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Isak Stenvall (Lancer)

Interview with Isak Stenvall from Lancer
by David M. Campbell at 27 April 2015, 11:20 PM

LANCER are a traditionally-Swedish Metal band: heavily-rooted in Scandinavian Power/Heavy Metal, such as SABATON and HAMMERFALL. Their debut release came in 2012, with an EP titled "Purple Sky". With a debut full-length out in 2013, 2015 sees the release of a second album, poignantly-titled "Second Storm". David had a chat with vocalist Isak about the new album, the Swedish metal scene and the benefits of record labels for up-and-coming bands.

Hello, Isak, and thank you for the chance to interview you today! I read that the band met at a Music Academy in Sweden, is that right? Were you all enrolled there at the time? How did this lead to the forming of the band?

In 2008 I started my education there, and the first week I teamed up with Fredrik Kelemen to start a cover band playing songs by Helloween, Gamma Ray and Masterplan. We did a show at the local pub and after that we started to write our own songs, changed some members and LANCER was born. Everyone studied music there at the time except our bass player Emil, he lived nearby when he joined the band.

Your debut EP “Purple Sky” got some nice reviews and even the attention of NARNIA singer Christian Liljegren. How exciting was that!? When you were writing the EP, what kind of sound were you looking to impart with the music? Do you all write as a team or individually?

We wanted to write power oriented Heavy Metal, and when the EP was released we got blown away by the warm welcome. We knew that we could play our instruments and write good songs, but we also knew that Power Metal was pretty doomed at this time. When record labels started to contact us we, were pretty surprised. Our first goal was to sign a contract and release an album. The enthusiasm and trust in our music both from the reviews, record labels and fans all over the globe made us confident, "Damn, we will raise the flag of Power Metal once again". It was cool to work with Christian, he shares the same passion, and has knowledge both as a musician and the industry in general through his own labels. The music is mostly written at home in privacy, when a song is ready I show it to the band, either I get a yes or a no. Depending on that we start to arrange the song together, on this record I’ve written seven track of nine; “Children of the Storm” and “Iwo Jima” are written together with Fredrik Kelemen (Guitar).

Isak, your vocal range is very impressive! When I was listening to the new album I was sometimes caught off guard at how high you could soar at times! When in your life did you realize you had this gift? How demanding is it on your voice to record these vocal parts?

Thank you! Well, I don't see it as a gift, it's years of hard training. I read a quote somewhere that said that the difference between a master and an apprentice is that the Master has failed more times than the apprentices has tried. Haha! That’s so true, I didn't have this range when we started the band, it's something that I’ve worked on a lot. Nowadays it’s pretty easy to hit all those notes, but in the beginning it was really hard to learn to control the voice in the upper register. In a live situation or in the rehearsal room, it's always nice to sing, in the studio it’s harder I think. You don't feel the power from the band or the crowd. Another thing that’s important when you sing that high is to be totally relaxed. And a studio situation is a pretty weird situation…you’re in a room and everyone is listening at you and you have to do your best, and the result’s gonna stay forever. It’s almost impossible to not feel any tension. It's important to take care of your voice both in the studio and on tour, since it needs to be in perfect condition to sing this kind of songs. No alcohol, healthy food, sleep, warm ups and good health in general is the main key to keep your voice smooth.

Who would you say are your biggest influences and bands that you listened to growing up? How about your personal favorite singers, Metal or otherwise?

I grew up with Iron Maiden, Helloween, Edguy, Gamma Ray and HammerFall. You can hear a lot of all those bands when you listen to LANCER, I love those bands. In metal my favorites are DIO, Bruce Dickinson, Michael Kiske (Keeper era) Joacim Cans and Joey Tempest. Non-metal singers would be Freddy Mercury, Peter Jöback, Tommy Körberg, Joakim Thåström, Carl-Johan Vallgren, Cornelis Vreeswijk and Dan Berglund.

Tell me about your band mates. If you had to describe each one to someone who never met them, how would you do so? How do you all mesh as a group and what things do you like doing with one another?

Sebastian looks really fierce but is the most humble and kind person I know. Fredrik is always happy, if he’s not hungry, then he's just minor happy. Emil is the one who always keeps us entertained during long rides, doing really immature imitations of stereotypes. Ewo is the one with most experience in this business, very down to earth even though his guitar skills is beyond reality. Most of the time when we're all together we're rehearsing or planning the future for the band. Otherwise we listen the records, watch films, and attends concerts and festivals together.

Isak, I really hear a resurgence in the genre of Power Metal over the past few years, especially in the European and Nordic countries. Can you comment on why that is?

Yes, the resurrection has begun! That’s really exciting, HammerFall is back on track, Bloodbound has released their best album since Nosferatu and bands like Veonity, ShadowQuest, Twilight Force and Storyteller holds the banner high. Heavy Metal bands like Katana, Steelwing and Air Raid, also keep the legacy of melodic metal in a fast tempo alive.

The new album “Second Storm” has a lot of energy, and really strong and tight musicianship. How did you and the band approach the songwriting for the album? Who is your lyricist, and what was the main theme you were trying to get across in the songs?

We continued on the trail of the sound from our debut album. We did some changes in the arrangements that made the songs a little bit heavier this time without losing the melodic signature over the band. We always want to write as good and varied songs as possible. The songs don’t leave the rehearsal room until it’s as good as it can be. If someone comes with an idea we always want to play it a lot and let it sink in, and after that decide if it’s a keeper or not. I write most of the songs, I wrote “Iwo Jima” and “Children of the Storm” with Fredrik, which are two very cool songs. We always arrange the songs together and everyone are adding their touch to the sound, and the result is LANCER. I write all the lyrics, it's important to me that the lyrics blend together with the vocal melodies. 
It's not a concept album, just some really good metal songs, each with their own story. For example, we wanted to write a 10 minute epic song on this album, and what is more epic than an Egyptian god? Aton is a really powerful name, it sounds heavy and majestic. There is so much magic and secrecy hidden in these old stories, so I guess that’s why pretty much every storytelling heavy metal band got some connection to the ancient gods. The bible is also a book full of crazy stories, “Behind the Walls” is about God’s wrath over Sodom and Gomorrah. Another typical heavy metal theme is war, we wanted to do a song about the island of “Iwo Jima”, and since Sabaton haven’t picked that battle yet, we had to go for it. It’s not glorifying at all, it’s a sad hymn for all the fallen soldiers who died on that godforsaken island. In “Fools Marches On” the theme of the song is mankind's never-ending warfare.

What are your favorite songs off of the new album and why?

It's hard to pick a favorite, but I guess “Aton”, because it's the longest.

When and where can fans get the new album? Do you have some tour dates and/or festivals lined up soon? Tell me what bands it would be your dream to tour with today.

If you can’t find it at your local record store, you can order it from Despotz Records webpage. I would love to do a tour together with Steelwing and Katana, the coolest metal acts in Sweden right now. A package together with Lancer would be super.

I have found that Metal musicians in general are very intelligent and widely talented people, which is a surprise to some people who think Metal music is just noise. Has this been your experience as well? If so, in what ways?

Yeah, absolutely. Everyone in the band has studied music in some way or another. Everyone except Emil has a five year professional music education. Sebastian for example is a splendid Jazz drummer as well. Besides singing classical music I also play the tuba and have played with well-known symphony orchestras in Sweden. Ewo is one of the best classical guitarists in Sweden. When you study music in this kind of way, you learn to use dynamics, arrangements, tone quality, music theory to name a few things. I guess that this knowledge can be translated to intelligence. If you're not used to the sound of heavy metal our music will sound a little bit noisy. But if you are interested in music and are open minded you will hear the quality in our musicianship and the brain behind the arrangements. One funny fact is that I have known a lot of classical musicians and jazz musicians over the years, and many of them are into metal as well.

What talents and other interests do you and your band mates have outside of music?

I guess that my secret talents are skateboarding, painting and ballet dancing. Sebastian is into martial arts. Emil’s great passion in life is video games. As I said earlier Ewo is a fantastic classic guitarist and when he's not on the stage playing Heavy Metal he is doing master classes in classical guitar all over Sweden. Fredrik is an awesome driver, and corrects my English in all the interviews I write :-)

What is it really like being in a Metal band signed to a record label? What parts do you find easy, and what things are hardest?

It's great to be surrounded by people from the business that really puts in effort and believes in your band. We love what we’re doing, and are fully aware of all the hard work an upcoming band has to deal with. I love to rehearse, write new songs, play live, doing interviews, recording videos and come up with clothing ideas and artworks. I guess that the most boring thing is to carry and put up and down all the gear during the gigs, but all that is always worth the while when you’re finally on stage. It's hard to get recognition as a band, but you will slowly grow stronger and better over the years, and the main key is to keep the passion for the music alive and the band together as a team. Nothing is easy in the business, everything is a challenge, and pressure to deliver an awesome show, but challenges are always fun.


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Edited 09 February 2023

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