genres, themes and everything, it still has that common denominator which is some kind of travel, whether it is a ship, a night flight, a speed boat [chuckles]… It’s still there. We have a sort of strange kind of understanding what a Night Flight song should be.

I’ve seen the video you’ve put up on Facebook of that scene from the movie A Night At The Roxbury with Jim Carrey but with your music over it. Is this how this album should be listened to?

Björn: [Laughs] It definitely works. I don’t know who put that video together, it wasn’t us as far as I know. Nobody in the band, right Dave?

David: No! [Chuckles]

Björn: Yeah, I guess some fan put it together but it was pretty cool because, obviously, you’ve seen that clip so many times with the original soundtrack to it, so it was kind of refreshing to see it with the Night Flight music [chuckles]. But yeah, that definitely works. You can dig to it just like that.

David: The one exception to the road trip rule would be 80’s Jane Fonda workout sessions. Right Björn? [Laughs]

Björn: Yeah, I’m guilty. I did put that one together. That was me who’s bored and didn’t really have anything to do for a change, and I sat down and saw that clip from the Jane Fonda 70’s or 80’s workout videos [chuckles]. I was like: “You know what? This is gonna be perfect for ‘West Ruth Avenue’!” So I kind of just put it together. It’s really cool actually!

David: That’s one exception to the road trip rule. Doing sports or workout in the 80’s, that also classic. That works as well. If you have a song that sounds like a soundtrack to Jane Fonda’s workout, that also qualifies for being a NFO song.

Internal Affairs was a very 70s sounding album and this time you’ve added a lot more very typical 80s flavors, especially with the keyboards. Do you have a particular nostalgia for 80’s music?

Björn: For sure. I mean, I’ve always liked the 80s. I‘ve grown quite fond of the very early 80s especially. That’s where we wanna stay with Night Flight: from 75 up to 82, maybe 83 [chuckles]. Personally, I tend to write songs that sound a little bit more 80s than Dave’s, with the exception of “Living For The Nighttime”, I guess. Normally Dave’s songs sound a bit more70s than mine, unless I write something that sounds like Paul Stanley goes disco.

David: Yeah, and Richard, the keyboard player, is also a very big part in adding that kind of flavor that makes it sound like early 80s. And that’s a good thing.

Today people often laugh at 80’s music for it being kitsch and superficial. Have you actually thought at some point: “No we can’t do that, people will laugh at us” or to the contrary did you think you needed to re-establish that kind of music, showing how genius and fun these pop melodies are?

David: No, I don’t think we have that kind of agenda with Night Flight. This band is all about doing what we would love to do. And if people like it, it’s a bonus. Even if no one would have liked it, we would still be doing it. So, this is a very personal thing for us. But yeah, personally, I think the 80s is a very underrated decade when it comes to songwriting and image wise and production. It’s a bit overblown but at the same time I like the era before the irony became everything. In the 90s, you had to distance yourself from all the good things, whereas in the 80s you just indulged, and that’s what we wanna embrace too with our music.

There are even some funky or disco sounding stuff on that album, like the song “Stiletto” that begins almost sounding like Kool And The Gang…

Björn: I used to listen to a lot… Well, I still do… But especially in the mid-90s I started listening to 70s funk and disco. I was really into Chic and so many other bands, and I really liked disco at that time because these were real people playing real music. Disco today is something completely different, right? It’s very stiff and it’s very generic. Back then it was a totally different vibe. Even thought it was really commercial, I think it was really well played and very well thought through. It was a different type of songwriting.

The part with the telephone conversation in “Living For The Nighttime” can even remind of the song “Sex Over The Phone” by the Village People…

Björn: I have never heard it! Maybe I should listen to it actually.

David: Me too! [Laughs]

Björn: I’m not the biggest Village People fan because I never took them that seriously. Maybe I should, who knows? [Laughs]

The Night Flight Orchestra

« I want a melody that generates a picture in my head that I enjoy, and very often it has a nostalgic feel, it brings you back to place where you felt really good as a kid. So it has that kind of comfort to me. »

The lyrics are pretty different from what you write in Soilwork, especially a song like “Stilettos” that has these typical glam lyrics about women. Where do you get your inspiration to write these lighter, almost naïve, lyrics?

Björn: Well, it’s not that hard, you know. When you’re in Soilwork, it’s very serious and I want it to be serious – and I’m not saying Night Flight is not serious, because it is! It’s not ironic band, this is for real, this is what we love. Dave writes most of the lyrics but I’ve written some. I don’t know, it’s just what comes to you. When you hear the song, the bass line, the melodies, it just creates pictures in your head and it’s not that hard to put it together, even if it’s about stilettos or whatever, it doesn’t really matter.

David: I guess we’re all trying to paint a picture in the listener’s head that transports him or her somewhere else. Like you’re in a Corvette outside of Miami, you go down that motor way, you have that strawberry blond in the front seat with a cocktail glass and a pearl necklace… And she’s looking at you with her intense blues eyes [laughs]. If you’re gonna play this kind of music, you’re gonna have to… This sort of music is sort of an obsession for us and it would not have been the same if we started writing about politics or death. This band is a tribute or an homage to all the great bands before us. So if you’re gonna do this you have to have these same themes to get the same vibe from it, you have to write about women.

