Interview with Emlee Johansson of Thundermother

We’ll always refer to the 1970s and the 1980s as the golden era of Rock and Metal, but it’s hard not to notice how male-dominated the entire music industry was then, on stage and beyond. Fast forward to the 21st century and the situation is slowly improving – gradually, more and more women start making music and working behind the scenes. “It’s still a long way to have a totally equal music industry”, says Emlee Johansson, the drummer of an all-female band Thundermother – “and there is just too much prejudice deeply rooted in people, but we just have to keep fighting!” But don’t worry – the chat I had with Emlee certainly wasn’t only about girl power. What we focused on instead was the band’s newly released album Heat Wave, their resumed concert activity and music influences – and of course, some girl talk in between…

Thundermother. Photo used by permission. Photo credits: Franz Schepers.

Alexandra Mrozowska: Let’s start from good news. Just recently you’ve resumed performing live. How does it feel to be back on stage after months of quarantine?

Emlee Johansson: Thank you! We feel so privileged and lucky to have been able to do this release tour! Our manager has just been super creative and been working so hard to make this possible and now it’s just a big relief that everything worked out perfectly! It felt amazing to be back on stage again. A lot of people has been asking us if it has been boring to play for such small crowds, but no, we loved every single second of it! We don’t care if it’s big or small venues. We just love to play, and the audiences we’ve had on this tour has been just amazing and gave us a lot of positive energy and love! We all felt that it was wonderful to be part of this rare and unique tour, and we will never forget it!

AM: I assume there are still some restrictions to the way the gigs are organized now. Does it affect the atmosphere of the show?

EJ: Yes of course, we had restrictions on tour – but we never felt that it affected the atmosphere. People were just really excited to be able to see a live show again! And I think that people are used to the whole social distance thing right now. It just happens naturally right now, so there were never any issues in respecting that.

AM: During the quarantine, you’ve also performed via online live stream. Did you enjoy the experience?

EJ: Yes, we did, and all the organizers has been really cool to work with! But it will never replace a real live show. You just need the audience, it’s the fifth member of the band. And we really missed our fifth member during the live streams.. especially between the songs (laughs) It was a little weird with all the silence.

AM: Where are you heading next to as the Heat Wave Release Tour progresses? What are your expectations?

EJ: We sure hope that we can tour this fall, but we don’t know how things will turn out right now. We just have to wait and stay positive, and if it’s not possible to tour, then try to find other solutions to make our shows happening. It’s really a time for creativity right now!

AM: Definitely. Speaking of a very certain “heat wave” that hit us on July the 31st, it’s the title of the fourth album in Thundermother’s discography. Comparing the new album with its predecessors, do you as band members feel you make constant progress?

EJ: Yes. We always want to develop, not just as a band but also as musicians. What’s new for Heat Wave is that we wrote all the songs more or less together. On previous albums, it was Filippa (Nässil, the band’s guitar player) who has been the main songwriter. She has done an amazing job with that, but writing together makes our sound develop and our team spirit is now stronger than ever! We all come from a little different musical influences and we have different strengths in songwriting. Putting all this together makes great and interesting music!

AM: Thundermother wasn’t that much into ballads before, but with tracks like “Fire And The Rain” (Thundermother, 2018) or the new one entitled “Sleep” you boldly cross the territory. Do you think it’s a sign of the band’s maturity?

EJ: I definitely think that it has to do with this line-up and influences and musical taste we have. It takes great musicians to make a great ballad, and I don’t think that the band has been ready for this until we came on board.

AM: What was the songwriting process for the album like?

EJ: So much fun! We tried a lot of different methods when we wrote the songs – different songwriters, different studios and different ways. We just followed our creativity! And we had no stress, we took the time we needed to write, and that was really nice because then we could really make every song as good as it could be.

AM: While recording, you collaborated with the Danish producer Søren Andersen. Why did you choose to work with him?

EJ: We started out by going to his studio to write songs together, and he was just such a great songwriter, musician and person. We all really clicked, and Medley Studios is just a great place to be. So it wasn’t hard for us at all to pick our producer for the album. He turned out to be a great producer too. He got the best out of every song, and he also made us perform on top! We had a great time recording this album, and I think you can hear that when you listen to it!

AM: Think so too – it really reflects on the album. Heat Wave also marks your departure from the previous label and switching to AFM Records. Why?

EJ: Our contract with Despotz expired and we started to look for a new label. We were happy with Despotz but we felt that we needed a bigger label that could get us into a higher level. AFM showed interest for us very early and we are so happy that we joined forces with them! They really believe in us and support us in everything we want to do, and that just means everything. They have already done a great job with Heat Wave and we can’t wait to see what the future has in store for us!

AM: Speaking about the album, the overall message behind it (tracks like “Purple Sky” in particular), is pretty feminist so to speak. Do you consider yourselves feminists?

EJ: Of course we are feminists! To be a feminist is to treat people equally, no matter what gender, and that is just obvious for us. Everyone is welcome to join the Thunder Family, no matter who you are! And if we can help the music industry get more equal, then we would be honored.

AM: You’ve claimed that the lyrics on the album reflects the band’s lifestyle and attitude…

EJ: We often come up with lyrics on the road, from all kinds of different crazy moments. “Heat Wave” for example, is inspired by a show we played in 2019 supporting Rose Tattoo. It was the hottest day in German history and we had trouble breathing on stage (laughs). I had to wipe of my hands after every song because my hands were so sweaty that I almost lost grip of my drumsticks. “Into the Mud” is inspired by all our times playing at Wacken, especially the first time we played there. It was raining crazy that day and the whole ground just turned into mud. And Filippa usually runs out in the audience during ”Shoot to Kill”, but she didn’t really wanna do it this time. However, we just said ”Into the Mud, Filippa” and so she did, and when she came back up on stage she had mud up to her knees (laughs)

AM: Poor Filippa! (laughs) Everyone points out to the certain AC/DC influence in your songs. Any other influences?

EJ: AC/DC and Motörhead is definitely the core influence of the band, but also a lot of other ‘70s bands like KISS and Led Zeppelin, with a little Thin Lizzy and Airbourne too (laughs) It’s hard to be specific actually because we draw inspiration from a lot of bands. But we all love the sound of the ‘70s.

AM: It’s hard not to! From your personal perspective, who influenced your drumming style?

EJ: My biggest inspiration on drums is John Bonham. I love the way he grooves and I love his sound too. In Thundermother I also take a lot of inspiration from Phil Rudd, to play straight beats with a nice groove is an art and I enjoy playing that style a lot. But I have to add my precious ghost notes too… (laughs) Someone once said that if John Bonham and Phil Rudd had a child, that would be me (laughs)

AM: That certainly could be – but it would be a union made in drum heaven! (laughs) Growing up, did you look up to the few women performers who tried to break a glass ceiling back in the ‘70s and the ‘80s?

EJ: All women who put their names in the history books are our heroes! They did a great job pave the way for future female bands, and we walk proudly in that path! But it’s still a long way to have a totally equal music industry, there is just too many prejudices deep rooted in people, but we just have to keep fighting!

AM: Right on! Just think that thirty years ago women performers were still a rarity in Hard Rock/Heavy Metal. Now the situation seems to gradually change… does it? Have you as Thundermother ever experienced any kind of prejudice or sexist treatment?

EJ: Well, it is changing – definitely, but slowly. We most often get treated with respect but of course there are always people that have the need to push us down in different ways. And we often feel that we have to overprove ourselves, but we do it gladly because we are confident in what we do and we will never let anyone stand in our way to success. And we are a strong unit that supports each other and believe in what we do.

AM: Do you think it’s overall more difficult to make it in the music industry when you’re a woman?

EJ: Hmm… no, not really. I mean, I can imagine that a lot of women got tired of the tough environment and that they have lost their happiness and passion towards music because of that. You have to be strong – it’s really a survival of the fittest out there. But I don’t think it’s more difficult than it is for men. The fact that we are a female band makes us unique and gives us a lot of attention that male bands have more struggling with. It’s a always just about the competitive market around you. And of course you have to play good, and you can play good with any gender you may have.

AM: We girls are expected to talk fashion at some point, so where do you draw inspiration for your stage image from? What prompts your fashion choices?

EJ: We all have very different taste in fashion, and we are quite specific about what we want to wear on stage to feel comfortable. Me for example, I need to wear tights and free arms to feel comfortable when I play drums. I also have to wear Converse – no other shoes are good enough for me. We got our latest stage outfit specially made for us by Ida Edlund, a super talented tailor based in Stockholm. She really customized our outfits for us individually and after our different requests, but still made us look unitary, and we all are super happy with the result! She made me super nice and comfortable velvet tights and a super cool purple vest with lightnings on – totally my style and I feel like a super hero wearing it on stage!

AM: Now that’s the attitude to go onstage with! As a Swedish musician, what do you think is the reason why so many of today’s greatest bands come from Scandinavia?

EJ: The Swedish government spends a lot of money on culture. You can basically get a rehearsal room for free, and as a band you can get a lot of support with money and equipment. I think that makes a big difference, because it makes it easy for people to start a band and to start play music! We are of course super happy and grateful to be this privileged in our country!

AM: I think musicians from other countries can really envy you that kind of privilege. So, is there anything you’d like to add in the end?

EJ: We hope everyone loves our album as much as we do, and we are so happy that it’s finally out! We are so grateful for all support and love from everyone and we really hope that we can do a proper tour soon again so we can see all your pretty faces out there! Take care and stay healthy!

Thundermother Official Website

Thundermother on Facebook

Thundermother on Instagram

Emlee Johansson on Facebook

Emlee Johansson on Instagram

Check out Thundermother‘s new music video  “Dog From Hell” below: