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Monday, December 22, 2014

Exclusive Interview with Åge Sten Nilsen (ex-Wig Wam, Ammunition, Nordic Beast)

"It's hard to be a Rock'n'Roller" told us singer Åge Sten Nilsen with his former band Wig Wam already over a decade ago. Being in a band is a tough business sometimes - even so tough that it becomes a heavy load, so there is nothing left but to end the whole thing. Åge Sten Nilsen has experienced it himself: finishing with Wig Wam and starting from the beginning with two new bands: Nordic Beast and Ammunition. The latter released an excellent album this year, so it was time for me to talk with Åge about the new record as well as Glam Rock in general and of course about the end of Wig Wam. What happened behind the curtain? Find out what he had to say in this very honest in-depth interview. You'll be very surprised!

Hello Age, it’s a pleasure to talk to you. First of all: congratulations to an awesome new album! How satisfied are your with the result of “Shanghaied”? 

AGE STEN NILSEN: Thanks a lot dear. To be honest I am extremely satisfied and have every reason to be so. It’s become one hell of an album. We sure have made it hard for ourselves to make the next one.  
Ammunition is your new band and it features lots of experienced musicians from bands like Pretty Maids, King Diamond, Eclipse, and so on. Please tell us how this band came together. 
AGE STEN NILSEN: Most important…the band features a lot of good friends and nice people that also happen to be some of the best musicians I have ever played with. This band started out with me cutting demo’s at Erik Mårtensson’s studio in Stockholm for what was supposed to be Wig Wam’s fifth studio album. Actually I ended up at his studio by accident, but we happened to hit it off real quick you know. When it was obvious that Wig Wam wouldn’t continue I started to think about using the songs for another solo album, but you know, I have always loved being in a rock band. And one day Erik and I looked at each other and both felt the same way. «Hey, how about starting a brand new band together?» The songs started to take another shape and when it was time to take it from demo’s to real recordings we brought in Robban Bäck, who has been working with Erik for quite a while. And I was very impressed by his drumming when Eclipse supported my side-project Nordic Beast at Rockefeller Oslo.

What is the band name all about?

AGE STEN NILSEN: At first Erik joked around with the idea of calling the band GLAMunition…but I really thought the sound was more AMMU-nition than GLAM-unition…and so it was. And then there was light….

What about the songwriting process? Was the musical direction already clear when all those musicians joined Ammunition?

AGE STEN NILSEN: Yes indeed. Because the songs were dedicated to Wig Wam’s fifth album. So it was  written with that in mind. I brought in some songs at first that I wanted to cut demo’s for at Mårtensson’s studio, you know. «Shanghaied», «Access Denied» and a song called «Born To Be Glorious». Then a songwriter friend of Erik’s, Johan Becker, came over to the studio to say hello and we were like kids in a candy shop. Music was flowing. And before we knew it we had done «Give Me A Song». When the writing no longer was dedicated to Wig Wam something happened creatively. Everything felt so much fresher and so much more fun, you know. That’s when Ammunition started to take shape. No formula. No boundaries. No rules. Just music, magic and fun. And loud guitars.

In which points “Shanghaied” differs from all the stuff you did before?

AGE STEN NILSEN: It’s of course more different to my previous solo albums than the Wig Wam albums. My first solo album was very Beatles-influenced, and was for the most part written in the late 90’s. I was more into ambient pop-songs at that time. GLAMunition was more like an experiment. I had so many songs that really wouldn’t fit on any Wig Wam album. Most songs were written on acoustic guitar, alone,  and often in situations when I would find myself in a melancholy state of mind. We were about to record «Non Stop Rock’n Roll» and I had set off 3 months to record that Wig Wam album when our producer, Wig Wam guitar player Trond Holter, suddenly decided to postpone the recordings to finish his own Dracula project instead. It left me out of work, so I went into the studio alone instead, giving birth to all these «different» songs. I thought it would be better to be loyal to my band too, instead of recording something similar to our music, you know. If I had known what I know now I would have followed my heart instead, recorded one hell of a rock album and brought a band on tour instead. «Shanghaied» is also different to the Wig Wam albums. It’s more free, less sterile, bigger production, real and kicking drums. And the songs have a very different flavor. It feels contemporary, yet has that 70’s vibe combined with the 80’s Guns vibe as well…God, it’s hard to describe music sometimes (laughs).
During the recordings of "Shanghaied"
My absolutely favorites are the tracks “Wild Card” and “Heart’s Not In It”. What are the stories behind those songs?

AGE STEN NILSEN: Cool! «Wild Card» is a bit obvious isn’t it (laughs). It’s about the loved one’s that constantly wait for their rock’n rollers to come back home from tour. But it could also be about people in the same kind of situation where one partner is situated in the home, while the other is out there, working on a ship or whatever, you know. I love the phrase «..and no matter where he’s going, it’s your smell on his T-shirt». «Heart’s Not In It» is about love that has died. Better to say it like it is, instead of beating around the bushes. When I wrote this I had my previous marriage in mind, and at some point the guys from Wig Wam as well. It really isn’t fair to make believe you still have something going together, when you’re screwing someone else behind his or hers back, because your unhappy with the situation. If your heart’s not in…say it like it is. But I sure didn’t. And they sure as hell didn't either.

If a new album comes out there is always the question of touring. So, what about touring plans?

AGE STEN NILSEN: We’re a brand new band, so I guess we’ll have to see how well the album is received before we can book a tour. But of course we wanna get out there on the road and do these songs live. But the amount of concerts is depending on the demand. But we all cross our fingers.
During the recordings of "Shanghaied"
You were already talking about Wig Wam. No interview with you without that topic! First of all I’d like to know what was the final point where you guys said “We should go separate ways”?  It was a little shock for me when you guys split.

AGE STEN NILSEN: Well…(laughs)…I was a bit shocked myself really. After a heart-to-heart meeting in the spring of 2012 we made a lot of positive decisions concerning the band. Trond told us how much he loved the band, and that he had given up his plans to pursue his Dracula project. After all it had taken a lot of his focus the previous years. So now he was ready to focus a 100% on Wig Wam again. I was really feeling sorry for him though, since I knew how much he had worked on that project. So I suggested we could finalize his project as a Wig Wam project, but with «music by Trond Holter» in BIG letters. And we all agreed that we should do that. And Trond was very happy about the plan. So we booked a theatre in Oslo for three weeks in November 2012 to do preview shows and I canceled all other plans to focus on our plans for 2012 and 2013. We even decided to cut a brand new Wig Wam album in January 2013. But it turned out that Trond secretly started to work on his project with the norwegian singer Jørn Lande. I learned that all our plans were canceled on the internet. He and the bass player had joined the heavy metal band Jorn. And none of them had bothered to even call the rest of the band to tell us about it. Then later I found out that they also were doing the Dracula project with this singer too, behind our back. And had formed another new band on top of that. I tried to accept it, but after a while it just got too dodgy. It was all a scam. I don’t need to have people around me that I can’t trust. What were they thinking? They lost a friend there, and I don’t think we will ever work together again.

What was your intention when you formed Wig Wam back then? I mean in 2004 there weren’t many “new” Glam Rock bands around like today. The big comeback of 80’s Rock came some years later.

AGE STEN NILSEN: We formed Wig Wam back in 2001 my friend. And back then this kind of music was the most outdated music you could ever imagine. We got together for jam nights at a place in the Norwegian town Halden. Then all of a sudden someone wanted to have us playing at  80’s Party. and we did, and there and then we created Wig Wam. It was all just tongue in cheek , and we all had a ball playing songs from Sweet, Slade, Kiss etc you know. But these shows got pretty popular, and then later that year we really started to realize that what we were doing was pretty unique. We were simply taking back our «right to rock» that way. And after a while people got more and more into it. And we even started to blend in our own songs in the cover song setlist…without people even noticing they were our own songs. They cheered along, thinking it was some classic (laughs).
Wig Wam
What fascinates you that much at the Glam Rock Genre of the 70’s/80’s?

AGE STEN NILSEN: I think the theatrical aspect really appeal to me. Putting on a show. And of course the big choruses and melodic rock. But I’m really more into the Alice Cooper side of Glam Rock than the Warrant/Poison side of it. It has to be a bit gritty.

What was it like to be part of the Eurovision Song Contest with this kind of music? What do you think about this event today? I didn’t see any cool rock bands in recent years anymore.

AGE STEN NILSEN: I have never really cared for the Eurovision Song contest. But with no promotion budget and no label and no one even being interested in the «outdated» music we represented, I thought this would be a great way to put us on the map. And I was right! It was so far out that it became a perfect match for us. And it really helped our band to get a great deal of attention. A lot of die hard rockers turned their backs to us though. It wasn’t the most credible move. But we always told ourselves «fuck cred!» We did it our way. And it worked for sure.

What do you think about all these new bands like H.e.a.t., The Poodles, Dynazty – all in all the “new Generation” of 80’s Rock? Seems like they continue the work you began with Wig Wam.

AGE STEN NILSEN: We did a festival with Heat, and I stay in touch with The Poodles’ drummer Kicken you know. I even did a performance together with their singer at Swedish Tv. Both are cool bands. And I think they’re doing great. HEAT has really got BIG. Dynasty…I believe my good friend Kee Marcello told me that they are playing with him nowadays. Alongside their own career. I have never heard them before. But it’s cool to notice that a lot of bands actually were inspired by what we did. Even though it makes you feel OLD (laughs). I remember coming into Erik Mårtensson’s studio the first time. And he showed me his Wig Wam files on his computer. He was actually into Wig Wam, and I was like blown away. Then later I found this CD in a drawer in my house. It was a W.E.T CD, with greetings to Wig Wam from back in the days. Saying how much they appreciated our work. So I guess we left a footprint after all then. But God it’s good to move forward.
And what about such Parody acts like Steel Panther? I know some Glam Rock fans, which are really pissed off because many people see Glam Rock just as parody and wear all those costumes just because it’s trendy and not because they love the music.

AGE STEN NILSEN: I remember well when The Darkness appeared and had a massive hit with «A Thing Called Love». We had been doing the same stuff for 4 years, and then suddenly people said that we were inspired by this English band… I really hated it. But then again, they had an important role in bringing back Glam Rock and Classic Rock. Steel Panther is hilarious really. But God, aren't they getting tired of singing only about cunt and cock and groupies already…. It’s like a good joke. But when you’ve heard it the fifth time…it’s getting a bit boring. Honestly, I think those guys would kill to be able to bring their music to another, more serious level. But right now their stuck in Parody World. And it can be hard to break out. I should know….

You talked already a bit about your solo records. How important is this solo stuff for you and was it a direct decision to make them sound different?

AGE STEN NILSEN: If definitely was. When I wrote «Wolf & Butterfly» we hadn’t even thought about forming Wig Wam you know. This was the kind of music I was into at the time. Then in 2006 I felt an immediate need to get out of the GLAM costume and the artificial world that I lived in, so I re-released the album. Even wearing my fathers old shirt on the front cover. I needed to ground. I needed to exit GLAM for a while. I even wrote a brand new song for the re-release called «Don’t Feed The Broken Hearted». Then in 2009 we were about to record the «Non Stop Rock’n Roll» album, when our guitar player AND producer suddenly decided to postpone the recordings to pursue his own solo project, the one about the Dracula. So I had like 3 months off all by a sudden. And the whole year ahead would not be a Wig Wam touring year as originally planed. So I decided to record  an album anyway. I believed that I would be better off staying loyal to Wig Wam, releasing a record that didn’t compete with anything we were about to release later. So I recorded songs that I knew wouldn’t fit in with our kind of music anyhow. Making that record was like a kind of playground you know. I even brought in Christian Ingebrightsen from A1 to produce it. Christian is a good friend of mine. And I thought we would find some interesting and surprising moments together. And we did I think. Even though the album came out quite different than my fans would expect. I find that rather amusing though. To me these records are pretty important. And it helped me keep the balance and not repeat myself.

You also did these Queen shows. What can you tell us about it?

AGE STEN NILSEN: In March 2007 Wig Wam was a bunch of worn out rockers. Constantly touring and working our asses off, we decided to take some time off later that year. We all agreed that we should stay away from each other for a while from August and that we shouldn’t get in touch before we all felt that it was time to get together again to record another album. So, well, I had this Queen show that I had planned to do in 2003, but never found time to do. So now, I finally had some time to finally do it. I got in touch with an old friend of mine, Gusty Utterdahl, who at that point was running a club in Fredrikstad, where I live. I presented the show to him, and he really got into it. The original plan was to do only 5 shows, you know. But the shows were sold out in no time. So we added 5 more. Same story. Then it became 15 shows, and then other venues wanted the show, and now we have done the show for 7 years, playing the biggest venues of Norway and even brought in a symphonic orchestra this summer. THE SHOW MUST GO ON has really become a household name in Norway, and we have people here attending 150-200 shows. It’s crazy and I still enjoy doing it. We do concert versions, symphonic versions, theater versions and Christmas versions, having people coming from all over the planet to see it. And now we are planning on bringing the show outside Norway. But I always had this deal with my companion Gusty, that whenever there was Wig Wam activity we’d keep The Show Must Go On on hold. It was always secondary. The sad part is that when I invited my colleagues from Wig Wam to our premieres they never even bothered to come, not even reply. I don’t know why, but I always felt that my Queen success wasn’t well received by my band mates. After doing the Queen show for 4 years I remember our bass player finally accepting the invitation, and actually came to the premiere of one of our premieres. Trond came too, a year later, when he was hired as a guitar stand-in and desperately needed money. And the guy is actually a Queen fan too. Makes you think…
Nordic Beast
Before you formed Ammunition you joined the all-star-band Nordic Beast. Who had the idea to put this band together?

AGE STEN NILSEN: Yes I did. Mikkey Dee (Motörhead) and John Norum (Europe) asked me to join a new band after a Queen show in Gothenburg. Norum did a guest appearance, and Mikkey happened to attend the show. This was August 2013. But I was still a bit uncertain because we had so much going on with Wig Wam….at least I still thought so. When I realized that Wig Wam was dead and gone I accepted, and we went official on my birthday, November 22.

With Nordic Beast you just play the hits of the members’ main bands, so why you guys don’t sit together and write original material? I think the constellation is very interesting.

AGE STEN NILSEN: We talk about it a lot. The constellation is VERY interesting. And even more important; we enjoy each others company. A lot! But we don’t want to be a threat to our motherships you know. And we don’t want to be too ambitious. So we rather have fun together, and when ever it feels right there will be new music released. It might happen next summer. Next fall. Next Christmas. 2016. 2017. But it will definitely happen. And expect something extraordinary. Mic, Mikkey and I have already started to jam on stuff that is pretty awesome and groovy.

What are you most proud of?

AGE STEN NILSEN: Honestly, what I’m most proud of is being grounded, and in touch with my inner voice and my heart. I’m still leading a pretty normal life, and I don’t care what people might expect from a «rock star». I’m still just another rock fan that happens to sing and make a living of making music and performing. And that’s all I ever wanted. It also makes me proud when I learn that what I do makes a difference to a lot of people. When I receive letters or mails from fans that tell their story about how I got them through all kinds of difficulties. Well, there’s the real pay off.

What drives you insane?

AGE STEN NILSEN: People you thought were your friends, and happened to be back stabbing you all the time. That really pisses me off, hurts me and drives me insane. But I have learnt my lesson well. But I won’t give those people the pleasure of having my attention. I rather just turn my back and move on. Closing that door and getting on with my life.

OK Age, I think that was a “glamtastic” talk – thank you very much! The final words are yours!

AGE STEN NILSEN: Thanks for having me. I don’t suppose the talk was THAT «glamtastic», but you made me open up. Even though the truth hurt sometimes, it’s a part of life. So people…get ready to be Shanghaied. Because you will eventually…by those you least expect to shanghai you. Hope to see you all out there. Live and loud!!

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