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Interview - Snowy Shaw

Interview with Snowy Shaw from Snowy Shaw
by Daniel Fox at 12 November 2014, 11:05 AM

Snowy Shaw, formerly of MERCYFUL FATE, is now working on his solo project. Metal Temple's Daniel Fox had the chance to speak with him about his upcoming DVD/CD Boxset release, as well as beer, Filatio, and watching how fickle people can truly be. Enjoy!!

Greetings mate. This is quite a big honor for me, so thank you very much for taking the time to answer what seems like a very lengthy interview. For those of you who haven’t heard of you, and our readerbase in general, would you care to introduce yourself?

Ok, my name is Snowy Shaw because my hippie mother wanted a snowman and not some ugly little human baby when I popped out in 1968. I grew up in the Metaltown of Gothenburg, Sweden and started my first rock band when I was 12-13 by semi-forcing my indifferent classmates. I picked the drums because of the influence Peter Criss had on me a few years earlier, not so much because of his playing but because he had the biggest drum kit of them all and he looked cool.  After that I’ve played with countless bands, among the most notably King Diamond, Dimmu Borgir, Sabaton, Therion, Notre Dame, Dream Evil, XXX, Memento Mori, Mercyful Fate, illwill, Opera Diabolicus and many more. In my late teens I was fired from 12 jobs in 2 years, and I swore I would never work another day in my life unless it was within my field of interest, which was heavy music and everything in that territory. Having said that, I have probably worked with more bands and projects than most people alive but I have never been fired from a single one. Regardless of how much I’ve enjoyed and appreciated working with them I have always ended up leaving either because I get easily bored and want to move on and take on new challenges or that I have too much creativity and too many ideas on my own. And that brings us to the present time.

I of course don’t mean this in a derogatory fashion, but you have been around A LOT. Many a band has been, shall we say, graced by your presence. But now you are deciding on going full-time solo; what facilitated this?

It’s about time don’t you think? I figured if I make my own namesake band I won’t be able to quit hahaha! No seriously, I think I’ve earned the right to do my own thing now and I want to create my own music with total artistic freedom, and that’s really all that matters to me. And let me stress that fact without being too melodramatic. I think if I wasn’t allowed to create my own thing and have an outlet for my creativity at this stage in life I might as well give up playing music, period.
Quite frankly I’m a terrible follower and not much of a team player either. When I write or whatever I do creatively really, I have very distinct and clear vision and don’t really need anyone else’s in-put or contributions. You’d be surprised to find out just how often it’s me playing all guitars, and the bass or everything on albums I’ve done with various bands although it doesn’t say so in the credits. Since I’m capable of doing it that way, it saves us both a lot of time a hassle trying to teach people how to play the songs properly they way they were intended. By doing it like this, they’ll all the time in the world to learn the parts before we hit the road.
Also in the past I was always in a position where I was depending on a good singer but gradually over the years I have now developed and improved my voice as much as I can now do them justice myself the way I want them executed.

With such a career under your belt, I imagine it’s rather difficult to name your most memorable experiences. Now that you’re going solo, are you going to miss that? Or are you still going to participate in a few albums here and there?

Too early to say if I’m gonna miss that or not, and from some aspects I probably will for sure. But then again it’s my life where I’m the captain and if so happens that I have a change of heart,  I just follow that heart like I always have. I’m not saying that’s gonna happen but nothing is cut in stone, so to speak, and that is the charm of life as far as I’m concerned or like Forrest Gump put it, Life is a box of Chocolate
I will however make the sophomore album within shortly with both Opera Diabolicus and Mad Architect. Those are mainly studio projects and won’t likely be doing any shows in any foreseeable future.

Similarly, which band did you love performing live with the most? I actually first discovered you seeing live footage of you in THERION a few moons ago, that was certainly my favourite!

Other than my own brainchild Notre Dame more than a decade ago I didn’t have an awful lot of live experience up front and Therion was the first band to hire me as a singer/frontman and I rose to the occasion and cut my teeth there while touring the world. I’m grateful for the opportunity and I really enjoyed both that position and working with them. Especially the Gothic Kabbalah world tour of 2007 where we were basically on the road for the entire year and I was really having the time of my life. We also had a fantastic time back with Dream Evil. In truth it resembled more a school field trip with your best buddies raising hell and having a great time. I was touring with Sabaton for a year between November 2012 to 2013 and that simply put amazing. The nicest most well organized team I’ve ever  worked with. I just realized I now mixed up performing live with touring which are two separate things.  I no longer feel that having the drummers position in the back is my true element.

Going into a little more detail about them.. What was it like playing with THERION? It’s certainly one of the most complex and diverse bands borne of metal to date.
It was really great, for a long time they felt like my second family. Leader Christofer is sometime portrayed as some kind of dictator in the press, but in my opinion that’s no true at all. On the contrary he’s very fair and generous. I may not always agree with him but that’s another discussion and at the end of the day it’s his band that he have managed to keep going since 1987 and that’s not an easy task. Kudos to that.

Given it was about 4 years ago, this might seem kind of irrelevant, but you recorded “Abrahadabra” with DIMMU BORGIR and then basically left the band a day later. Was that the intent, or did something happen that you perhaps can’t go into detail about?

In reality I was involved for about 7 months albeit officially only for one day. We got along fabulously and everything worked like a dream until one the moment their manager waltzed in and waved her wand then suddenly everything turned into a nightmare. Sounds an awful lot like I’m describing a witch doesn’t it? Well, that’s not so far from the truth but I’m prohibited by contract and not allowed to reveal  any specific details about it,.. yet.

As opposed to the work you are most proud of… Which band did you have the most fun with? Do you think, how much fun you had, and how great the end product is, go hand in hand?

To an extent that’s a very good assumption, but not when the fun starts badly affecting the music, tours and performances. When people are so drunk they fall asleep on stage on a showcase gig before Iron Maiden’s management Sanctuary Music who had shown interest in signing us. You may think we blew it there royally, but we actually had another shot at it a year later with Sanctuary, and for similar reasons fucked that up too. At that point it was getting very close to the final straw for me, Gus G left but I decided to hang in for a while longer hoping I could somehow change it all around, but it was truly a mission impossible to accomplish.
I’m talking about Dream Evil, in case you haven’t figured that out yet.

You perform basically every instrument under the sun… At least, those used in metal music. What is one instrument that you have never touched, that you would like to pick up?

I’d like to try the flute. In a non homoerotic context of course.

I think that sounds beautiful and I’ve never even tried any woodwind or brass instruments. Not that you need that these days where I can easily arrange that in the studio with midi and samples if I find the songs require that touch of those natural earthy sounds.

I’ve always been curious about this: ideally, the metal musician is a humble man/woman, but many have let fame and success get to their heads. From what myself and everyone else has seen, one of the reasons you tend to stand out is because that never really seemed to affect you; you’re as humble as the next guy, so to speak. Why do you think that happens to some, but not others?

Oh thank you, that makes me happy to hear. I never understood that with people who happens to have a little bit of success and instantly get big-headed and start behaving like divas thinking their shit don’t stink. What could I possibly gain from being an asshole? I certainly don’t like that with other people so why would I fall into that trap myself?

I bet it comes down to them having other issues, like poor self-esteem, poor upbringing, a sense of inadequacy, a tiny penis or whatever. As a sad as that is, if your claim to fame is mainly a reason to seek revenge and vindication to get back to the world and your tormentors, you’re in it for the wrong reasons.

Though having a bit of ”I’ll show them fuckers!” is a perfectly healthy and good driving force in itself but if you then turn into a stuck up A-hole you haven’t accomplished anything. And besides what comes around goes around and all the people you meet on your way up the ladder you gonna meet on your way down. So be a nice guy, always and treat people like you wanna be treated.

I think there’s big difference between being big headed and knowing one’s self-worth and being self-centred. A car salesman sells cars, I’m an artist and I sell myself, so how can I not be self-centred? But it’s important that one finds a good balance. Being humble sure isn’t the same as being a push-over

You may think now that you’ve achieved a shot at stardom that it’s gonna last forever but you will be going down, mark my words. You think I would have survived this long in the business if I’d been a jerk?
I’ve had so many ups and downs in my career and while I remain the same through it all you see people around you change from one day to the next and that’s really repulsive and disgusting. Oh! so you wanna suck my cock and buy me beers today? Does that have anything to do with the fact that I’m in Mercyful Fate now which I wasn’t last week when I approached you and you brushed me off?

This is a pretty tricky topic and it’s really in the eyes of the beholder.

All of a sudden it’s like you won the popularity contest and everybody wants to be your best friend and you’re surrounded by star struck people who seem to think that some of that fame is gonna rub off on them and effectively raise their status in the world because of who they know.

Sadly enough I think that’s the way it works actually, so why do you think I write songs titled “The World is a Whore”?

I was going through the tracks from the upcoming live album, “The Liveshow”. I noticed something very interesting going on with your vocals in “The Dimmu Medley”; I could be completely incorrect, but it sounds
like you’re using some kind of vocal fry technique, instead of growling. Considering your already large vocal range, I was surprised; have you ever used this technique before? I’ve never heard you perform anything like it.

I’m not sure what you’re referring to here and I’m not entirely up to speed to the terminology of various techniques and styles and what differentiates them. I’m basically just doing my best, using whatever I got and what I think fits the song and expresses the kind of character and vibe I’m trying to bring across. Then what it’s called is of no importance to me.

It may as well be common knowledge that Kiss was/is your favourite band. You cite them as your greatest influence, especially visually; is that still the case, now that you’re exploring ideas for a solo career?

Both yes and no. Surely KISS has played an integral part in my life. But with the exception of Destroyer never so much musically really. I think Paul Stanley is fantastic song writer and used to be one of the absolute best rock singers, but It’s funny with KISS. For decades tons of metal bands have cited KISS as a major influence although non of these bands sound anything like them. Neither the same kind major rock n’ roll harmonies or the lyrical themes, so what’s left is just everything else, the bombastic live shows and the overall larger than life phenomenon, but above all this divine outstanding image that evidently is bigger than themselves and will outlive them all.

Don’t get me wrong, there are lots of songs by KISS that I love. Be it nostalgia or whatever, but it has never really influenced me significantly in my own song writing.   Then it’s more early stuff with Manowar, Uriah Heep, Nazareth and Candlemass among others.

By sheer haphazard I discovered them on Destroyer when I was a 7 year old fan of horror, fantasy and superhero comics and it hit me so hard that it changed my life from that moment on. I think it had everything to do with this striking combination where all pieces coming together in a puzzle. The image and the artwork and the heavy rock music all blended together with this fabulous production that was so cinematic and imaginative it was like the soundtrack to a film playing in my head. It has about as much to do with genius producer Bob Ezrin who also made miracles with Alice Cooper which I Love to death too, in case you haven’t yet figured that out. So, in conclusion I guess I’m as much a fan of Mr Ezrin as the artists and if I had a time-machine I would back to the 70s and have Bob producing my albums.

To this day I still hold KISS-Destroyer as the masterpiece and the benchmark which I measure everything against.  Same year, same front cover painter, Rainbow put out Rising which is another masterpiece where both sound and vision appears inseparable to me.

I suppose this is corollary to the previous question. What kind of visions do you have for your solo career in the near future? Do you see yourself making music drastically different to your work with bands in the
past, in that you might have discovered new inspirations?

No, there’ll be grains of everything I’ve done previously in my career, but also new stuff that you might not be that used to hearing me do. However I’m pretty sure that any fan of former bands of mine is gonna find this very appealing. You’ve seen me do a number of variations on Metal and Rock over the years and each and every direction of style have been honest and close to the heart, and on that path I intend to continue under my own flag. It’s hard to describe, so all I can say at the moment is. Stay tuned and stay true… and you’ll see.

When you write music. Well, how does that work? Do you sit down and work out formulae and ‘schematics’, or does everything come naturally without really thinking about it? Do you do both? If so, which do you find more fruitful?

As little contrived and calculating as possible. I disconnect my brain and try remove any distractions and just be it. In the moment and just let it have its own flow and take its natural course. I’ve find that when you start having certain expectations like “now I want a really big catchy kick ass chorus here right after this part” that’s when you hit the wall and sort of strangle your own creativity. If it doesn’t come within the first 5 minutes or so.  Occasionally I do write down cool titles and sometimes phrases and sentences that I come up with, and then I just have to wait until I find the right fit for them in songs I write. 9 times out of 10 when I try to create music based on those lines or title it never comes out any good. It feel contrived, unnatural and backwards to me and I rarely end up using it beyond that.

You’re well-known to be quite the fan of horror. As an alternative to musical sources of inspiration, do you find that horror movies, or in whatever format, influence your creative process and, ultimately, the end product? Visually, and/or thematically?

Not really. I don’t seek out inspiration, it just comes somehow from within. Maybe from things I’ve seen or heard sometime in my life, but I don’t conscientiously steal or borrow from others. For as long as I can remember I’ve fancied the use of not dis-harmonic but broken harmonies that is often used in film scores for suspense and horror. I have no musical training whatsoever but I have tried hard to figure out for myself how it’s all connected, and why I loved certain things and disliked others harmonically, what’s the secret behind it and so on. All that in order to find my own language, both rhythmically and harmonically. And by now I have pretty well developed understanding for how it’s all tied together, structured and how music works in general and from there on I’m just trying to develop my own original sound and music. Same goes for drums, in my formative years I was like a sponge and sucked up all information and borrowed from left and right but once I had it all down I basically stopped paying any attention to how others did and just I tried to stretch things as much as possible within the boundaries of music and developed my own thing and approach things my own way. Actually then inspired by Peter Criss or actually Bob Ezrin and the unorthodox way he played on God of Thunder. It’s not technically difficult by any means and only an idiot or a genius would think of arranging it like that but for its cause it’s optimal and enhances the character of the song perfectly, while others would just play a straight 4/4.

In order to break the rules you gotta learn them first.

Do you see the instruments you play as extensions of yourself, say, such as guitarists like Yngwie Malmsteen or keyboardists like Jordan Rudess or do you see them as tools by which you craft the sounds thrumming in your head when you’re in the creative state of mind?

I guess both, but it depends what meaning you put behind those words and coming from such a virtuoso like Yngwie I bet he sees them a little differently than I.

I guess he treats his guitar more like classical virtuoso does his/hers priced Stratovarious violin, at least in the past I know he did where he did sleep, eat and shit with his beloved guitar whereas I mainly I see the various instruments these days as a tool through which I can express my musical ideas.

What kind of music outside of metal do you find yourself inspired by? What about casual listening?

I rarely listen to metal at all, except for old favourites like Uriah Heep that I listen to all the time if you can call that metal. When working with artwork and I need to release stress I sometimes listen to classical music and film scores by Danny Elfman and John Barry for example. Then I also listen to Miss Li, a phenomenal Swedish artist and 60s-70s stuff like Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazelwood, and ABBA of course.

I imagine you can’t go into much detail, but what can we expect from, and when might we expect, debut studio material from your new studio career?

This particular concept that I have coming up is really something out of the ordinary and without going into detail and thereby spoiling the surprise it is something that has never ever been done before. You could say it’s specially custom-made to serve my purposes and suits me to T. My original plan was to have it out by spring in time for all the summer festivals but it’s just not realistic with all the things have been dragging along with massive workload of the release of the Live DVD/CD box where I founded my own record & production company and all I’ve been so extremely busy that I haven’t even got my new studio together yet, so with all things adding up I’ve changed the plans and aim for a release in the fall 2015 and I’ll put off time to concentrate on the recordings and won’t therefore do any shows. What it gonna sound like? - You’ll see.

I’m rather over the moon I was approached for this interview, but also because Metal Temple has never featured you before, but I sincerely thank you for your time. I might have exhausted the topic, but do you
have anything you would like to add?

Oh thank you, it was all my pleasure. Well, what else can I say to the readers apart from now hurry up and order this brand new critically acclaimed Live DVD/CD box of mine? Either directly from my web shop where there’s also tons of other gems and goodies, merch, memorabilia and collectors’ items and you can have it signed too.

Moreover, I’m proud to say I have now signed an exclusive deal with EMP, by far the biggest mail order company in Europe with a branch in every single country.

And if that wasn’t enough I will release a new single and video on Friday as a Halloween Special. If everything goes according to plan that is… though we’re currently faced with some unpleasant grovel in the machinery within our organization and with heavy delays as result.

Keep your fingers crossed and Happy Halloween!

Stay tuned, Stay true!


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