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:


Interview with Pat Kramer of Deaf Rat

Dare you take a walk down the road less travelled and – instead of the usual vignettes about sex, drugs and rock’n’roll – get to know the bad, the ugly and the dangerous…? Well, that’s what the Swedes from Deaf Rat have to offer with an album entitled Ban The Light, taking their listeners for a journey on the dark side of humanity.  Not your ordinary family entertainment, that’s for sure… What’s the inspiration behind this unique vibe to Deaf Rat’s music…? How does the band’s past influence their present…? And what is the future going to bring…? That’s what I asked Pat Kramer, the band’s lead guitarist, about…

Deaf Rat. Photo used by the band’s permission. Photo credits: Georgios Grigoriadis

Alexandra Mrozowska: Deaf Rat’s  musical background is obviously old school Hard Rock & Heavy Metal…

Pat Kramer: The influences among the three of us differ quite a lot, all the way from older Black Sabbath, Ozzy’s new stuff, classic Guns N’ Roses and Velvet Revolver, some of our countrymen in Mustasch, Ghost and Hardcore Superstar, Mötley Crüe with (John) Corabi on vocals, Marilyn Manson and Alice Cooper.

AM: The official Deaf Rat line-up consists of three musicians only, so why isn’t the rhythm section in the official band line-up?

PK: Those guys whose musicianship and friendship we cherish so much unfortunately don’t want to engage in the same way that me, Frankie and Max do. It takes a lot of commitment and we are forever grateful to Karl and Nic for staying with us for so long in the background and for being a huge part of the sound of the album Ban The Light.

AM: Before you became Deaf Rat, you’ve performed under the moniker of Billion Dollar Babies (and yes, everyone reading this now starts humming a very certain song). What’s prompted the name change?

PK: Billion Dollar Babies was started during the renaissance of Glam Rock in 2005. The music has since then changed so much and the line-up has also changed, so it was a very liberating decision to put it behind us. Of course it wasn’t an easy decision, but it was surely a good one. It gave us the freedom to do something that really came straight from the heart and soul from the people that we are now, unaffected by expectations and baggage from old times.

AM: Billion Dollar Babies have already had a couple of albums under their belt. Have you ever revisited that material in the Deaf Rat live setting?

PK: At our first gig we actually played one of our old songs and it was done by a very specific purpose. We have a buddy in our hometown named David who is probably the most dedicated fan of all of the bands in our local area. He’s studying music and learning to play the guitar so we invited him to join us for one song at our debut gig at Sabaton Open Air 2019. He spent the whole summer rehearsing the song and the show was great. I don’t think anyone got more applause and praise than David when the song was done – except for maybe Sabaton (laughs)

AM: How do you think years of stage experience translate into 2019’s Ban The Light album, which is technically Deaf Rat’s debut album?

PK: Of course it brings at lot of experience coming from a band that has been playing a lot, especially doing lots of live shows. When we write songs, we always have the live performance of it in mind because that is probably the main purpose for all of us to do it. We don’t spend that much time working on overdubs and stuff, but spend a lot of time to make the songs sound great with only that number of instruments that we have in a live setting.

AM: Speaking of Ban The Light, you’ve recorded the majority of the material for the album in your own studio (Ballroom Studios in Falun, Sweden)…

PK: It’s a luxury for us to have a well-equipped personal studio where we can record live sessions – but it could also easily work against you. The pressure of being in a studio where you pay per hour can also be good or bad, depending on what sort of band you are. So this time, we brought in a producer, Erik Berglund, and planned the recording session very strictly, which is something that is very important. We also spend lots of time rehearsing before the recording, so that we all get very comfortable with doing it in a live session. I think the main live sessions for the songs took a week and then maybe another week for vocals, and additional week for guitar solos and some overdubs.

AM: I believe the working title for the album was actually In The Name Of. Why did you decide to change it? Was the change about the possible controversy?

PK: No, there was no controversy in mind at all actually. The working title was an idea that we thought summarized many of the topics in our songs. Many of the lyrics for the songs are about people being used, mistreated or brainwashed by some large community that they are part of. The inspiration for those lyrics came from both criminal gangs or religions and cults. So the main thing there is criticizing authoritarian groups that are depriving people of their free will. We changed it to Ban The Light, because we thought that was also a great title and of course, it’s a classic move to name the album after one of the songs on the record (laughs).

AM: Speaking of controversy, the imagery and lyrics you generally use has always been pretty strong, including your early days as Billion Dollar Babies. I can certainly imagine the cover of Chemical God sparking controversy in my homeland Poland…

PK: As far as I know, we have never been criticized for it. If you listen to Chemical God and Ban The Light, you can surely hear some strong lyrics. But we like writing about stuff that we think are fucked up in the world. I hope that if people listen to the songs, they will understand that the reason why we write those lyrics are because we think those are horrible things. This topic is of course not present in all of our songs, but for example “Junkie’s Ball” and “Chemical God” from the earlier years, and “Make Me Suffer” and “Wanted Forever” from Ban The Light are perfect illustrations of that.

AM: In the past interviews, the 2016 documentary Holy Hell by Will Allen was cited as a source of inspiration for the album. Were there any other influences as well?

PK: That’s a perfect example of a cult where a leader is brainwashing their followers just to fulfill his sick fantasies of how this world should be. Other specific influences that led to lyrics for a song was the movie Spotlight, which is about priests sexually abusing young children and another was a podcast, where a former member of The Church of Scientology told their story and talked about how the get treated when they want to leave their community.

AM: These are quite dark and disturbing issues indeed – so why did you decide to make them the leitmotif of your album?

PK: Good question. I guess it’s just that we like to transmit those kind of vibes and hopefully, it will make people react and listen more to the stories.

AM: As you’ve already mentioned, the songs on Ban The Light show how people allow for their free will to be taken away from them. Do you think there really is a problem with a lack of freedom within today’s society?

PK: If you have a cynical mind, then you would assume that there will always be a problem with freedom somewhere in the world. I think the world as a whole is making progress every day, but there is a lot do to in the world to raise the equality of opportunity for all people.

AM: Ban The Light was also released on vinyl. What advantages would listening to it on vinyl have over streaming it on one’s phone?

PK: The great thing about a physical music format is that we can somewhat force your listener to listen to the entire album in the way we want them to. It allows you to tell a story and not just get snippets of it when you put a few songs in a playlist on your phone. There is also of course a whole other sonic experience listening to a vinyl than, for example, Spotify. It’s actually amazing how many details in the music get lost when you listen through most streaming platforms.

AM: Speaking of technology, your YouTube channel gives your fans quite a sneak peek behind the scenes, making them feel as if they were a part of the Deaf Rat experience. But if you as a listener had a chance to witness the recording process of just one album in a history, what could it be?

PK: Oh my God, what a tough question! (laughs) One that comes to mind is Def Leppard’s Hysteria, just because it was such a difficult process that took around four years. For me as a huge Led Zeppelin fan it would also be awesome to be a fly on the wall at Headley Grange when they recorded their fourth album.

AM: What is the band up to these days, with all the concerts being put on hold worldwide?

PK: Right now, we are writing new songs for our next album. It’s a perfect time to lock yourself inside the studio and get creative!

AM: Looking ahead, on June the 12th, 2021 you’re going to support Judas Priest on their rescheduled gig Dalhalla in Rättvik, Sweden. What are your expectations?

PK: Oh, we are soooo looking forward to it! Dalhalla is a fantastic arena and is actually in the town where I grew up. So it’s gonna be awesome to open up for the godfathers of Metal in a sold out arena with a huge stage.

AM: You were also supposed to tour with H.E.A.T and Reach this year. Speaking of this, it’s hard not to notice how many great bands emerged from Scandinavia during the last twenty years. Why do you think your region and especially your homeland is so potent when it comes to musical talent?

PK: One of the most important thing are that we have great culture of music education. At an early age, you can go to music school almost for free and it creates a very good foundation for a music career. I guess it’s also in part because the countries in Scandinavia are quite wealthy and maybe also because the best cure for a freezing cold winter is to bang the shit out of your drums or to turn up your guitar amp to eleven (laughs).

AM: You’re probably right! Any last words?

PK: Thank you for a very good interview!

Deaf Rat Official Website

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You can check out Deaf Rat’s most recent music video to their single “Bad Blood” below: