Fireworks Magazine Online 65 - Interview with Houston

HOUSTON


A melodic rock take on Rick Springfield is okay, but what about a melodic rock take on Lady Gaga…? With their new album ‘Relaunch II’ out, Houston prove music has no borders –Alexandra Mrozowska to catch up with Ricky Delin (keyboards) and Hank Erix (vocals) to talk about the new release.


Houston-Interview



I believe your new release ‘Relaunch II’ is a kind of sequel to 2011 ‘Relaunch’. What’s the idea behind this cover-studded formula you embarked on?

RD: Quite simple really. Our first album was very well-received back in 2010 and pretty much anyone would say that the Houston sound would bring the listener back to bands like Journey, Survivor, Foreigner, etc. – the classic spacious AOR sounds of the past. Our label at the time, with A&R Dante Bonutto, really thought we should cement our sound and dedication to that era by recording some classic, much loved, yet obscure covers of their and our choice. It was meant to be an EP, but we also recorded some acoustic versions of our previously released originals, so it became a full length album. I came up with the ‘Relaunch’ title with regards to both Houston and covers. I'm glad we did it. When Redbull used our version of Dakota's ‘Runaway’, it gave us that kind of huge recognition one usually can only dream about.
    
HE: Yeah, thanks to Red Bull and Dany MacAskill we got a lot of attention – too bad we’re named Houston (laughs), otherwise I think more people would find us on social medias and experience the rest of our music (laughs). Hopefully, we’ll grow and we’ll get easier to find. We got a lot to thank the first ‘Relaunch’ album for and if it hadn’t been so popular we wouldn’t have gone through with the production of ‘Relaunch II’. They’re both great in-between albums that allow us to experiment a lot more and you got to be allowed to do that as an artist.

On ‘Relaunch II’, the artists you’ve chosen to cover range from John Farnham to Lady Gaga and One Republic. What’s the reason for such diversity?

RD: A great song is a great song and if you look at many chart artists today they can have hit upon hit and the singles will be amazingly different in genres. We’ve decided now that we'll be writing originals like that as well. We hope to entertain our fans, old and new, with great songs, whether you'd label it AOR, melodic rock or plain pop music. We hear some really nice melodic rock in songs of bands like One Republic and Imagine Dragons. The package may be different, but melody is still king.

HE: Indeed. We love Journey, Survivor and Foreigner to death, but in some way I think One Republic is even more “Journey” than Journey itself today. The music industry changes all the time and now more than ever – and if you look at the biggest artists of today, most of them aren’t bound to a particulat genre. I think that kind of reflects today’s society, there should be no sexes, no sexual orientations and no ethnicity; we shouldn’t put labels on people. And similarly, we feel we don’t want to label our music.

Which of the cover versions you’ve recorded so far (for this album and earlier) remains your favourite and why?

RD: Dakota’s ‘Runaway’ because of being one of my all-time favourite tracks as well as because of.the success it gave us… plus, Bill and Jerry of Dakota are just the nicest guys ever, which makes it even better! Also I totally love my production and the performance on Laura Brannigan’s ‘Didn't We Almost Win It All’. It really brings tears to my eyes and I wish she was still alive so that she could hear it.  On ‘Relaunch II’  John O’Banion’s ‘Love Is Blind’ is my fav. Loved it – and him – for over 30 years.

HE: As for the first album, my favourite is ‘1000 Songs’ cause it’s a brilliant stand-out track… I think it’s timeless, we’ll play that song forever. On ‘Relaunch’ it’s ‘Carrie’ - I’ve always been a big Michael Bolton fan and I still love cranking it in the car and singing my heart out. On ‘II’ I have to say ‘Talk To Me’ – initially, I had very little faith in that song but when we sat down and listened to the master, it became my instant favourite… great dramatic melodies and deep lyrics about love and brotherhood. I’m still figuring out my favourite on ‘Relaunch II’ though, we’ll see!
 
There are four brand new songs on ‘Relaunch II’. What are your personal highlights of the material?

RD: Some nice feelgood tracks in Houston style. The standout song for me is ‘Standing On The Moon’. That’s our first song that marks the start of the new era – where we make beautiful music, not clinging to our “typical” sound or what's “expected” in terms of instrumentation and production. Simply one of the most beautiful songs I've been blessed to be a part of.

HE: I totaly agree with Ricky, ‘Standing On The Moon’ is the first step of our new musical journey. Everyone in the band loved it and I was quite surprised at how the guys can’t wait to play it live. Hope you guys like it as much as we do! It’s true emotions, true music – from  every note in the chords to every letter in the lyrics.

One of the new songs, ‘Our Love’, features guests from fellow bands Reckless Love, Crazy Lixx, Casablanca and Reach. How did you guys hook up?

HE: This song has been in the pipeline for quite some time. Before we recruited the new band we needed to make a song since it was several months after the release of Houston’s ‘II’ album. With just me and Ricky in the band, we had a great opportunity to invite some friends that we met during our tours. We played in Madrid 2011 and I met Pepe from Reckless Love who thought I looked a bit like Jani Lane from Warrant (in his prime time, I hope!) and I asked if that was a compliment... and obviously it was, ‘cause he agreed to play the guitars. Me and Andy from Crazy Lixx go a few years back and we were doing some music together just before he joined Crazy Lixx – he agreed to do the solo, which is fantastic! Mats from Casablanca is a good friend of ours and he wrote the song together with Ricky. Marcus from Reach is one of my best friends and he was perfect for this song. You see all these melodic rock and AOR albums that have a lot of guests, but no bands were joining forces and helping each other. A lot of bands see each other as rivals and if they’re bringing guests it has to be someone who’s been in the game for many, many years. I wanted to bring some of the up and coming bands together and do something really special for our fans. The melodic rock pool is too small to not be brothers and sisters.

Fireworks - The Ultimate Magazine for Melodic Rock Music


Talking about collaborations and duets – ‘Relaunch II’ also features duets with a singer Victor Lundberg and a singer/producer Lizette Von Panajott. How do you think their contributions to the album influenced the result of the recordings?

RD: Victor was doing some amazing back-up Vocals on ‘II’ in tracks such as ‘Talk To Me’ and ‘On The Radio’. Since then he has joined the band as a keyboard player and will be part of Houston’s future. He’s a great singer and now also band member - that’s why he gets a bigger feature on ‘Relaunch II’.  This is our fourth album and we've done a duet with a female on all four of them. First it was the lovely Ms. Helena Alsterhed on our popular track ‘Truth Slips’ and then we moved on with Amaranthes own Elize Ryd and Swedish Idol runner up Minnah Karlsson. For ‘Relaunch II’ we obviously needed a woman to do Gaga's parts and my dear friend Lizette Von Panajott IS the Lady Gaga of Sweden – so that was a no-brainer. You can't find a cooler woman and she nailed it!

HE: You said it Ricky! I’m so glad that Lizette wanted to sing a duet with me. Victor is a fantastic guy and an amazing singer and keyboard player. I feel so safe with him on backing vocals!

What’s caused all the personal changes that resulted in Houston’s current line-up, much different to the II era?

Ricky: Houston was officially a duo att first with Hank and drummer Freddie Allen. I was brought in for writing and producing and got associated with the band but was not a member. Liveshows were made with different lineups avilable for those particular shows. Then I joined the band for Our 3rd album and then , just recently Freddie started a family and quit the band. It was decided that we'd create a solid band once and for all , both for recording albums and doing gigs. Out went the session players for Relauch ll and from now on we're a solid band.

Hank: After Freddie Allens departure from Houston we felt that we couldnt go back to a duo again and we needed to adapt and recruit the superband that our music deserves. We got a young and new band that i’m sure will help us bring the Houston sound to all the worlds countries and bring the Houston sound to new dimensions. They are all very professional and hungry, be sure to catch us at our next show, this is the band we’ve always wanted to represent Houston.
 
Did the line-up changes within the band exert any influence over the new material?

RD: Not yet really, apart from the guitar player Calle Hammar, who co-wrote a couple of tracks on our last two albums. But starting from our next album of originals, the guys will have loads of input. Lots of talent among this young lot!    

HE: Well, you could say that – they’re all playing on the new album – but they all like the Houston sound and respect it, and I’m sure you can hear that. Our new guitar player Calle has co-written one of the new songs for the new album and he co-wrote ‘On The Radio’ with Ricky for ‘II’. I definitely see them playing a big part in Houston’s future and new material.

The task of being a producer handled again by Ricky, there’s no outward influence exerted over the band’s sound. What assets and downsides do you think it has?

HE: The asset is that we feel so comfortable with each other in the studio – every album we make just gets easier and easier since we’ve become such good friends over the years. Ricky were probably the biggest part of forming the Houston sound and I think our fans also can feel securethat they will get what they want if they liked our stuff before. If I have to look at downsides then I think it can be hard to evolve from where we started and get output from another producer... and they say that you shouldn’t do business with friends. Economy is always a difficult topic.

There’s an old adage that goes approximately along the lines of ‘if the majority of an album is comprised of covers, it means the band ran out of ideas’. What do you think about it?

HE: You could say that, but today I think it’s about doing a lot of albums, doing a lot of shows and having a lot of fun. Bands need to be seen and heard as much as possible to stay on the surface and this time we felt that we couldn’t deliver ten brilliant songs in the middle of Freddie’s departure. Also, it’s been years ago that we decided we have to do a ‘Relaunch II’ album, so I wouldn’t say it’s an “out of ideas” kind of thing. It’s highly planned in detail and happened to fit perfectly to our situation. I don’t think any Houston fan, old or new, could be disappointed.

RD: The ‘Relaunch’ series albums are cover albums with some additional treats, something that we've chosen to do for fun between releasing our original stuff. Writing new material is easy, and it’s going to be great to get the new guys involved in the process. As far as production goes... again... on the first two albums I was  the outward influence that created the sound. Now that the band will continue making good tunes, that might or might not be classic AOR stuff, the producers  from the outside will be involved in it as well. That's all natural and healthy.

Can we expect a new Houston album – that is, comprised entirely of the new material – anytime soon?

HE: Of course! We are planning it right now and have already begun writing some songs. Both me and Ricky are also working on our solo albums that we’ve wanted to do for quite some time. We’ll make it but for now we are focusing more on the lives cene!

RD: Totally up to the label. We could have a new album of originals done in 3-4 months if given the green light.

Apart from the concert dates confirmed for the late July (Rock Of Ages Festival in Germany) and October (at the Barfly in London), what are the band’s plans for the next months?

HE: We’re looking for representation to be able to do more shows, but at the moment we’re planning a showcase in Greece this winter and some more dates in the UK for 2015!

RD : Lots of band rehearsals for sure, and there are more exciting concert dates in the making – our release party for ‘Relauch II’ being one of them.
 
Is there anything you’d like to add in the end?

HE: If there’s ever been any doubt to Houston, which I can understand since we kind of disappeared for a while, let me tell you that we are back stronger and better sounding than ever.  This album is the new start of Houston.

RD. I’m mostly writing this from a comfortable couch at the backstage area on Väsby Rock Festival. Upplands Väsby... the suburbia of Stockholm where I was born and raised. And now on the grounds of my football practises I look left and right and see the cats from Pretty Maids, House of Lords, Rage of Angels, Europe, Jorn etc. and a crowd of thousands. Pretty damn cool and I wish you and all the readers of Fireworks Magazine were here with us. See ya down the road!  

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