Welcome to the Fireworks Magazine Online Section
Fireworks Magazine Online 77 - Interview with Pretty Maids
12 December 2016
PRETTY MAIDS - An interview with Ken Hammer
Interview by Dave Bott
Despite having been around for over thirty years, Pretty Maids have hit a truly purple patch with their 'Pandemonium' and 'Motherland' albums, some of the best of their lengthy career. Well known and much loved for their music being equally heavy and melodic, the band have always made regular appearances in Fireworks, so we couldn't resist a jovial chat with the band's guitarist Ken Hammer to discuss their latest release 'Kingmaker', amongst many other things.
Earlier this year there was a personnel change within Pretty Maids. Are you able to explain what factored into Morten Sandagar leaving the band?
Well you know how it is, this is like a marriage... sometimes people get fed up with each other. I have tried it three times so I know what I am talking about, ha-ha. I think regarding Sandagar, it was a personal issue and to be completely honest with you, I am not totally sure why he left. I think he had some things he needed to sort out. We are still on very friendly terms and we talk to each other a lot so there are no hard feelings. In short, we have been working constantly and he had some personal things as well. I think he just needed a break.
I'm aware you had somebody step in to help on keyboards for the new album but who have you drafted in to replace him permanently?
Chris Laney is a very good friend of mine and has been for many years. He is a producer, a song-writer, plays keyboards, obviously, and also plays guitar and bass. I always wanted to try and see if we could bring in another guitar player because I like the two guitar sound, especially on some of the songs. As Laney could play both keyboards and guitar, for me, it was an obvious choice to try and check him out. Everything is going very well too, we have done three shows with him now and he is a good guy. We also wanted to see how it would work with us socially... we are a bit nuts and maybe he wouldn't like that. Ronnie Atkins and I have been together for almost forty fucking years, it's difficult for people that come into that to try and be a total part of it. We are very tight and we have pretty much done everything together. We wanted to see how Laney would work with that and it has worked out really well.
Your new album is entitled 'Kingmaker', how did you come up with the title?
We had been working on that because we had to find something good. We thought that the last album, 'Motherland', was a strong album title and we thought we needed something that had the same power and impact to it. We went through a lot of different titles, we thought, what about this and what about that. We also had a lot of back and forth conversations with the guy who did the cover and he actually said "I have a great idea for a title" and me and Atkins said "bring it on man, bring it on" and he suggested 'Kingmaker'. It's funny because I had something different in the back of my mind but with King or Maker or something like that. He came up with that and Atkins and I said right away "that's it". Fuck man, it was just one of those things and it sounds good when you say it.
As you mentioned, Chris has joined the band, but before that it was Kim Olesen of Anubis Gate who stepped in to help with keyboards for the recording. How did that come about and why did you opt for him?
Well, Sandagar left a couple of weeks before we were due to go into the studio and while we were there our producer (Jacob Hansen) asked who was going to do the keyboards. We replied "fuck, we are not really sure... guess we are going to have less keyboards on this album!" That was the obvious choice to take but then he said "I know this session player that I have worked with a few times, maybe he could do it". So he came up with that name and Atkins apparently knew him from way back because they have lived in the same town; I didn't know him. He came down, we had a talk and he came up with a few ideas so we decided to see if he would work out. He did and we thought what he suggested sounded great. We were very happy that it all went smoothly so there isn't really a big story in that. We have been very lucky on that front.
How do you, as the artist, feel this album compares to 'Motherland'?
We have done it the same way, using the same procedure, as we did for 'Motherland'. It is pretty much the same thing we do, but obviously sound-wise and the way it develops, with keyboards or whatever, changes a song from where it started to the end result that you hear on the album. In general, it is the same thing we do when we write songs... at least eighty percent of the time. I feel that this release is more complete. We started off with 'Pandemonium', which was a great start... I thought 'Motherland' was complete as a whole album, but I think this one is even more complete than that. It sounds great and I think this album... I think that it grows. Maybe the first time you hear it you go "okay, this is alright". Then next time you hear it you think "umm, oh yeah" and then some of the songs start to stand out a little bit.
And that sometimes makes for a better album. The growers are the ones that last.
Exactly, that is the sort of album that will last a long time. You have got to have one song right away that catches people's attention, then later on, when they have bought the album and have given themselves time to listen to it a little more, they go "wow man, fuck".
So everything was done as before, you haven't tried anything new for this album or something that you haven't tried for a long time?
I have to think back man, it was very stressful at that time because most of the songs were written within a two month period, except for maybe 'Face The World', I think we had that going earlier along with a few riffs and stuff here and there, but most of the songs were written in that two month period. We were kind of pushed on time because we had already booked the studio, then Sandagar left us. We were sometimes standing there thinking "okay..." because a keyboard intro can sometimes inspire you to do something. Since he wasn't there we were like "fuck, we are going to have to think, or pretend for now, that this will be a keyboard intro". We were a bit pushed at that time but it worked out quite luckily in the end.
