Interview with Jona Tee of H.E.A.T

It seems that songs about epic journeys are a part of the Scandinavian culture – a part of their Norse heritage, perhaps. Just think of Europe exploring the universe in “The Final Countdown”… Three years ago, their fellow countrymen, and successors to the throne they occupied in the ‘80s – H.E.A.T – embarked on a more metaphorical journey “into the great unknown” with the album of the same title. They returned this year with H.E.A.T II – the first self-produced album in H.E.A.T’s history, with the wheel taken by the band’s keyboard player Jona Tee and the guitarist Dave Dalone. Speaking of the former of the two – his experience goes way beyond the band as he’s also an accomplished producer. So far, he collaborated with acts such as Fighter V [discussed here], Temple Balls, Sister, Captain Black Beard etc. I caught up with Jona to find out more about the way he juggles his responsibilities in H.E.A.T with his work behind the console…

Jona Tee. Photo used by the artist’s permission.

Alexandra Mrozowska: Every once in a while we hear that Rock genre is either dead or dying. As not only the founding member of H.E.A.T, but also a producer – what do you think about it?

Jona Tee: Rock is definitely NOT dead. It may not be mainstream but there are many of us. A huge secret society of misfits and awesome people.

AM: Well-said! Out of all the acts you worked with as a producer, which do you think was your best work to date?

JT: That would be like ranking your kids. Not doable. And very different styles and relationships, all epic and with their own charm. 

AM: What kind of approach do you have as an outside producer?

JT: I’m definitely more of a “musical” producer rather than an engineering one. My vision is to step in and become an extra member of the band or project for the extension of the production. And sometimes I’ve also played with the artist after. The songs and performances are the focus. With that said, I’m really starting to enjoy mixing and tweaking the gear more and more. It’s an expensive trap. 

AM: Are there any producers in the history of music, Rock and beyond, whom you’d call your role models?

JT: My sensei has been Mr Maximum himself – Tobias Lindell. We’ve worked together and I’ve learned tons of things from him. Also I love Mutt Lange’s productions and him co-writing with the bands. And I need to mention Martin Birch as well who made so many awesome classics.

AM: If you could produce just one album in the music history, which one would it be and what kind of a twist, if any, would you give to it?

JT: A great and tough question. But it would have been fun to do the first H.E.A.T album the way we did H.E.A.T II.

AM: What’s the most untypical project genre-wise that you’ve worked on as a producer? Was it challenging to switch to a completely different mode?

JT: Actually I’m involved with producing tracks for Erik Grönwall’s project in South Africa called Hitchat. Basically I’m doing covers, so what I do is I take the tracks, try to decipher all the parts and basically record them again myself. And the style ranges from Hip Hop with crazy Trap hats to more typical African music. With the first song I was gonna do, I thought “how the fuck am I gonna do this”. Then I just trusted my guts and started blasting. You can hear the stuff here

AM: I believe your most current project will be the third album by Temple Balls. Can you reveal anything about it?

JT: Yeah, I’m in Finland right now doing the final preproduction. Heading to the studio tomorrow. I think the new stuff is definitely in the lines of Untamed, especially tracks like “Kill The Voice” and “The End”. With that said, there are tracks that have more classic Heavy Metal/Rock vibes to them. Looking forward to eternalizing them in Studio 57.

AM: Another and perhaps the most important showcase of your skills as a producer is your band’s newest album H.E.A.T II, which you co-produced together with your bandmate Dave Dalone. What kind of vision did you have for the album as a co-producer and are you happy with the results?

JT: Very proud of the new H.E.A.T album. Still blast it every now and then. Super fun to do with Dave and I hope we will do many more together in the future. Our vision was to make a great hard rocking H.E.A.T album that was a mix of Adress The Nation and Tearing Down The Walls. But I think we managed to breathe a unique life into this one as well. 

AM: What is the main advantage of self-production in comparison with collaboration with an outside producer?

JT: Basically is way less work with an outside producer. But I’ve always been involved quite a bit, especially being one of the main songwriters of the band. But I suppose the strength of doing it ourselves is that you have total control over most of it. Also we could split up the sessions for vocals and solos more easily because we didn’t have expensive studio time ticking away. 

AM: In the past, H.E.A.T worked first with Michael Vail Blum (a producer of such heavyweights of the music industry as Madonna, Michael Jackson or Pink Floyd) and then, with the mentioned Tobias Lindell (whose resume include collaboration with quite a wide range of artists – from Europe to A*Teens). Were this collaborations a valuable experience for you as a future producer?

JT: First two albums’ producer was a bit forced upon us. Actually he wasn’t there when we recorded the stuff and not too much during pre-production either. So basically he mixed the albums and copy/pasted stuff around after we had done our arrangements. Sub-optimal way to do it, but we kind of rolled with it. Tobias Lindell, on the other hand, is a goddamn rock to work with. And he also mixed H.E.A.T II and it sounds pretty badass so all cred to him. It‘s always a lot about the vibe in the studio and getting the stuff to sound huge. Great experience and I said before, I’ve learned tons and tons from him.

AM: Speaking of H.E.A.T II, you were heavily involved in the songwriting process for the album. Can you take us through your personal highlights of the album?

JT: All the songs have different concepts. “Rock Your Body” is basically an animal attraction song and “Victory” is about the future generations who have to clean up the mess we made. “Adrenaline” was inspired by Band of Brothers, and so on…

H.E.A.T II’s predecessor was Into The Great Unknown, described by you and your bandmates as a “bit different” album and released to mixed reactions…

JT: I think it was something we needed to do at that point. I still love a lot of the music on it. The chorus in “Time On Our Side” always gives me chills. And the recording sessions in Karma Sound Studios in Thailand were dreamy, to say the least. I wouldn’t change anything, it IS what it IS.

AM: Is it easy to tailor a song you write to Erik’s voice and abilities?

JT: It’s FUN. Erik has a crazy range and awesome expression, so you’re not limited at all. And I think he’s a good songwriter too, I’ve learned a lot from him as well.

AM: H.E.A.T’s most recently released song is an uplifting anthem “Back To Life”. Was it outtake from H.E.A.T II recording sessions, or a song written and recorded on the spot in the face of current events?

JT: To be honest, I thought it should’ve have been on the album, and yes, it was recorded along with the other ones. We actually have one more that we recorded, but no plans to release it (yet). 

AM: Have you managed to reschedule a tour planned previously for the first half of 2020? What kind of impact does the situation have on promotion of the new album?

JT: Tours are being rescheduled all the time. Just waiting for this shit to blow over. Hard to say what impact it has had. But It would’ve been epic to play these songs live already. Only two shows with the album out.

AM: So what are you up to during this difficult period?

JT: I’m staying busy with productions until January, so it’s a super creative time for me. Then I hope we can find some time to start blasting some new H.E.A.T stuff early next year. Lots of cool stuff happening. 

AM: Is there anything you’d like to add in the end?

JT: Thank you for a good interview! Keep it real.

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You can watch a lyric video to H.E.A.T’s newly released track “Back To Life” here: