Interview with Hannes Kett of Shiraz Lane

Back in the past, it took a trip to the nearest newsagent’s and a subsequent purchase of a music magazine to learn that your favourite band is in the recording studio – or, if you were really lucky, you could catch some official announcement on MTV. These days it’s the string of the recording studio selfies, videos and hashtags flooding the particular band’s social media that indicate that someone’s new music is in the works. This was exactly the case with the Finnish group Shiraz Lane recently. That’s why I caught up with their lead singer Hannes Kett to check out what’s going on…

Shiraz Lane. Photo used by permission. Photo credits: Ville Juurikkala.

Alexandra Mrozowska, Rock Speculo Interviews: It’s not the first time we hear from you guys this year, as in January you released a five-song EP Vibration I. So, let’s start from the Shiraz news from the recording studio…

HK: The plan is to combine both EPs and to have a full length album, while perhaps adding some surprises? All will be revealed in time, be patient and know that the time spent waiting won’t be in vain. Now we are at the magical stage of writing new tunes. We recorded our first single from the upcoming EP as to give people a taste of what our sound is at the moment. The progress of writing new tunes always differs. It is all a part of the evolution of an artist. I am very excited to be writing new material and expanding our catalogue. You have a sense of what a particular song might sound like, you hear it in your mind clear as day, and then you take the necessary steps to bringing forth your vision. The question is, where do all these song ideas come from? I think we are connected to something bigger than us and are simply vessels for receiving this music from somewhere. This is a concept shared by many within the art community.

AM: But what exactly is it that sparks this creativity?

HK: Life. This wonderful adventure of a lifetime. You can write a song about anything, all you have to do is keep your eyes and ears open to what’s going on around you, to swim in the ocean of surrounding energies. 

AM: The producer of your new music is Joonas Parkkonen, whose Rock/Metal credentials are said to be complemented by his Pop sensibility as well. Is it what influenced your decision to collaborate with him?

HK: We’ve had the pleasure of trying out different producers and working with Joonas felt like a very natural step forward. The key to a producer is to look at a band and work to their strengths while pushing them to the next level. This is definitely something I find very intriguing and will pursue in the future myself. And well, I’ve always liked to tip my toes into different genres, having said that I enjoy quality Pop as well. I am inspired to write juicy melodies so working with Joonas was and is a blast. Nerding out on tiny details many people might not even think about is what makes something good inredible. Whatever we write and however we write, it will sound like Shiraz Lane. We’ve never been afraid to venture in the waters of different styles. 

AM: Right in the middle of conceptualizing your third full length album, is the infamous “third album syndrome” causing any pressure?

HK: Well, we started out with our EP Be The Slave Or Be The Change and only after that we recorded two albums. It felt natural to write two separate EPs that will become one album. When writing and recording songs, you record the state of your soul and when your time comes to leave this life,  you will remain eternal. I see no reason to feel pressure, all we want is to write and record what we feel like is music worth releasing. This society in which we live in is concentrating on pleasing everyone, a mindset I’ve decided to not take part in. Haters will hate  and lovers will love, guess which one I prefer…? 

AM: Back to your EP released in January, the title Vibration I suggests a sequel to it…

HK: Maybe we’ll release Vibration 3 and 4 one day? The possibilities are endless. 

AM: The EP includes a cover version of “To The Moon & Back”, originally a 1996 hit by the Australian Pop duo Savage Garden. What’s prompted this choice?

HK: We liked the song and thought it could be made even better. Did we succeed? I honestly think so. I like writing songs that force your hips to move, music that makes your body tingle with excitement. 

AM: Have you ever considered releasing a full-length album covering songs of genres different than yours?

HK: It is definitely a thought that has crossed my mind. The world is filled with amazing music, some songs you wish you wrote yourself, so why not see if you can make them even better? The songs could be from mainstream Pop charts to more unknown Neo Blues and Soul tunes. When it comes to which songs we’d cover, I’d rather leave you guessing. Whatever we’d choose, we’d make them sound like us and give it a fresh spin. I’m not particularly fond of making covers that are just a rougher approach, I feel those kind of covers are lacking imagination.

AM: During the quarantine, your fans had a chance to see you live via live online streaming. What kind of experience was it in comparison with regular gigs?

HK: It’s like comparing an orange to a grapefruit. They’re both round and succulent yet taste very different. At the end of the day I enjoy both. Playing our tunes is what we want to do and the live stream vibe is closer to the rehearsal room. The energy you share with the audience during a live show can’t be duplicated. That’s the magic of live shows, the band and the audience are One. I enjoyed the Semilive livestream as an experience and am really looking forward to regular gigs, there’s just nothing like the high of performing in front of a screaming crowd who’s there to listen and see you perform. It’s a very spiritual experience. One could state that the spiritual leaders of different religions are the biggest rock stars of all, yes? (laughs) Jokes aside, music is the universal language, something we are born with and something most of us cannot live without. 

AM: That’s absolutely true. However, you were also lucky to have finished your first European headliner tour right before the pandemic hit…

H: We certainly got lucky with that one. We got to take our friends from Temple Balls and Block Buster with us and every night was a dream come true. You can definitely sense the difference in the audience when you are the main act in comparison to being the opening act. Doing shows and tours as the opening act teaches you and hones your skills and I definitely feel like you have to earn the right to be the main act, something I feel we’ve done. Still I am looking forward to warming up the stage for other bigger acts and thus growing our fanbase. There are several bands I’d like to play with and hopefully will get to play with. 

AM: Fingers crossed. Having mentioned Block Buster and Temple Balls, why do you think every other Rock/Metal act comes from Scandinavia?

HK: You can find Rock/Metal acts in almost every country, it’s just a matter of looking for them. When it comes to WHY there are more Metal bands coming from Scandinavia it must have something to do with the gloomy darkness that we have to live with most of the year. It’s bound to make you feel certain things and what better way to express your emotions than through musical adventures? We must remember however that quality always wins over quantity, just because there are more bands like such coming from a certain scene doesn’t automatically mean that the quality is top notch.

AM: What is a typical demographic at a Shiraz Lane gig?

HK: Our audience comes in all ages, all sizes, all colours and all religions. As of right now the majority of our audience is roughly around the same ages as us, with some older generations also appreciating our art. I want to extend our audience even more, and it will happen through writing songs that capture the essence of the soul – that make you feel like you are not alone, songs that are relatable to whoever are and whichever situation you might be in. You know that feeling when you are in some state of mind and listen to a song and feel it vibrate through every cell in your body?

AM: Gosh, I live for this particular feeling.

HK: That’s exactly what I’m talking about. Listeners hear if you really mean what you are singing about or if you are faking it. I give 116% of myself when I sing and perform and I am brutally honest about the way I see and feel things to be. That’s why many people can relate to my words and melodies. That’s why they relate to our music. I’m very grateful for it. 

AM: Are your concert setlists equally representative to all your works?

HK: We tend to play something from all the different eras of Shiraz Lane. Mostly focusing on Carnival Days and naturally now the newer tunes. I think at some point we should play some special shows with more songs from the first album as well. Maybe have two separate sets? It’ll happen one day for sure.

AM: As for your further concerts plans, were you able to postpone all the gigs planned from the mid March onward or were there any unfortunate cancellations along the way?

HK: We postponed a whole lot of shows and unfortunately had to cancel some. I’m extremely happy that some of our bigger festivals abroad got postponed instead of fully cancelled. All we can do is stay positive and productive. I REALLY do miss live shows, and I think it’s the same for everyone feeling passionate about music, musicians and fans alike. This will make it so much more exciting when things take a change for the better.

AM: Absolutely. Is the band up to anything else right now?

HK: Writing and honing our craft. Making plans and visualising all the great things in the future to come.

AM: Is there any kind of message you’d like to wrap up our conversation with?

HK: Hope. Faith. Love. Respect. These are the key elements for us as a human race. We have to be aware of the steps we take forward from now on. The future is unknown, yet we can look back in history and see the mistakes we’ve made and learn from them. To realize that not everything we are told is the absolute truth, to read between the lines and understand that WE have the power, if we stand as ONE race, ONE tribe, ONE family, there is nothing that can stop us. During uncertain times, we must see this as a possibility for personal growth and to break old toxic behavioural patterns. Be open-minded, understand that we are all connected, yet we are all UNIQUE. There is no need to try to fit in. What someone has decided is “normal” is not what we should aim for. The beauty is found within ourselves, so don’t be afraid to be different, don’t be afraid to stand out. Do we want to feed the machine and be fearful about the future? Do we choose to be slaves to our beliefs that we’ve been taught? Do we want to be led or lead? It’s all up to us. We must strive to be present, strive to love unconditionally and heal the earth while we can. To whoever reading this right now, you are WORTHY of love, you are SPECIAL, you have the POWER. When in doubt, look within and shower yourself with positive thoughts. Everything is meant to be. Sending you love and light!

Shiraz Lane on Facebook

Shiraz Lane on Instagram

Check out Shiraz Lane’s “Do Ya” music video off their 2020 EP Vibration I below:


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.

H.E.A.T Official Website

H.E.A.T on Facebook

H.E.A.T on Instagram

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