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Kaasin's Jo Henning Kaasin: "…you have to work and fight for your freedom and your way of life. If you work hard enough you will do well"

Interview with Jo Henning Kaasin from Kaasin
by Lior "Steinmetal" Stein at 21 November 2021, 9:01 PM

"Surely, you can do better". That is an unforgettable line that is bound to survive the test of time, and "Don't call me Shirley", follows it. But that is not the reason why this comical edge resurfaced. Jo Henning Kassin knew that he has something in the mind that has to be out, and in a different format, and it was better than he ever did. Therefore, Kaasin was born and its debut album, "Fired Up" is an evidence, a token, a parcel of huge amounts of talent, dictating the bread and butter of Blues / Hard Rock. Steinmetal had the honors to chat with Mr. Kaasin about this new journey of exploration through the veils of his own burning mind

Hello Jo, it is a fine pleasure to have you for this conversation for Metal Temple online Magazine, how have you been doing sir?

Very well, thank you. Nice to be back with some new music.

Right at the verge of the worldwide pandemic, I believe it was the very beginning of 2020, you decided to freeze Come Taste The Band, which was inspired by the sound and likes of 70s Hard Rock. Was it because that you saw what is about to erupt on a global scale or did you simply think that it was all done on the musical end?

Come Taste the Band was a great band and we had a fantastic journey working with people like Glenn Hughes, Bernie Marsden, Joe Lynn Turner and so on and in 2019 we released the «REIGNITION» album feat. Joe Lynn Turner and Doogie White on vocals. Great fun and a great success!

After turing that album a bit, the partnership among some of the founding members were a little bit strained, so we decided to put the band on ice and it had nothing to do with Joe or Doogie. They were just great!

We, the founding members are still friends, so it`s no big deal, but after 23 years of hard work, it was time to take a long break.

Eventually, since I am sure that you are busy bee and can’t remain without anything to go with, you formed a new band, following your name, Kaasin. Other than Come Taste The Band out of business, what were your inspirations and motivations to start Kaasin, of course other than not being bored?

Haha. Yes you are right. I can`t remain without anything to go with;-) First of all; After CTTB was put on ice I still found myself with passion and ambitions. I wanted to write new music. So I had this song «Runaway Train» which I thought were a good song, and asked my cousin, Ståle Kaasin, if he were interested in recording the song and release it. He is a great bass player, said yes and laid down some nice basslines. Then we agreed to ask the fabulous singer, Jan Thore Grefstad to contribute with his great pipes on the vocal-side of things. We got him into the studio and it was immediately magic in the air. KAASIN as a band started then and there. We had Benjamin Dehli laying down some amazing keyboard-work and «Runaway Train» went on to be a big success for us. Streaming in hundred thousand and topping rock radio stations in France and UK. What a blast and inspiration!

When you think about the image of Kaasin, and what it represents, what is it exactly that makes Kaasin, as an idea, so unique and profound in your view?

I think it`s down to each musician in the band, each musician's ability and influences and of course what that combination of people create together. We are all bringing something to the table. I think everybody in the band got a strong identity as a musician and as writers. The vision of KAASIN is to take the classic hard rock of the seventies and early eighties and bring it into some new musical territories. On «FIRED UP» I think you can hear that vision in songs like «Hidden», «Chain of Love» and «Wrong» I also have to add that we are inspired and influenced by hard rock, but also other genres, like blues and prog. We blend hard rock with different flavours of other kind of music. That gives us identity. I also think my approach to the guitar-side of things, is a little different than most metal /hard rock guitarist.

In order to properly fulfil the new vision of Kaasin, you recruited an impeccable unit of musicians for your quest. Were there plenty of candidates or you knew right from the start who were the right people that suited your new musical framework?

There were not plenty of candidates. The musicians we have in KAASIN is all «first choices» Happily everybody said yes, when asked to join the band and I think it suites the new musical framework very well. I got just what I wanted haha;-)

Signing with none other than Pride & Joy Music, you are set to release your debut album, under the Kaasin moniker, “Fired Up”. As simply as this title suggests, it occurred to me how highly motivated you were, and still is, to harness your experience and create something new that is totally yours. What is your take on that? Are you still that fired up?

Yes, absolutely. The title «FIRED UP» represent the passion and commitment we felt while writing and recording the album. Everybody was on fire! I think you can hear that. Making the album was a labour of love!

“Fired Up” is certainly not a concept album, and it is quite varied in its selection of themes and narratives. Nonetheless, I believe that there are always connecting dots, which could lead to an understanding of what went on within the songwriter’s mind. Therefore, in your opinion, what connects these songs in terms of a mutual idea?

If you listen carefully you can hear «eastern» flavoured scales in almost every song on the album, even on the bluesy «The Smoking Gun». That`s some kind of connection between the songs. I also think the energy and enthusiasm in the actual playing and singing also is connecting the songs. And then there is the lyrics. We seem to write a lot about freedom and the trouble and pain we sometime have to go through to achieve that freedom.

Every song on the album is written and recorded in a natural way, that`s we write the songs more or less spontaneous and then work it out within our framework. So the way it is produced also connect the songs!

With the majority of the lyrics set to a rather Bluesy direction, in your view, do you also offer a positive note for the listener to comprehend throughout the album, or is it a homogenous state of mind that leads the way? 

I think the underlying message in the lyrics is that you have to work and fight for your freedom and your way of life. If you work hard enough you will do well. Both personally and group wise. And that`s kind of positive. That said, I also think our lyrics have both a dark side and a brighter side and that`s life, isn't it!?

Totally inspired by a highly rich past of Rock music, whether 70s and early 80s, along with your experience, Kaasin is that bellyful style. “Fired Up” is a playing field of Hard Rock, Classic Rock and emotive Blues, all set up in a modern delivery in order to capture the present day listener. In your view, what is that angle that Kaasin offers with its music? 

As you know I have worked with many of hard rock's greatest. Joe Lynn Tuner was in a period kind of a mentor for me and he said to me: «I`ve learned everything in the music business from Ritchie Blackmore and now I am passing the torch to you» What can I say! I think KAASIN is carrying the torch of traditional hard rock but with a modern twist.

That`s our angle. I think there will always be a place for bands that play their instruments with passion and energy. It`s honest and natural, and I think KAASIN is such a band!

When it comes to your musical vision for “Fired Up”, and Kaasin in general, is its musical direction set in stone? Are you offering any hints of perhaps other directions within the genre that might find yourself in future creations?

Yes, there are hints. I think we will continue on the hard rock road, but personally I would also like to explore other directions, both in regard to structure, sound and songwriting. So nothing is set in stone, but everything has to come naturally and not forced. That`s important I think.

Different from albums of bands, which were led by guitarists, I was glad to notice that “Fired Up” is somewhat different, with other elements contributing by setting the tones, along with the guitar qualities. Was it your intention to have Kaasin as a common ground for all the musical roles? Do you see it as a major goal in the band’s development? 

Thanks for noticing that. I always try to do something a little different. Like the solo in «Chain of Love» I played the guitar through an analogue synthesizer and a Vox amp and then we achieved a new kind of sound. Benjamin Dehli pushed me to try different angles in regard to guitar sound. When we started out I did not want a «guitar all over the place» kind of band. I wanted KAASIN to be a real band, with every musician and instrument to have an equal part of the sound and asking our self what every song needed from us.

I believe that one of your major achievements was the recruit the high flying singer, Jan Thore Grefstad, who has been singing mostly in Metal bands, rather than Rock driven groups. No doubt that his vocal abilities ended up sitting well with your vision for Kaasin. His powerful pipes really laid down the Rock and Blues, as if with ease. How do you find his contribution “Fired Up”? How would you say that he developed as a singer within Kaasin?

Jan Thore is a great singer. He is up there with the best of them, both in regard to vocal abilities and he`s writing skills as well. He contributed a lot to «Fired Up» He is of course a very good metal singer but with KAASIN I think he has found a bluesy vibe in his approach to some of the songs, like in «Wrong». Fantastic vocals! And listen to the soulful ballad «Shades of Yesterday» Pure magic! I love writing and recording with him, because he has this fantastic ability to adapt to the song we are working on and deliver the goods. KAASINs got a world class singer with power and soul!

We talked about development, and there is you, as the chief songwriter in the band. No doubt that your experience led you to some amazing things, and impressive live capabilities as well. However, as a songwriter it is a different thing. How would you “Fired Up” nurtured your abilities to write songs and your approach of what benefits a song in your view?

First of all; It`s great to have a band to write for and a record company that releases what we record. I think it`s important to stay focused when writing the songs for an album, and I had that possibility when we wrote for the «Fired Up» album. So I think the process have made me and the other guys in the band, better songwriters. I try to work on the songs and find the right feeling to lyrical ideas and vice versa. Like in «The Smoking Gun» (which I wrote alone) the lyrics is about what happened in America in January 2021 and I wanted a type of hard rock meets the great plains kind of sound to the arrangement. So we added harmonica, slide guitar and shaking rattlesnake tail (!) to get that sound.

Two of the greatest Hard Rock Meets Blues exports of the album are “The Smoking Gun” and “Wrong”. I found the magnitude of this fusion very strong, as it was felt on the early Whitesnake albums. How do you find this one hell of an impact by Blues on your Rock direction? What makes it, in your opinion, a musical lead to go on with?

I love the blues and I love to calm down and let the music breath in contrast to the heavier and hard side of things. I`ve always listen to great blues and blues rock music and players, like Rory Gallagher, Free, early Whitesnake. I see myself much more of a blues player than a heavy metal player, so I think that will be part of my «writing future»

It was really hard to escape the comparisons with Rainbow’s “Spotlight Kid” on the opening track “We Are One”. I guess that an influence is an influence, and you captured that late 70s mega Hard Rock sensation notably. What is your view about this driving Hard Rock opening of the album? 

Haha. Well, I don't want to escape the comparisons. «We Are One» is a great track and for me it`s a tribute to all the great people I have worked with and the prime time of the great bands we love and cherish. The riff and pace is in the spirit of songs like «Spotlight Kid», «Burn» and so on, but I think the vocal melody, the quiet middle section and the chord structure are different from the songs in question. Still; «We Are One» might be the song on «Fired Up» that is closest to the traditional hard rock of the seventies.

Once you had the finished product, and I believed that you had a fair share of listening sessions with it, what did cross your mind while doing so? How did you find yourself connected to the songs on a different level?

I think it is a very good album, strong songs, good production and variety. I am proud of what we did together and now I can listen to the album without analysing it too much. I think «Fired Up» is a slightly better album than the last Come Taste the Band album, «Reignition» I feel connected to the songs on a personal level, not only as a guitarist and songwriter and I also hope the listeners will connect to the songs on that level.

Since Come Taste The Band was a live act, what is the fate of Kaasin in that aspect, would you say it is a live unit as well? If so, where is it headed in the coming year?

We hope to make the live debut of KAASIN sometime in 2022. We are discussing the possibilities as we speak! I would love to get KAASIN and the «Fired Up» album out on the road, maybe playing some Come Taste the Band songs as well. Let`s see what next year will bring.

Jo, I wish to thank you for your time and effort on this interview, thank you for laying down the path for a fine exploration of Hard Rock music. All the best

Thanks the same and rock on! Cheers!


 



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