Snowy Shaw Interview Continuation from Sick Drummer Magazine issue # 7
By: Noel Smart & Craig Sternberg
Anyway, I hooked up with Pete, and he asked me to learn three songs for the following day if I was interested, and then we would meet up in my rehearsal room the next day. In the evening the next day, we met up and ran through "Welcome Home", "Accusation Chair", "Family Ghost", and afterwards he went out and made a phone call to LA, and told King or Andy that they should stop looking. The day after I turned 21, Pete and I flew down to Copenhagen where we met up with Hal at the airport, and after some ten hour delay and us getting completely shitfaced, thrown off the flight, and arrested, and for me witnessing some totally crazy rockstar behavior that I had never experienced before, we finally managed to get on a flight to LA the next day, and after a few days of just hanging out partying and so on, we all got together at Mates Rehearsal Studios, and had the real audition. After the first or second song, King turned around and just gave me the thumbs up… and I was in the band.
We then went out to the Sunset Strip and Rainbow to celebrate, and all of a sudden, life couldn't possibly be more perfect. Walking up the strip, I got several offers to be the singer in some guy's band, but I just replied thanks but no thanks, I'm the drummer for King Diamond… hah! Boy, did that feel great or what!
SDM: When you joined Mercyful Fate back in 1993, were you a fan of that band? How come you only played until 1994 with them?
Snowy: I immediately became a fan of Mercyful Fate in 1983 or so, when I first heard the song Black Funeral on a Metal Blade compilation with new up-and-coming metal acts. I loved their style and the way King sang, and from that moment on, my friends and I always tried to imitate his high pitched falsettos when drinking. Hail Satan! That was just fucking awesome.
Around this time, Sharlee D'Angelo and I must have been like fourteen or fifteen, and used to play Black Funeral in our rehearsal room in Gothenburg, knowing little that the two of us would ten years later tour the world playing the exact same song on stage with the original band. That was kinda cool once it hit me one day during the US tour in 1993.
I bought Melissa shortly after that, and I was blown away by how complex and progressive the music was with all these tempo changes and stuff, I must admit I even got spooked by Satan's Fall, it was just too damn scary and bizarre. At first, I just assumed they were Americans, British, or maybe German, like all the other bands at the time, but when I found out they were from our neighbor country Denmark, I thought that was really cool, I would never have imagined that I would play with the King about five years later.
SDM: What was it like recording the Mercyful Fate album "Time"?
Snowy: Hmm, I guess it was okay, but gradually, more and more I had started feeling unhappy with my whole situation, and all I wanted to do was to write my own music, so I remember spending most of my free time playing guitar in the studio's relaxing room, and it was frustrating that I wasn't allowed to contribute any music to MF.
I wasn't too crazy about some of the material, either, but I tried to ignore those negative impulses and convince myself I was just grumpy and had a bad day or something, after all, I was a fan of old Mercyful Fate, and I knew people would kill to be in my position, so I didn't wanna make any rash decisions. It wasn't until later, in the fall of 1994, when plans for a big European tour started flying around and I instinctively just felt, "No, I simply can't do this anymore". Despite all this, I still I think my drumming on that album is pretty good and suits the music well.
SDM: How long did you have to write the drum tracks for "Time"? Were there any drummers at the time that influenced your playing on that record?
Snowy: No, I can't say that my drumming influences have changed much at all since my late teens and was still learning and fine-tuning my skills and technique maybe, after that I just kept developing my own thing based on my knowledge and ability. But I can tell you a few of the drummers that really influenced me as a drummer one way or another when I was growing up: Mick Tucker, Vinny Appice, Brian Downey, Mikkey Dee, Ian Paice, Anton Fig, Stefan Kaufmann, along with some less well-known drummers but nonetheless cool drummers who influenced and had an impact on me. I was like a sponge as a teenager, and listened and picked up everything and was influenced both here and there. For instance, Rob Reiner from Anvil, Carl Canedy – The Rods, Leonard Haze – Y&T, and the incredible Stewart Copeland, Simon Phillips with Judas Priest, and Neil Peart.
Strangely enough, my favorite bands as I grew up had some of the lousiest drummers in the world, but in my opinion the best songs and singers: Manowar, Scorpions, KISS, which I guess just proves that I have always been more passionate about music than by drums and drummers per se.
As for how much time I had to write and prepare my drumming for "Time": This was fifteen years ago and my memory might fail me, but I probably spent about a week learning and trying out various arrangements and versions in advance before I went to the studio and quickly ran through each song down on tape so that King could hear my take and ideas on it, then we started from scratch, discussing every bit back and forth, trying out different things, and I would come up with tons of variations to meet King's wishes. Meeting half way, compromising, and we started from the top and just worked our way through the songs, once we had agreed on the arrangement, I would record as far as I could into a song until I made a mistake or forgot, then we just punched in from there and worked our way through the song.
The funny thing about that album is that Hank recorded all the rhythm guitars to a click in advance, so I had to try to match his timing, and I can actually hear in the middle of a song that we took a two hour dinner break and continued the recording after that; I've got a different kind of approach then. In my opinion, one should always try to keep the same kind of vibe throughout the whole song and therefore try to do it in one good take or as few takes as possible.
But then again, these days and with most metal bands, everything seems to be edited and corrected and sound replaced and triggered so much afterwards that it doesn't matter at all, one might just program the drums from scratch and save yourself the trouble. I hope that trend dies soon. If you, for example, can't tell the difference in a standard 4/4 groove between John Bonham and Lars Ulrich, then I really don't see the point. Death to sterile quantized music!
There are of course tons of incredibly mindblowing drummers out there, and once in a while my ear catches something that I find interesting, or if a drummer has a unique or tasteful approach, but in general I'm mainly interested in making good music and playing whatever fits the song in question; I try to bring out the best in that composition. My philosophy is probably that there are no rules, and what you do not play is just as important as what you actually do play.
Normally, I just improvise or quickly come up with the arrangements right on the spot in the studio and record section by section, bit by bit, and often these days I've never even heard the entire song before we start tracking, but it's of course an advantage that you actually know the whole song from start to finish, the mood, feel, and what the next section is going to be, which I did with "Time", for example. I know this must sound utterly idiotic, but that's the way it often works under a tight schedule in the studio, and one gotta learn to be very flexible and work fast. So the only way I can prepare myself if I get the chance is to try to play a little the day before so that I get a little warmed up, because often I don't have time to play any drums at all for months.
One thing that I find a little odd with King, is that you never get to hear the vocals on pre-production or demos, so you have no clue where it all is gonna end up. The vocal lines and melodies have always been important to me, and that's what I'm listening to mostly once there's vocals over a part, I'm not sitting there thinking, "Okay, this riff eight times then that riff twice" and so on.
SDM: Did you always play with a traditional setup as could be seen in the videos you shot with Mercyful Fate, "Nightmare be thy Name" and "Witches Dance"? How has your setup changed from band to band over the years?
Snowy: Nope, it changes a bit depending on what kind of music I'm playing at the moment, and also what I feel fits the visual aspect and image of that particular band, and the kind of message we're trying to bring across.
The particular occasion for those videos was actually the only time in my life that I've used such a standard setup of two rack toms in between two kicks. I just did the best with the equipment I was provided, and it looked good. In fact, for those videos that were shot in LA and somewhere in the Nevada desert, I remember I requested a cool spectacular Ludwig kit with three kick drums with a big number six on each front head, which our manager questioned and said would be unfair to the fans since I didn't have three legs and wouldn't use that live [laughing]. How stupid is that? Who gives a shit, you've already recorded the music in the studio and a promotional clip is exactly just that, something that will promote and hopefully attract people to go buy the album.
By sheer coincidence, I'm sitting here listening to some old Cheap Trick, and it just crossed my mind that that particular Ludwig kit I used in those videos used to belong to their drummer, Ben E Carlos. Through the years, I've used all kinds of weird setups, and since I started using the Iron Cobra double pedal, there was no need for a second bass drum, although I have four kicks on the Tama Starclassic kit I have now… using only one, while the rest is just decoration whenever that is required. [laughing]
Been using three kicks with XXX though, with a capitol X written on each front head.
But like I said, when it comes to playing and you ignore the whole look of it, I prefer a very basic meat-and-potatoes setup like Buddy Rich had, two or three toms and three to five cymbals at the most. Back in the day, even before I was in King Diamond, I started using only one rack tom because then I could lower it down between the kicks more that way, because I got sick of having these three power toms flat all the way up there, which I thought made it hard to play, but on the other hand, just a single rack tom left a big ass gap between the first and the second tom, of course, but I didn't really play those kinds of Lombardo tom fills anyway, or it just wasn't possible with that setup, basically. So basically it's a classic Ian Paice/Buddy Rich kit with one extra kick, and some decorative toms on my left side, where I kept my drinks and a towel. I had quite a lot of cymbals, and I aimed to have everything set up symmetrically. As opposed to all that, I later scaled everything down to a minimum. For a period, I toured and played with a three piece kit, one kick, a snare, and a floor tom; hi-hat, ride, and two crashes.
Compared to when I was younger, I also prefer smaller sizes these days, I just think it sounds better and they're easier to tune and handle than 20" floor toms and shit, now my kick is 20", but I made a 36" bass drum myself for Dream Evil and Notre Dame, but again, it just looks great, and I must sound like a parrot going on about the importance of image, but after all, I became interested in drums through Peter Criss, and he had, as we all know, the biggest, coolest drumkit in the world back then, and that's what attracts kids, and then later Alex Van Halen was the ideal, he must have had the coolest kind of set up on the planet.
You might have seen the video with Memento Mori where I use one kick drum flipped forty-five degrees with one pedal on each side of the drum, then encircled by six or eight floor toms, that looked just fucking awesome, but of course it wouldn't be possible to actually play except for in a video shoot. [laughing]
I remember some German guys were complaining about my tiny four-piece pink sparkle Ludwig vintage kit, and making loud remarks about it being too gay and not metal enough, when Dream Evil toured with Blind Guardian in 2002. From where I was standing, it was some kind of a statement in an attempt to distance myself from being associated with a genre I found pretty ridiculous in many ways, and where the customary norm for a power metal kit was so predictable and overblown that I instinctively felt a counter reaction towards what was in place, so I took their remarks as a complement rather than an insult.
Dream Evil was more or less just a mid-'80s novelty metal act, the way I saw it, rather than a full-blown power metal band.
SDM: Why were you credited on "In the Shadows" as the drummer when the drums were recorded by Morten Nielsen? The last track, "Return of the Vampire", was recorded by Lars Ulrich of Metallica fame. Why was that? Do you wish you had recorded the drums for that album? Or did Morten and Lars do a good job?
Snowy: Well, as far as I remember, it says clearly in the liner notes or credits who played the drums on the recordings on the album. I think I would definitely have objected or protested otherwise, because there's no way in hell I would wanna take the blame for that kind of boring lame-ass drumming. Lars Ulrich's contribution was great, though. Lars has always been a huge fan of MF, and goes way back with them long before he moved to the US and eventually formed his own metal band… who did pretty well. [laughing]
I think Lars volunteered to play on that old MF track when he heard they were getting back together and were recording an album. I think it's great, and why wouldn't they? Lars's fame with Metallica probably gave the MF album a boost, and above all, he did a really great job with it. A little while later, Metallica invited Mercyful Fate to support them, just so that they wouldn't miss the first Mercyful Fate reunion show.
King had called me probably two years earlier and asked if I would be interested in joining a possible Mercyful Fate reunion as the only non-original member, because for some reason they could never get along with Kim Ruzz and refused to get him involved, and I was already considered being one member of the "family", sort of. As a fan I naturally said, sure thing. Then nothing happened, and I didn't think or pay any attention to it, since I was busy with my own bands Shaman, and later on, Memento Mori, and the King Diamond band was inactive and in between record deals at that point. Then suddenly, I heard that MF actually had gotten back together and were recording an album in Dallas with a Danish drummer, and was told that it was more convenient than with a Swedish guy.
By the time King was getting ready to put his vocals down on the recordings, I was already brought back into the picture and hired as the drummer, because they soon discovered things weren't working out at all with Morten, but by then it was already too late, and they were in the recording studio in Dallas on a schedule and the clock ticking with expensive studio time. So they just had to patch things up, make the best out of the situation, and move on with the recording before the deadline. Otherwise there would be consequences and all the plans might have been ruined.
Because of all the circumstances, economical reasons, and tight schedule, I don't think that would have been a possible option, and to be honest, it actually never occurred to me to re-record the drums. I wish I had, though; the songs are great on the album, but the drums are boring as hell on "In the Shadows" and I would easily have done a way, way better job, no doubt about that, unless King wanted it to be exactly like that. I remember when we were shooting the video for "Egypt", I even refused to play that silly elementary school fill and be highlighted in a show-off style like "look at me", so I played it with one hand, so they edited it out.
About a week or two before that video shoot in LA, I just got on a train and got off in Copenhagen, Denmark, took a cab to the photo studio where I met the other guys, and we had the quickest shoot in history, about two or three snapshots each, then went out to dinner. All while King was still in Dallas laying down his tracks, and I hadn't heard a single note from the material at this point.
I never had anything to do with the cover or what's written on it, but I certainly never intended to pretend that I played that crappy drumming. At some point I got a demo cassette of the album, or at least so I thought. It was actually the final thing. When King asked what I thought of the album, it got kinda awkward, and finally I managed to squeeze out a rather lame "Good". I certainly didn't have the heart to reveal that I thought it was just a demo, but I'm a terrible liar and King's a smart guy, so I think he got the message anyway. So in retrospect, yes, I wish I'd have had the chance to re-record the drums for "In the Shadows".
SDM: With Mercyful Fate and King Diamond, did you always use a double kick pedal?
Snowy: No, back then I used two kicks. I didn't get a double pedal until we started doing shows with Dream Evil in 2002 and I had to be my own tech and carry all the gear [laughing].
SDM: Why did you mount your cymbal stand pointing down with the cymbal hanging at the very bottom of the cymbal holder?
Snowy: I dunno, I've done that since the mid-'80s and never thought too much about it. I guess I just thought it looked cool, and it sorta kept the boom stands away from your face from the audience's point of view. You see, you guys noticed it, and that's something; mission accomplished. A lot of times, it's just sheer coincidences that tend to make a lasting impression.
I'm thinking about one thing in particular that many people have made comments on and asked questions about through the years. "Hey man! How the fuck did you get that incredible snare sound, how did you tune it, what kind of snare is that, your very own special design…" et cetera. The thing is, I hit so hard and it made the strainers come off, and after the second or third time, I just didn't bother putting it back on again, because I figured, who the fuck says you have to have strainers on, you can clearly hear the distinction between the kick and the snare anyway, and the toms, too. So I toured the world like that and recorded a few albums.
Besides, back in those days I always strived to get that highly tuned pingy sound of Peter Criss around 1977 and something similar to that signature snare sound of Alex Van Halen anyway. I thought the secret was to use a marching snare, and I purchased a few, but that wasn't actually it… it was just that the bottom head with the strainers wasn't mic'd too well or whatever. Anyway, that timbale sound a strainless snare created came close to what I wanted and I still play it like that off and on these days.
By the way, that snare was just my old free-floating Pearl brass snare, and the whole strainer mechanism was fucked up and half missing, so I don't even have any choice these days. [laughs]
SDM: How important is keeping time on the hi-hat pedal for your drumming on "Time"?
Snowy: You mean on the title track in particular or on that album overall?
Can't say I really think about it when I play, and I very rarely listen to albums that I've recorded, so I dunno exactly what you're referring to, but if it's there, it must be for a reason. So it's quite possible that that came from King and an idea he had for his song if it's that obvious and loud in the mix.
It may serve a purpose, not necessary for keeping time for oneself, but in a live situation for the other musicians just to make sure we're all on the same timing, and sometimes it just adds to the groove, natural live feel and some kind of '70s feel, if that's what you're after. Even back in 1994 one was using click tracks in the studio, so for that reason it's totally unnecessary, unless you want the listener to tap into the beat in the spaces in between, or to get the hang of a polyrhythmic riff by indicating the actual beat, for example.
I remember thinking that some of the material for the Time album was kinda progressive and especially Hank's songs even reminded me of, for lack of a better word, fusion/jazz rock in an old fashioned style, and that allowed me to play accordingly, a little bit like Ian Paice and Neal Peart in some places, maybe…
SDM: Did you always play the bell of the ride cymbal or is this just something you did with the King's bands?
Snowy: Again, I must say it all depends on what kind of sound you need to create for the music. In general I guess it's more "metal" to hit the bell hard for a distinct ping, but when I play other kinds of music, I adjust of course. Again, I can't say I reflect too much upon that, but more people than you have pointed that out, so I guess it must mean I play the ride in a special way or with a special approach that creates a special sound or something, I dunno.
That was a bit of a problem when we mixed the XXX album. That pingy, heavy bell sound didn't really gel well with that kind of crunchy rock guitar sound for this light-weight glam rock music. I was under a tremendous amount of stress during that recording, so I never reflected upon it, but I'll make sure next time to be more careful and have better judgement, but we managed to EQ it away in the studio. No problemas.
SDM: Ludwig vs Tama?
Snowy: I've been a proud Tama endorsee since 2005, and I'm very pleased with them. I would be even more pleased if they could give me the Vistalite-style Mirage kit that I requested, but unfortunately that's not available in Europe, yet. I wish they would ship one kit to me from the US, though.
There are several aspects that one has to take into consideration with respect to endorsement. If you're a drummer touring the globe, support worldwide is essential. If that's not working — it just ain't working.
But vintage drums are probably one of the few things that gets me going about drums as for equipment, gear, history, soul and looks, and by saying that, Ludwig is like Harley Davidson. I played a cheaper model chrome Pearl Export kit when I toured with King Diamond in 1989 and 1990, and then managed to get a Ludwig endorsement in 1991. Although I always liked Pearl a lot, at that point Ludwig seemed to me like the real deal since that's what my drum heroes played. When Ludwig asked me if I wanted six or four ply shells, I had no fucking clue what they were talking about… "what? I want a super classic Ludwig kit with a silver sparkle finish like Ian Paice". [laughing]
SDM: Did working with King Diamond in both bands give you better insight on the music business in metal and in drumming for such a highly regarded unit?
Snowy: Yeah, absolutely. Before I joined King Diamond, I had no previous experience with the business or touring whatsoever. I was totally green, young, and perhaps must have seemed annoyingly naive. But make no mistake, I knew my music, and that's why I got the job in the first place. It was a really good learning experience, and everything seemed to happen for me overnight, pretty much, but I guess it was my time, I had paid my dues, and surely was qualified for it. I just had to take the passenger's seat, keep a low profile, absorb, and learn. I'm very grateful for that opportunity.
I can't say I got very involved in the business side of it back then, that ordeal and torture is something I had to put myself through and pick up later. Why am I talking in the past sense here? I just founded my own record company for God's sake. Not because I wanted to, but because I had to, and I have to learn as I go along, the world and music biz is changing in such a rapid pace that no one these days have a clue what it's gonna be like in a year from now.
I'm not a business man and I definitely didn't have any posters of Bill Gates and shit on my bedroom wall when I grew up,.. I'm an artist and couldn't be happier if someone else could take care of all the crap so that I could concentrate on making music and putting on cool shows and putting out great records.
SDM: At 1:20 in "Witches Dance" when you do the snare roll, how did you manage to pull off the bass drum pattern? Is that done with just single bass or a double pedal?
Snowy: [Laughing]. I think I actually know what you're referring to here. That's just something I ripped off of Ian Paice's drum solo on Made in Japan, and it's done on a single kick with one foot.
SDM: Why were most of the drum parts on "The Eye" recorded with a drum machine?
Snowy: Were they? I think you have to wait for the book on this one. [laughs]
SDM: How hard was it playing on the "Sleepless Nights" video with the odd time signature that Mikkey Dee originally recorded for the album "Conspiracy"? Was Mikkey's style natural for you, or did it take a long time for you to get used to it?
Snowy: There was never any problem at all, with any of the KD material as far as I can remember, so I guess you could say it came very naturally. But I don't wanna sound too cocky, either, I had a great advantage, though. I got to know Mikkey when I first started out playing at thirteen, and Mikkey was practising in my school, so I would skip classes and just watch him play, and needless to say I was blown away; Mikkey is four or five years older than me and had already been playing for many years by that time, was just fucking amazing, and I was just starting, so I guess I owe him a lot.
One thing I told him, last year when we were hanging out partying, that has never really occurred to me until just recently is that he proved to me that as the drummer you don't need to be that guy keeping the beat in the background, but that the drummer can be a star in his own right. I gotta admit, never even thought about it being odd time signature on that song… counting is for sissies. [laughs]
SDM: Why did Notre Dame split up?
Snowy: To be honest with you, in retrospect I just wished I had just taken a well-deserved break instead of nailing the coffin shut and declaring Notre Dame dead. But at the time I was so burnt out and unhappy that I probably couldn't think straight or very logically, after having spent years constantly fighting with our label, Osmose, with whom my relationship had been very unsatisfying, strained, and irritated for years. Eventually it all took a heavy toll on the band that imploded and started to deteriorate, and then later ruined it for me, too.
Notre Dame sold pretty damn well considering the poor circumstances of totally lousy distribution outside of their main territory, France. So I figured getting us a new and better record deal with a bigger and more powerful label once we'd left Osmose wouldn't be too difficult. Lots of shit went on and the whole American office took a major nosedive and went bankrupt right after I'd signed a worldwide deal with them, and no matter what, they simply wouldn't tear up and terminate the dysfunctional contract and let us go.
The whole drawn out process made me so frustrated, angry, and burnt out to such an extent that I didn't even want to pursue my plan, I just wanted out, no matter the cost, so finally I saw no other solution and said, "Fine, I'll fulfill my obligation and deliver a brand new album on your desk within two months", and then sat down to write and record my last Notre Dame album for them, but that must somehow have felt like a heavy weight was lifted off my shoulders, because I suddenly felt surprisingly inspired and relieved, probably, so out came great songs and music that sounded more like some kind of glam-metal Rammstein, and that I really loved and thought was fantastic, but it wasn't really Notre Dame music, so I put it aside for later, also because I didn't wanna waste this good material on them and once more have my music overlooked and neglected due to their incompetence and poor distribution.
Instead, I went with some of the heavier more death'n'roll-sounding songs written on the spur of the moment, totally reflecting my mood, songs titled "Bon Voyage Mutherfukkers", "My Ride Into Afterlife", "Munsters", and so on, and thus made the album "Demi Monde Bizarros". Once "Demi Monde Bizarros" got released, it received great reviews and a few album-of-the-month acclaims in several metal magazines, despite all the turmoil and crap, and Notre Dame went on to play some festival shows, but unfortunately by that time, the damage was already done, the rot had set in, and mentally I was somewhere else.
Come to think of it, Notre Dame was a band of vampires, and as we all know, vampires are undead. So I guess at any given time I could just let it crawl back out from the crypt and into the night…
Note: The whole back catalogue of Notre Dame is now available for digital download via Amazon, iTunes, and practically all those sites. Otherwise, the physical CD/vinyl albums, as well as loads of merchandise, can still easily be ordered through email@example.com.
SDM: How come you are no longer with Dream Evil? Did you leave on good terms?
Snowy: Well, of course there were no fist fights or anything like that, but we weren't exactly french kissing either. In that case I wouldn't have decided it was time for me to get the fuck out in the first place, it was merely on a professional rather than on a personal note, so there are no hard feelings between us at all, at least not until this interview gets published [laughing]. Just kiddin', they know me and are quite used to me shooting straight and speaking the truth, or if I should try to be humble here for a second, MY version of the truth, the way I see it, which is in fact THE truth.
We're still great friends, and I was doing a guest appearance singing with them last weekend on the Sweden Rock Cruise, where I happened to be the guest star DJ.
I took this as far as I possibly could handle, with all the mishaps and turmoil that went on, until I simply couldn't stand dealing with their hobby attitude any longer. Dream Evil had remarkable potential to make it big, especially once we had found the formula with "The Book of Heavy Metal", which was in truth my album, but eventually it annoyed me to death to see all these golden opportunities slip through our fingers due to their indifference, so I finally had enough and couldn't take it anymore. A major conflict of interest one could say. The other guys unfortunately had very different priorities in life than I did. I felt like the fifth wheel, and I eventually realized I simply couldn't change them and things were never ever gonna change, so I thought it was best that I left and let them do things their own way and in their own pace.
When I left, I took all the new songs I had written with me and the album Dream Evil released after that only sold a small fraction of the previous one, regardless of the fact that usually the following release after a big selling hit record automatically has great sales, but not in this case.
So then, about a year ago, Fredrik and company asked me to write songs for their new album that they are recording right now. I gave them a couple of the songs I had written for the Dream Evil album we were supposed to record just before I left in 2005. I think they have recorded two or three of them for their upcoming new album.
SDM: How come the band Cans is on hold? Do you still play with them?
Snowy: We never ever played, actually. Joacim wanted me to write songs and sing second lead, as well as playing the drums on his second solo record. This started in 2005 or something, and I wrote a couple of songs for it in the kind of style he had requested, but then things kept being pushed forward, and we got too busy with other stuff like Hammerfall and Therion, I guess. Last I heard was that we would record the album in spring 2008, but that's a little late now. So it remains to see what happens in the future; we'll see…
SDM: Why did Illwill split after "Evilution", which you penned most of the lyrics and music for?
Snowy: Well, we've just taken a short break for about thirteen years now. As usual, I worked hard as hell as the main driving force with this band for years, but when things didn't go even remotely according to the plan or happen fast enough, I guess I got frustrated and eventually put things on hold and attended to other things, like Notre Dame, for example. So in theory, we never split up, and perhaps I should dust off the old cassette tapes with all the songs I wrote for the second album and pick up right where we left off. Unfortunately, many of the great original groundbreaking ideas I had back then in '94-'95 have later been realized by others like Marilyn Manson and Rammstein. So it's a little too late for them now, I suppose.
By the way, I've got this great new invention that's gonna change the world forever, wanna invest in it? I tell you, it's flat and round with a hole in the center; I call it the wheel… interested? No, I didn't think so.
I try not think about it, and I look forward instead, in order to avoid becoming a bitter, miserable old fart, but every once in awhile, when I get reminded of any or all of them like now when it's brought up in an interview, it stirs up emotions, anger, and frustration, because of all the precious time, energy, great music, and fantastic ideas that have gone to waste.
I've asked Andy to dig up the old DAT tapes with previously unreleased material, though my intention is to put all of that together with the Evilution album on iTunes, Spotify, and other digital downloading through my own label Snowy Shaw Productions in the near future.
SDM: What was it like working with Mike Wead of King Diamond and Messiah Marcolin of Candlemass on the Memento Mori material for two albums? Why only two albums?
Snowy: A clash of egos, I suppose. [laughs] No, it was just fine. I like Messiah a lot, he's a very nice person, and a really fantastic frontman, and I've always been a huge fan of Candlemass, but it's a well known fact these days that he's extremely hard to work with, and I had my fair share of that side. He and I had our quarrels and disagreements, as a result I removed and put aside for later some of my best songs for the second album rather than having them destroyed by his stubborn unwillingness to co-operate, or a better explanation might be that our work methods weren't compatible.
We kept it together through the duration of the recording, but he quit after the second album, "Life, Death and Other Morbid Tales". But that is all ancient history now, and Messiah and I are on very good terms, we even played in a band called Colossus about a year or two after the split from Memento Mori. And I brought him along for the twentieth anniversary tour with Therion for guest vocals. He and I sang Mercyful Fate's classic "Black Funeral" together, which was really cool.
I stayed in Memento Mori for the better part of a year, auditioning new singers and working on new material in the vein of the ones I had put aside, that were somehow similar in style to the characteristic song Heathendom that I made for "Life, Death and Other Morbid Tales". It soon became obvious that Mike Wead and I had very different ideas on where we would go musically in the future. So without any drama or hard feelings, I decided it was better for me to leave so that Mike could carry on with his more neo-classical direction.
Shit! Talking about all these old bands, now I clearly see a pattern… I better go seek some professional help.
SDM: When you sing for Therion, are you ever tempted to play drums and not sing? How did your vocals get recognized by Therion?
Snowy: No, not at all. I couldn't be happier than to tour worldwide as the frontman and singer in an established band like Therion that's been around for twenty-two years now.
The drummer, Petter Karlsson, was always a fan of my music through the years, even from very old demos with my band Shamen and Wakan Tanka that he got to hear from a mutual friend, so when Therion needed a new singer who was versatile and could do a lot of different voices and styles, I was the first one he thought of, and showed the leader Christofer a bunch of the stuff I've done in my career.
I'm glad he did. Petter's a great guy, and a very talented musician, and I wish him all the best with the solo stuff he's doing now after he quit Therion.
On the side of being hired as one of the singers in the band, I also designed and manufactured all the stage props and decor for the tours, which has been a huge improvement visually for that band.
Therion are now getting ready to enter the studio pretty soon to record the new album. I've written some songs for it, and I might even play drums on a track or two.
SDM: What was the band Bad Karma about?
Snowy: Well, I must admit I'm impressed and a bit surprised here. Where do you dig up all that old crap from? [laughs] But since you're asking, I've been involved in hundreds of bands and projects over the years, and this was just one of many that didn't really go anywhere. We recorded tons of material around '96-'97 live in the studio in some sort of psychedelic '60s-'70s-style pop rock.
If you want a more up-to-date view on my whereabouts, I suggest you check my MySpace site, <http://myspace.com/snowyshaw>, rather than <http://www.snowyshaw.com> which hasn't been updated in several years… but I intend to change that fact as soon as possible.
SDM: Can you tell us about "Them Sluts: In America" and your involvement with that album?
Snowy: There's really not much of substance to tell, since we broke up and the album was never released, but if you insist, I can give you quick run through… or not. I decided to save you some precious time in your life, anyway it's just yet another boring episode in my life, the same old story — the story of my life.
SDM: What can you tell us about your other band, XXX?
Snowy: That's another long story that took many a strange turns, but the debut album, "Heaven, Hell, or Hollywood?" was just released in North America through Perris Records. We're really happy with the album, and so far it seems to be getting a really great response everywhere, which makes us even happier, of course. It was a real pleasure to finally have an outlet for that kind of glam/glitter rock that I've always loved and grew up with, a lot of Sweet, T-Rex, Ziggy-era Bowie, Guns'N'Roses, Cheap Trick, Kiss, Van Halen, Alice Cooper, et cetera.
XXX is a really cool concept if I may say so myself, and consists of three guys who all play instruments and sing. I penned most of the material, both music and lyrics. Incredible artwork painted by Al Rio from Marvel Comics who's done The incredible Hulk and Batman previously.
Check it out:: http://www.myspace.com/xxxsweden
SDM: In your band Notre Dame, why didn't you play drums? Instead you got Mannekin De Sade. Why him? Was their anything special about his drumming style?
Snowy: May I ask why? Don't you like what you hear on the albums? Naw, Mannequin's drumming was so-so to be honest. In fact, he sucked horses ass if I should be completely honest. And while I'm at it, being completely frank and honest that is, Mannequin De Sade was just a character I made up, it's actually me who played all the drums on all the Notre Dame albums.
Then live I used other people. The way I figured, it would be way harder to find a freak singer who could pull off the kind of vocals and performance that I wanted for my concept and music. And besides all that, of course I should front my own band.
SDM: Describe to us Istanbul Mehmet Cymbals's new Snowy Shaw signature model ride cymbal, "Ride the Lightning".
Snowy: Firstly, it's truly an honor to have your own signature cymbal. Last year I made a request for a 20"-21" heavy bell ride with a warm bright deep tone to it, and they decided to custom-make it my signature ride cymbal, which is really cool, I think.
Things have happened really fast lately, and Ride the Lightning was just introduced last week at Frankfurt Musicmesse, which is the German equivalent to the NAMM convention, for those who didn't know, and apparently it got so popular that they ran out of stock immediately, and haven't been able to keep up in the production, so I don't even have the ride cymbal myself yet.
Out of the blue, I was approached in the fall of 2007 by Istanbul Cymbals who offered me a full endorsement deal. I had been a proud endorsee of Paiste cymbals since 1990, and they had always been very supportive and loyal, so naturally I kindly rejected their offer. But then it got me thinking, in recent years, things didn't work at all with the new Paiste agency in Sweden. So when Istanbul returned with an even better offer, I just couldn't resist, and decided to give it a shot and make a swap, because I really like their cymbals.
SDM: Is it true that you are now doing album artwork for bands?
Snowy: Yeah, I do graphic design, styling, photography, artwork, consulting, and tons of other stuff for bands and artists within the beautiful/horrible world of rock.
Currently I'm working on two full productions, from the basic idea to finished product including styling, art direction, and photography. The second album for a Swedish band called Aggressive Chill, and the debut album for a doom rock opera act called Opera Diabolicus, the latter in which I was also hired to do vocals and play the drums for the album.
SDM: You recently founded the Snowy Shaw productions company. What made you go into the record company business?
Snowy: For a few years now, Snowy Shaw Productions has been the name of the company under which I'm doing everything else, like artwork and design, photography, song writing for other artists, session musician, making stage props, et cetera. So forming my own little record company was just a logical step in branching out a little further. This is most definitely nothing I ever thought I'd be doing or dreamt of, but in this day and age especially, a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do in order to make things happen.
SDM: Tell us about your jazz background and how you incorporated it into heavier styles of drumming?
Snowy: I've never listened to jazz, so I wouldn't say I have a jazz background. But from a drummer's perspective, I love that traditional good craftsmanship of the late '60s and early '70s that I picked up from Mick Tucker, John Bonham, Brian Downey, and above them all, Ian Paice, and that style comes straight from the god-like Buddy Rich and that whole jazz drummers league, I guess.
In the mid '90s, I wrote a lot music with a very particular hybrid concept in mind that combined my kind of swing death metal with some sort of cool jazz that I could never quite get my head around whether it's a particular genre or category of jazz, despite my many attempts to track it down in record stores. If I should try, it could best be described as some kind of bad black Chicago 1930s big band swing jazz/blues… like Disney's Aristocats and Hit the Road, Jack kind of harmonies, and Alice Cooper's take on the musical theme "Gutter Cat Vs. The Jets". Anyway, as usual I have so many ideas, but so little time to actually execute them all.
Some friends have recently told me they've just heard a brand new band/project who have come up with the exact same idea and sound as I did. Think they're actually Swedish and are called Diablo Swing Orchestra in fact; I'm curious to hear that. Fuck! I wish I could clone myself so that I could find the time for everything I wanna do.
SDM: Tell us about your relationship with Fredrik Nordstrom. Do you ever do studio sessions for him?
Snowy: Fredrik and I are great friends, and occasionally I do sessions for him or in his studio.
Most recently was last summer for a band I think is called Eyes of Noctum with Hollywood actor Nicolas Cage's son as the leader/singer. Fredrik just called me one night, asking me to attend in the studio as some sort of coach for this poor young LA drummer who simply couldn't get it down, so after having wasted several days, Fredrik as the producer just had to take charge of the procedure and get things moving. I got there the next morning thinking I'd be coaching the guy, then understand they expect me to do ghost drumming, then the next day I'd be listed as the drummer. I'm a very quick learner, and although I don't consider myself a very good black metal drummer (since I hit the drums very very hard, playing that ultra fast gets tricky), but I did my best to please them with all their wishes and requests, and I nailed it all in a few days time, and everybody was happy.
Generally most of my sessions come directly from the artist rather than from the engineer/producer. The most recent one I did was right before Christmas in Andy LaRocque's studio with King Diamond bassist Hal Patino's son Jackie, I laid down the drum tracks in a day or two, it turned out great, and most importantly, they were satisfied. I haven't hit a single stroke since then, and I'm gonna do a drum recording session playing some kind of modern country next week or so, so I hope I get a chance to remove some of the spider webs and rust before that.
Talking this much about drums suddenly got me inspired, so I'll try to set some time to play a little drums now.
SDM: What is it like playing with the legendary Kee Marcello from the band Europe? How did you manage to hook up with him? Was he familiar with any of your previous work?
Snowy: Naw, at least by name he knew of the bands that I had been with, but I think most of them were too extreme and heavy for his personal taste, and I don't think he'd actually heard me play. I obviously knew of him from Europe and so on, but that on the other hand had never been my favorite cup of tea. Despite all that, Kee and I really clicked musically, and shared a lot of common ground and influences from '70s rock music, which is always beneficial when collaborating. He could just easily drop a name, title, or even a particular groove, fill, or whatever in a particular song, and I'd know exactly what he was referring to and would deliver that in a flash.
Kee is a super nice guy and we have the same weird sense of humor, so we clicked immediately as I was doing the session drumming on his solo album and had a great time and became good friends. Kee had relocated to Gothenburg some years earlier and had been working on making his solo record on the side while producing and writing songs for other artists in a low point of his own career. He had been trying out a couple of other drummers, but things didn't quite gel, so then a mutual friend recommended me.
I've played with a helluva lot of great guitarists, but I think Kee is probably the best, most all-around guy of them all. Some guys are fantastic solo players but can't really do good rhythm guitars and vice-versa, but Kee got it all. He's so technical, he can shred your head off, but he still loves playing simple Ace Frehley pentatonic kind of solos, and most importantly, he does it with feel and conviction.
On second thought, he had in fact heard me play; he had been notably impressed by my drumming on the glam act Supergroupies, for which he later produced an album.
SDM: How is playing in the Kee Marcello K2 project? How is the touring coming along?
Snowy: These days Kee is pretty much touring constantly as a solo artist and in combination does loads of clinics. I'm very happy for him that things are now working, but about five years back when I was involved, they weren't. When he asked me to play some festival shows with K2, I thought I'd give it a shot and see how things would turn out, but it wasn't going anywhere fast, and the shows were so-so, to put it mildly, so I decided to quit sometime after we'd done the Eurovision song contest in Sweden with the Canadian Allanah Myles as guest vocalist.
SDM: What can you tell us about your new drum instructional DVD that you are releasing?
Snowy: Well, my pal and video director extraordinaire Patric Ullaeus of Revolver Film Company kept saying that we should make an instructional drum DVD in a new cool style together, so I did a little research to get an idea of what to do and what not to, because I had never even watched any of those instructional videos, ever.
About three times I started making a lot of plans for it, getting in shape practicing quite a lot over shorter periods, I rigged a camera up there, and then Patric would bring his whole production team and equipment over to do a test, but then something else always came in between and we sort of lost track. As for now, there are no release dates, far from it in fact since everything is put on hold as we both needed to attend to other business and stuff in our personal lives.
SDM: How long has the drumming DVD been in the works? Who is filming it? Will you be discussing any of your trademark playing from the past and present? Will you go over any particular songs from your metal career?
Snowy: I think Patric and I started talking about this sometime in 2005. I'm using certain songs in my catalogue to demonstrate various patterns, rudiments, or whatever you call it. Songs like "Whether With or Without" from Illwill, for example, and "Daughter of Darkness" with Notre Dame, where I explain how I initially came up with and developed these original beats, and how my thoughts went behind it, and so forth. I discuss and talk about it all, the whole philosophy behind my playing, and what I think is crucial, and what is bullshit. It would pretty much cover every aspect and angle that Patric and I could imagine, and that would be of interest for other drummers and fans. We have something like eight to ten hours of footage by now, and we've only shot twenty-five percent, maybe, so there's gonna be a tremendous number of hours editing it in the end. We haven't filmed anything since summer 2006, either. We were supposed to continue in 2008 after the Therion world tour, but I got caught up with XXX for most of 2008.
SDM: What are some of the main points you will explaining throughout the duration of the video?
Snowy: I could say that I won't reveal too much at this stage and ruin the whole thing, but truth be told, I don't know when and if we'll find the time to synchronize our schedules to finish the project. Those who live will see…
SDM: Tell me more about XXX and why you are going with a more pop-rock, glam-rock band these days?
Snowy: For no other reason except that I want to and just feel like it, and I have for many years felt an urge and desire to someday make happier, shorter, catchy songs in some kind of '70s-'80s style that I've always been very fond of, to say the least. It's in my system and I need to vent it.
Those influences are a big part of me and helped shape my whole musical perception, working in parallel with many others, and the only difference is that now I just chose to emphasize and put more focus on exactly that part of my musical expression. And by doing that, I will fulfill that desire and can allow myself to dive headfirst into another extreme black metal project, for example, without fucking it up by trying to squeeze in any catchy pop choruses or anything. I guess you could say that variation is the keyword here, that's my best explanation, anyway.
People always seem so eager to categorize and put a tag on others, and although I can completely understand that, and I'm probably no different myself, because it's convenient and comfortable to jump to conclusions, but I can't allow myself to submit to that, and why should I? I do whatever I want, and if you don't like it, don't buy it.
If I may compare to actors, no one seems to raise any eyebrows if, for instance, Brad Pitt is a redneck serial killer one day, and a sentimental, guilt-ridden Vampire the next. Why should it be any different with artists?
Just because I surfaced with a progressive metal act like King Diamond twenty years ago doesn't necessarily mean that that's everything I was back then, or all I am today. I loved U2, The Police, and all kinds of shit back then, too. I mean, it's not like I automatically get a hard-on by hearing a distorted guitar or double kicks. I like good music, and don't give a shit about genres, period. I refuse to be labelled, but if there was a genre called Good Music, I wouldn't mind being in that category.
It doesn't take a rocket scientist, either, to detect the Alice Cooper, Sweet, and Kiss influences in Notre Dame, for example, even if my purpose and direction was quite different then compared to what I do with XXX. First and foremost, my goal in life is to please myself and do things that make me happy, that's why I started playing music, and compared to many disillusioned musicians, that part hasn't changed very much for me. To this day, I still do it for the right reasons, even if I certainly don't mind making a little money while I'm at it, and that is rightfully mine in exchange for a tremendous amount of work.
You have to be blind not to see that I have a lot of integrity and won't compromise with this, otherwise why the hell would I make such utterly idiotic business decisions and quit semi-established bands to one time after another start again from scratch, forming my own underground acts and shit like that?
I tend to get overdosed after working hard with a certain style, emotion, direction, and expression for a few years, especially if plans and people don't pan out as I might have expected or hoped they would. Then I get fed up and need a change, and usually I balance it up by doing something in a totally opposite direction, basically. Officially, I'm viewed as most active with Therion and XXX these days, and those two bands are in every possible sense different like night and day. It makes me feel like a more whole person, and they can as a matter of fact co-exist, and I see no contradiction in it.
You might think it would be a good idea to focus all energy on one single middle-ground band then, which I tried with Dream Evil, but the problem there was they had very different priorities in life than me, and weren't willing to tour or devote themselves to more than a hobby level. People are, of course, different, and have different needs, and so on, but also there are lots of half-hearted musicians who have normal lives, ordinary jobs, and get their satisfaction and needs fulfilled by just playing every now and then. I'm not saying that there is anything wrong with that, and I assume you won't get bored that quickly with one particular style of music, then. Some are maybe not so versatile, either, and are only interested in trying their best to sound like their favorite death metal bands.
I play bass in a cover band since a few months ago, which is an acceptable form of prostitution that I don't mind at all, but that I'm only doing to earn some extra money, because I spent more than a year trying to promote and get things going for XXX, and having tons of expenses and no income from it at all. You can call me stupid for not sticking to a more established band and just cashing in and playing it safe, but that's just not how I do things. In order to follow your heart and play and make the kind of music you want, you'd better be willing to make sacrifices somehow, and now I have to stand there playing bass on easy listening rock classics like "Living on a Prayer" and shit at an Afterski Party in the Norwegian alps in front of an uninitiated bunch of drunks, but that's fine by me, it could be a lot worse, I could be sweeping floors at a hospital… and I'm a helluva lot better bass player than cleaner.
SDM: What was it like working with Andy LaRocque on the XXX album?
Snowy: It was great. We just went to mix it with him in his studio, and finally I seem to have found a good engineer to collaborate with, which unfortunately was never an option for me due to the low budget I had with Notre Dame, for example, so I've gone through a whole bunch of amateurish engineers over the years. Prior to the XXX album, we hadn't worked together on a full album since Illwill, some thirteen years back, but that won't be repeated. So in other words, it went just fucking great. Andy is such a super nice guy, and he doesn't have that much of an ego, which makes it a whole lot easier… and also for me to keep that big ego of mine. [laughing]
SDM: What is your involvement in Deathstars? How would you describe Deathstars's music?
Snowy: Hmm, let me think. A cross between Rammstein and Manson, but a little more pop-oriented and commercial, I'd say. Add a "safe" Nazi-influenced glam image on top of that, and you'll have Deathstars. I think they are cool, have potential, and things are really starting to pick up for them now.
I'm not involved with Deathstars; they've repeatedly contacted me to do European tours with them as the drummer. Last year a full two month tour supporting Korn, from which I just had to pull out about two weeks in advance after having toured the world for a year with Therion, and I had to take care of some stuff in my personal life and attend to my new house that I was renovating, et cetera, besides saving the recordings for XXX.
SDM: What are you current activities with Opera Diabolicus?
Snowy: They just finished up the last final mastering, finally, but one can never be too sure with these guys. [laughing]
I've designed, photographed, and been completely in charge as the art director for them, which is the most recent activity I've had with Opera Diabolicus. Now I've put things on hold a little til they've inked a proper deal so that I can finish things up. I started shopping deals for OD early on last year, but when one of the top-notch metal labels I was negotiating with backed out at the very end, instead of lowering the bar and going for one of the less good metal labels, they decided to go back in the studio to fix the flaws and re-record what was necessary, and in the end they only kept my drums and vocals, and the female vocals.
Another year goes by, and as we all know, besides the world crisis in general, the music biz and record industry especially is going straight to hell, things have changed so drastically, and with such a rapid pace that even a single year has made a helluva difference. In fact, a few of the interested labels have gone bankrupt in the meantime. I hope the album will be released in the fall sometime.
SDM: Any comments about the status of the Firegod project that involved you and Mike Wead at one time?
Snowy: Mike has had hundreds of different projects through the years, and I've been somehow involved with quite a few of them, but nothing seemed to come out of it until just recently, when he did release an album with his new project called Bible Black, I think. It sounded good, and I'm happy for him.
SDM: What keeps you going in the music business after such a long period of time?
Snowy: Well, what else should I do? This is who I am and everything I've always wanted to do in my life.
All those other things I do, from artwork, design, stage decor and props, merchandise, photography, are all basically connected to my passion for rock music, plus one's gotta make a living somehow. The only other things that I'm passionate about are dogs, sex, and movies, basically. (I really must point out the importance of commas here, NOT dog-sex movies! [laughing])
Just recently, I was thinking of going into porn, since I'm more or less insatiable, and figured I might as well earn money while I'm at it. I actually went and talked to some people about it, but then had second thoughts when I realized guys don't get paid all that much…