In Skyline Whispers we can hear some 70’s Deep Purple, Kiss or Thin Lizzy influence, we can hear some strong 80s influences, we can hear some funky stuff and we can even hear some proggy Yes kind of elements. At the end of the day, this album sound like a big journey through all aspects and major eras of classic rock. Is this really how it was intended?

David: Yes.

Björn: Yes, for sure. It is a very strong statement too. I mean, as much as it is a tribute to that era, I think it’s really needed out there right now. As much as it has that vintage retro feel to it, I think it makes sense today as well, for sure. I think it has a very refreshing feel to it. You don’t hear a lot of music like that anymore, especially not new stuff.

David: A big thing for us is that we wanna make music that’s completely devoid of irony. We wanna be over the top and totally “too much” in every possible aspect. That includes having keyboard solos and strange percussion parts just like they did in the 70s. In the 70s and early 80s you could still have a fusion keyboard solo over a Brazilian percussion part, and no one would think it was ironic. Whereas now all the retro music that out there right now is always a bit ironic or they try too hard to be cool. But we just try to be “too much” [chuckles]. We really love the music and we put ourselves in a state where we are devoid of irony. Usually by drinking quite bit [chuckles].

Do you think drinking is a good catalyst for making music?

David: No, but it’s a good way to get rid of your inner irony!

Björn, you said that this music is very needed today. Why do you say that?

Björn: Well, first of all, I think when people play 70s kind of music it just becomes a little bit too much of a pastiche. And if somebody does something that sounds like 80s, it’s usually more ironic. And this is real music to me. It’s a true love affair with that era. And most bands out there now doing kind of 70s or retro stuff, it sounds mostly like Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin. I like those two bands for sure as well but there’s a lot of those bands out there now, especially the occult bands, so to speak. So it’s been really hard for us to make people understand what it is we’re doing. They don’t know what to do with it.

David: We’re more into The Eagles brand of evil. Like how The Eagles took over California; they took everyone out of Laurel Canyon, brought them to the Troubadour and fed them cocaine and messed everyone up [chuckles]. That’s a whole different aspect of evil, and that’s the kind of evil that we deal with.

One of the standout tracks in the album is this 10 minutes song called “The Heather Report” with this great jamming and progressive, even jazzy at times, second part. Can you tell me more about this?

David: Personally I’m a big fan of 70’s progressive rock as well. I had a phase in my late teens where I almost exclusively listened to 70s fusion like the Mahavishnu Orchestra, Billy Cobham, Tony Williams, whatever… I always try to sneak in some sort of progressive/jazzy element in Night Flight Orchestra. You start writing a song and you get more and more ideas for parts that you can fit in there and if you’re in that mood and you got the inspiration, and you get more and more parts coming to you, you don’t want to break that vibe and keep adding. That’s what happened with “The Heather Report”: I started off having the intro riff and I just continued getting ideas, and then Björn came around in the studio and we just jammed it out. That’s one of my favorite things with The Night Flight Orchestra, it’s that you can do that kind of stuff without anyone complaining. Because that’s normally not what you’re allowed to do on rock records these days.

Why do you think so?

David: There are a lot of different reasons for that but partly because with the record industry these days we don’t work with big budgets, and people, in general, aren’t really prepare to sit down and listen to long chucks of music like that. Also, younger people playing our kind of music, some sort of retro 70s/80s rock, they haven’t really grown up with the whole spectrum of 70s or 80s rock like I did or we did, listening to fusion and progressive rock as well. We’re all a bit older. We’re all into our 30s and 40s, so we’ve grown up with everything. We have Jonas, the drummer, who’s a trained jazz drummer, and as for me, I was trained classical and jazz guitar when I was young, so we’re able to do all kinds of stuff. And it’s really fun to get an outlet to do that because you’re not normally allowed to meld all different genres in one band like we can do in The Night Flight Orchestra.

Actually the solo on that song, with the percussion, it does remind a little bit of Al Di Meola from the Elegant Gypsy album…

David: Thank you! I love that album. I think I bought it when I was like fifteen or sixteen. Especially the song “Race With Devil On Spanish Highway”, that was one of my big favorites when I was young and still practicing [chuckles].

The Night Flight Orchestra

« When someone wants to do something and it’s bit “too much”, it’s usually “too much” in a very good way [laughs]. Everyone’s free in this band to do whatever. »

Björn, whether it’s in Soilwork or here in The Night Flight Orchestra, you have this talent for creating incredibly catchy and classy vocal melodies, especially for choruses. Is classic rock and 80’s rock music, where the catchiness is one of the main characteristics, actually where you learnt about how to come up with these melodies?

Björn: It’s hard to say. I mean, again, sitting in the car with my mom listening to a lot of music and lot radio back then, I think at a very early stage I got into melodies and they were kind of planted in my head. Because sometimes I’m creating a melody and I’m like: “Wow, oh, okay, that was Simple Minds.” But normally I come up with stuff that sort of reminds you of 80s melodies, because I believe they’re really timeless too, regardless of the over the top productions that they had in the 80s. So I think it’s only natural for me. That’s where I get my inspiration from. And obviously, also growing up on ABBA was a big deal for me, for sure. So it doesn’t really matter if it’s Soilwork or Night Flight Orchestra, I love working with melodies. It’s hard to say if the melodies that I create in Night Flight Orchestra would work in Soilwork and vice versa. Sometimes I actually think it would. It’s just a different background, a different musical expression, so it’s hard to say. But that’s usually how it works for me. I always go for pictures. I want a melody that generates a picture in my head that I enjoy, and very often it has a nostalgic feel, it brings you back to place where you felt really good as a kid. So it has that kind of comfort to me.

Bass player Sharlee D’Angelo really reveals himself on this album with his bass lines. Do you think he’s been an underrated bass player?

David: Yeah, absolutely! He’s a terrific bass player. It’s extremely hard to find someone who can play that kind of spontaneous improvised bass lines that he does. Because almost all of the basic tracks on this album were cut live in the studio. So what you hear is mostly him just improvising. I mean, we rehearsed two or three days before we started the recordings, so most of it is just us jamming in the studio. It’s really amazing some of the stuff he does on those songs! So yes, I agree, he’s definitely an underrated bass player. It’s really cool that we can give him the chance to show off a bit of his classic rock skills. I mean, he’s had a long and great career in metal but metal is a bit more controlled and you’re supposed to play the riff, but in Night Flight he’s allowed to just play whatever he wants, and he does it extremely well. It’s kind of a dream team for me to be able to play with all those great musicians!

Is it important to have that spontaneity with The Night Flight Orchestra?

David: Yeah, absolutely. That’s one of the main things. That’s why we like it so much, because everyone’s allowed to do whatever they want to do. We don’t have a producer, we just produce everything ourselves. If anyone wants to do something, they can do it! We’re all very experienced musicians, and we’ve all listened to this kind of music for a very long time, so we never have the case where someone wants to do something that’s completely wrong. When someone wants to do something and it’s bit “too much”, it’s usually “too much” in a very good way [laughs]. Everyone’s free in this band to do whatever.

Was the album completely recorded live?

David: Like I said, most of the backing tracks on the album are recorded live. But then, you usually need to do extra guitars and with some of the more complicated keyboard parts you can’t really sit around and change the sounds when you record live. But for most of the tracks, guitar, bass and drums, are recorded live and we kept it that way. Perhaps I added a few guitars, Richard added the keyboards and Björn his vocals. The basic tracks are very spontaneous and I guess you can hear that on the album. That’s also something I think that sets us apart from a lot of the other bands playing this kind of music. We’re really the real thing, we try to do it just the way they did it back then.

The Night Flight Orchestra shows a big potential, especially with a song like « Stilleto » that’s super catchy and fun. Do you think this band could actually grow and become big or would you prefer to just keep it a fun project between friends?

David: In an ideal world, we’d love it to grow but at the same time we don’t have the time or energy to go out there and start touring for free all the time. But I mean, we’d really love to grow and be able to do some fun shows and perhaps short tours in Europe, Us and Japan, or whatever. Our long term goal is to keep it this way, as a fun project between friends, but hopefully people will catch on and think it’s great, and sometime we’ll be able to tour a bit. But we don’t really have the time or the budget to go out and do stuff for free. If people can buy the album and there’s an interest and we get good offer, we’re very much interested in going out and playing more live.

This year you’re putting out two albums, one with The Night Flight Orchestra and another one with Soilwork that’s coming out in august. How did you find the time and enough inspiration to do both at the same time?

David: You can put yourself in a certain mode. If you know you’re gonna write or play a Soilwork song or show, you put yourself in that mode and it’s kind of easy to switch between the two. I mean, Soilwork is something completely different. It’s really great but you have to have a completely different mindset when you write a Soilwork song or play a Soilwork show. At the same time it’s kind of refreshing to be able to have something else that’s completely different… It’s kind of like taking a shower after running [laughs], or whatever, it’s kind of hard to find a metaphor. It’s not hard at all. I really like heavy music as well and you get a completely different sensation from being on stage playing metal than you get from playing classic rock but I still love both.

It’s kind of a breath of fresh air from what you guys do in Soilwork, I guess…

David: Yeah and at the same time Soilwork is kind of a breath of fresh air compare to Night Flight as well. I mean, the expectations are completely different and your own expectations are completely different too. When you play in Soilwork, you’re supposed to play the right notes all the time, you’re supposed to put on a good show, whereas with Night Flight, at least I wanna improvise, I wanna be on my toes, and have the interplay with the other musicians and create fun and spontaneous stuff that you’re not really able to do in metal. That’s also a challenge, in a way. They’re both great and there are different challenges with playing metal compared to playing classic rock. It’s really refreshing to do both.

Interview conducted by phone 17th, june 2015 by Nicolas Gricourt.
Retranscription: Nicolas Gricourt.

The Night Flight Orchestra Official Facebook page: facebook.com/The-Night-Flight-Orchestra.

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