What songs stand out for you personally?
'Humanize Me', definitely... 'Bullseye' I like because it is just a good live song and has a good live feel to it. Fuck man, it is difficult, I like 'Face The World' as well because it's a good tune, it could have been a fucking smash hit if that came out in the eighties. That could have been a song like when Van Halen did '5150'. If that song had come out at that time, man, I would not be living here where I live now... I would have lived in bloody Los Angeles because then I could have afforded it, ha-ha.
Timing is everything isn't it?
Yeah man... our timing sucks I tell you that, ha-ha. It always has, we are either late or very late, ha-ha!!
Turning to the album in general, what other lyrical themes do you explore on the new album?
It is all about stuff that we see happening everyday throughout the world. That's pretty much where the main inspiration comes from. It is not a concept album at all, although it could have been because some of the songs are similar in terms of what goes on in the world today... the fucked up world we are living in!
I must admit there are times when you look around and wonder should you be in an asylum or whether you are already living in one...
Exactly, you have this feeling sometimes; are you going to wake up and find someone saying "it was all a joke". I watch TV and I think, where are we going and what is going on? It is scary shit man.
You're a band well known for being equal parts heavy and melodic; do you ever find it difficult to balance the two sides or is that something that just comes naturally to you all?
We have done that since the first album. The funny thing is that a lot of people ask us about that and I have started to think about it and come to the conclusion that this is just our style. We can be Judas Priest or we can be Journey. We have to limit ourselves sometimes to one of the directions because we find them equally interesting. I like Journey as much as I like Pantera. For me, there are really only two types of music and it is that simple – good and bad. After that, it really comes down to the moment; sometimes I like to sit and listen to The Eagles then the next moment I can be listening to Five Finger Death Punch. You couldn't be fucking further away from each other... it is just music that I like. I have heard people say "how can you say you like Keith Urban if you play Heavy Metal"? What the fuck has that got to do with it? I like Earth, Wind And Fire as well so does that mean I can't listen to Iron Maiden? That is what inspires me. I can't understand why some people want to be so limited. They confuse loyalty and in doing so can miss out on so much other stuff. I just feel sad that people won't let new music inspire them. It is just music... we are not at war. I can hear a Country song and feel the emotion and I can listen to another from that genre and think that it is far too corny. If they sing great, the harmonies are brilliant and the sound is good, that is what I listen to... how it sounds.
I can see how listening to varied types can provide not only enjoyment but also inspiration.
Absolutely. I know towards the end it will sound like Pretty Maids one way or another but that doesn't mean you can't suck out some of the good things from elsewhere.
You mentioned that these songs were written in a short time frame and that it was a little bit stressful. Was the actual recording a little easier than for 'Motherland' because I know you had some issues when it came to touring and recording at the same time for that?
Ha-ha... yes because this time we could actually focus on doing this whole album. Of course there was the other stress factors of going into the studio with only four guys instead of five but I guess that is the story with this band. There will always be something, it just goes on and never stops but then again, it keeps you excited and life interesting. Sometimes I wish it would be a little less fucking interesting, just for once, ha-ha.
You have once again turned to the same producer, Jacob Hansen; what makes him such an important and now regular part of the Maids sound?
First of all, it is his sound itself. That's the sound that, in my head, I have always heard that Pretty Maids should have since bloody day one. That in itself is, for me, enough really. I think his sound is brilliant, he adds ideas and craziness to the songs that we wouldn't have come up with ourselves. He is a brilliant producer, his sound is heavy, it's round... oooo I just love it!
I have seen you have already announced tour dates for the continent, have you got any plans for any dates in the UK?
I'm quite sure it is being worked on at the moment, but whether there is any facts and stuff to it yet, I am not sure, but I would love to. On the last tour we only did one gig in England and that was in Camden. I would love to do more shows in the UK. The first tour we ever did back in 1983, we did a full UK tour. I promise you we will try and work on that.
Given you have been together for over thirty years, what is the secret to the longevity of your relationship, both musically and personally, with Ronnie Atkins?
Alcohol ha-ha... actually I'm not that far from the truth. We have had a lot of parties and a lot of beers together but of course mutual respect is a huge part of it. It is funny to think that I have been with Atkins longer than any women in my life. Bit scary isn't it ha-ha? We have our moments of disharmony where we are not that close but of course, when you spend so much time together there will always be those moments. Even with girlfriends and wives, you can't always be friends but as long as it doesn't get carried away, it is all part of it.
The band has appeared rejuvenated since 'Pandemonium', what do you attribute this new found energy and creativity to?
Jacob Hansen is a good answer to that I think; he brought in a new sound, a new inspiration and a new way of looking at things. I also think the fact that maybe I started listening to new kinds of music and bands kind of inspired me a lot. For me, it is fantastic that there are new bands out there that when they come out with a new album it can inspire an old guy like me. I want more new bands bringing out some good shit... there is not enough of it.