Interview: Ken Sandin (Alien, Kee Marcello, Kee Of Hearts) (2017)
When did you first start playing in a band?
When did the dream begin to take off making a career as a musician?
Aged 15, I think. Quite late, but I’d been playing various instruments at home all my life, so once we decided we were pretty determined. I remember the exact moment, listening to music with my best friend in his dad’s car… and we suddenly went - hey, why couldn’t we do this ourselves?! Timing was right, (the NWOBHM, and the punk scene prior) lots of up and coming bands were kind of beginners.
So, the dream was always there - I was that kid who would dress up rock star like, miming a Deep Purple song, by myself in front of the class - but dreams in a more realistic way probably when I got play with the more experienced guys on the Gothenburg rock scene, mid 80’s.
Do you remember your first paid gig?
What was your occupation at this time?
Yeah, at a party at the local scout club. We just wanted to perform, but they made a spontaneous collection. We played covers of Thin Lizzy, Queen etc mixed with originals.
I was still at school.
Going from amateur to pro... when did that happen?
Well, going from semi-pro to pro happened around late 1986. Recording my first LP (full length vinyl album, with my friends in TNT a.o, in Trondheim) was the first real experience of paid recording sessions and record deals. Come 1987 I was contracted and working full-time with Alien, writing and demoing the debut album.
First band mentioned on your bio on Wikipedia is a band called Rescue. -how would you describe Rescue, what kind of gigs did you do and who were in the band?
Started a band, like I said, with my best friends. That first step is all about getting better at your instrument(s) and learning the concept of musical group dynamics, to listen and play well with others. We tried to learn and play song of favorite bands; Lizzy, Rainbow, Queen etc, but also wrote songs from day one. All of that has to be explored and developed in a playful way, a very important stepping stone.
We hardly ever left rehearsals, but for a few competitions for rock bands or gigs at youth clubs.
The only one you would know of is singer Mats Levén… but then again, who on earth could’ve believed half of Rescue to go on and make a professional career in music?!
(l-r: Ken Sandin, Magnus Ax, Dag Ingebrigtsen, Andy LaRoque, Dennis Nybratt) photo:Arne Nordtømme
On to Swedish Beauty, a band who later would become Swedish Erotica. How would you describe those early days in the band?
Oh, you’ve got that wrong.
‘Swedish Erotica’ was formed by Norwegian singer Dag Ingebrigtsen in early 85 (maybe late 84). He came up with the name and concept, meant to be a Scandinavian answer to Mötley Crue - strong, sexy image combined with melodic metal. Dag, Magnus Ax, Andy LaRoque, Dennis Nybratt (dr) and I made the first recording in Trondheim (N), a song that later ended up on an album of Dag’s. Andy then left for King Diamond, replaced by Dan Stomberg (Madison) and Jamie Borger became our new drummer. We did further demo sessions in Norway, but the band then split with Dag and kept on writing/recording in Gothenburg. We unfortunately didn’t get a deal at that time, and members took on other offers, one by one (Treat, Alien etc)... this was by late1986.
After going separate ways with founder member Ingebrigtsen we felt we’d better change name and Jamie came up with the similar Swedish Beauty. Had the band carried on at that time the name would probably have been used, now it’s just a parenthesis.
When remaining member Magnus Ax picked up where we’d left, forming a new line-up with singer Göran Edman, guitar player Morgan Jensen (LeFay) in 1987 - it was still Swedish Erotica. The band finally got a record deal in late 1988.
Mats Levén, who sang on the first album, got introduced to the band already when I brought him to help out with backing vocals on an early SE demo (us two started out in Rescue together, remember). The result can actually be heard on “Too daze gone” (demo collection).
And how do you believe the band had developed when you returned in 1993?
We kept contact as friends all the time. In early ‘93 I wasn’t in any band, but hung out with Magnus helping out arranging keys/strings for a new song of his. They made plans then to finally record the follow-up and I was asked to join. With Jamie Borger back on drums, it’s a cool thing how we came full circle with SE.
It’s a solid album, good production, more mature basic/classic hard rock... still sounding great.
You could tell everyone was more experienced in all parts of the process - writing, arranging and producing.
L to R Tony, Jim, Jimmy, Toby and Ken (first band photo ever)
So in 1986 you got to the gig to play in Alien. How did you end up in the band?
Tony Borg had already gotten some interest with his demos for a new project, except it had to be more up to date with the contemporary 80’s rock scene. I believe the last two pieces of the puzzle were Jimmy Wandroph (keys) and I, because we were totally into that. The missing pieces, so to speak. I didn’t know any of the others personally, although I knew of them. I was approached via recommendations.
Do you remember the journey towards the break with Alien?
Of course! Those three years were unbelievably intense, and I so much value having been a part.
So many fond memories of all that we accomplished and the hard work getting there will stay with me forever.
What are your memories of the time you spent in the USA trying to make a US friendly product?
After the first recording session for the debut album, at Polar Studios Stockholm - where we finished three songs, one being ‘Only One Woman’ - we relocated to LA and the legendary Sound City Studios.
The whole LA vibe, that studio, the Virgin America staff… everything about it was totally inspiring, plus the songs brought in by our co-writers in California were just spot on, imo. I had a great time there and was glad the album was done that way, except I didn’t know then that final mixes wouldn’t sound anywhere near as good as the Mark Dearnley (Polar) production. That‘s the only downside.
What Alien song is your favorite?
Oh, that’s a tough cookie, I’m too involved. On the Eternity album, I instantly got a good vibe for the potential of ‘Summer of Love’ (originally called ‘Braver Hearts’), as soon as Jimmy presented his idea. Our arrangement and production served the song well. ‘In Love We Trust’ is another one that came out great.
Out of the 80’s songs; there are the obvious ones, (singles) ‘Tears Don’t Put Out The Fire’ and ‘Go Easy’. I always liked ‘Wings Of Fire’, too, although a bit of a hider. When we wrote ‘Now Love’ (1987), I remember getting the feeling we might have a hit in the making. What happened later was our US producer thought - us being a debut band and the song sounding too much like Journey (probably the biggest rock band at that time, over there) - might come back at us, in a bad way. Hence, he convinced us to not record it for the debut album. Fuck, we should’ve…
‘How Long’ was recorded (at Townhouse St, London) on the first and only session for the follow up album that never happened (with the original lineup). Good song, last thing we did, and pretty much what the Alien ‘signature sound’ was about in the late 80’s. To me, anyway.
‘Only One Woman’ obviously has a special place in our hearts, being our most successful single, and everything that came with that; the attention from media, love from the audience etc. We had our hit twenty years after the Marbles, and it’s been absolutely awesome to get to play that song with Graham Bonnet as well, knowing that it’s been the first hit single and kick-start to both our careers.
Sentimental value, big time!
Today you are back together with the classic line-up giving all us fans a real treat when you perform, both with the old songs and the new ones. But around 1990 lots of personnel changed, what are your side of the story about those days?
What really happened was, at the end of 1989 we decided to disband and go separate ways. A mutual decision; no one was to use the name without the others. I mean, we had equal shares, the records were still selling a bit, and we would all have use of being a part of the heyday of the band in our CVs. Although just a verbal agreement, I really trusted we would move on with further projects, respectively.
What happened in 1990 and onwards was out of my control, flying in the face of our agreement, and I’d rather not comment.
We should obviously have made a proper press release, there and then! Today, with internet, it would’ve been done in a minute and spared us any misconception.
Kee Marcello's K2 2010 (l-r: Ken, Kee, Mike Terrana) --->
You've played with Kee Marcello band for quite a while now. When did you first meet Kee?
In the late 80’s, when he was in Europe and I with Alien. I’d been following his recent work with Easy Action and Mikael Rickfors, and just loved the EA album ‘That makes one’. In fact, the cover photos for that album was shot by my cousin Tony Sandin, on the very same day Kee got the call being asked to join Europe.
Any special memory that stand out with the band?
We’ve been through lots of memorable things together by now. One that really stands out would be participating in the ESC, as K2 feat. Alannah Myles. We got a wild card, being the first time hard rock was to be a part. Had to be a duet, and an international female guest. It’s a really good song, and who knows what could’ve been if Joan Jett (who was our first choice) didn’t have to decline, only because of her contract with the ‘Rocky Horror Show’ at the time.
How would you rank Kee as a guitarist and band leader?
He’s a phenomenal guitar player, unique in style and tone. On a wider musical scale a good writer, arranger and producer, as well. It’s great working with Kee, and he totally trusts me with making my own mark with my melodic sense on each recording. Plus he’s the funniest guy!
We couldn’t be happier with the KMB lineup right now, and can’t wait to get on the road promoting the latest album ‘Scaling Up’ some more.
Working man Ken
Jimi Jamison 2013
Ken Sandin has become an experienced song writer, how do you normally get inspiration when writing songs?
Normally from just playing an instrument, usually guitar or keyboard. Looking for nice chord progressions, riffs or matching a melody that comes to mind. Sometimes you even dream up a song, and have to find out how to play something that you’ve already heard in your head. If you write with a specific band or artist in mind, that of course affects what references to use, unlike just writing with an open mind.
For the most of my songs, I write the parts for all instruments and vocals, and the lyrics.
What artist do you think the fans would be surprised that it is you who wrote the song?
Songs submitted to ESC, I guess, with like ‘Swedish Idol’ singers. Just as well they didn’t make it.
The extent of my freelance/session playing might also come as a surprise, to those who just follow me within bands. The list of Swedish household artists stretches from Lill-Babs to E-Type, Freddie Wadling to Charlotte Perrelli… Peter Jöback, Ola Salo, Martin Stenmarck etc. etc.
Internationally with guitar players like Uli Jon Roth and Vinnie Moore, to rock singers like JLT, Eric Martin, Steve Augeri, Jimi Jamison (RIP), Graham Bonnet etc, or ‘softer‘ artists like Bill Champlin, Sanne Salomonsen or Johnny Logan.
The variety of all these tasks is as rewarding as it is demanding, to me, and a big part of my musicianship.
Eric Martin/JLT 2015 photo: Aitor Nova
Drums and bass makes the back bone of a band. Who's your favorite drummer having played with?
I’ve been blessed playing with so many great drummers, all different styles.
From classic rock/aor type drummers as Jamie Borger, to technique metal monsters as Mike Terrana, to fusion stars like Zoltan Csörsz jr. a.s.o…
I couldn’t be happier working (in KMB a.o.) at the moment with Darby Todd, he’s amazing.
Come to think of it, Darby is like all of that, kind of… in one drummer!
Any drummer you would have liked playing with?
The groove master Jeff Porcaro, of course (rest his soul). Steve Smith…
I’m about to record a prog rock album with Morgan Ågren (Zappa) on drums, that’ll be a challenge.
And for our readers who are musicians themselves. What gear do you use?
I endorse EBS Sweden (Professional Bass Equipment) and use their amps, cabinets and pedals.
Mainly the EBS Fafner II 2-channel head. Awesome gear, great company and staff!
With ‘Rock of 80’s - the Show’ I play Fender basses, kindly provided by Fender Scandinavia.
I have been using and recommending Yamaha basses for a long time, and still do, but not exclusively.
I go back and forth between 4- and 5-string basses, depending on the task.
Lately I’ve been playing a vintage Gibson Les Paul with Kee Marcello Band (/JLT/Black-Ingvars), pretty cool since Kee is a Gibson artist and even (second guitar player) Jonny plays Les Pauls.
How have you come to choose that gear?
I was asked to try out the very first EBS pre-amp, when it first came out. I was in Alien at the time, playing Yamaha (basses and their pre-amp) and choose to stay with that.
Luckily I ran across the artist relations manager (while mixing an album at the IF studio) and got to be an EBS artist after all these years. Full circle.
The Yamaha relation also started way back, like I said, and was picked up on in 2004, when Kee started K2.
Jim Jidhed solo
Last time we met was at Jim Jidhed’s release party for his new album Push On Through, an album you play on. Jim mentioned you in his speech as an easy going guy who always finds time and help out. When Jim asked you apparently had no doubt about playing on his album. How much involved have you been in the album?
There were already plans to produce a Jim solo album, with another team, where I would have had a bigger part in writing, arranging and producing. I’m still up for that, another time. But, he got this offer to have an album produced by Daniel Flores and went for it.
So, the choice of songs was ultimately Jim’s, although he asked for input.
I helped Jim out a bit with editing his lyrics. On the actual recordings I just provided the bass.
The cover layout/graphic design is my work, with nice photos provided by Mats Bengtsson.
Being a part of that band, what’s the difference playing with the guys based in Stockholm to having a band where you can rehearse regularly?
No difference to me. I haven’t been in a band rehearsing regularly since I quit Transport League in 2001. .Jim and Robin Jidhed is based in Gothenburg, and we’ll just team up with the others for rehearsals when needed. Just like any tour or recording I take part in, often with international lineups.
You've been involved in one of the songs of the songs. How did you come to work together with It is what it is?
I was involved in all of the song, arranging and performing the bass lines. Except for that one.
I was then asked by Jim to edit a few lyrics he wrote, and I guess enough suggested input ended up in the final version for me to be credited co-writer on ‘It is what it is’.
Timecode Alpha 2009 photo: Emelie Lager
When we meet at the release parrty, we started to talk about a project I know stays close to your heart. Timecode Alpha, which is more progressive than other bands you've got known to play with. A new album is ready to get released, when will we get to hear it?
It’s been recorded and laying around for quite a while, we just haven’t been able to find the time to do final mixes/mastering. As soon as we do, and decide on a record label (or distributor).
What's special with Timecode Alpha?
For me, it’s different because of the references are not what I usually work with. It’s progressive, in the meaning that it doesn’t necessarily have the usual repeating parts (verse, chorus etc), but instead progresses with further different parts throughout the songs.
The music is written without any compromises or adjustments to anything or anyone, to no expectations from neither record labels nor anyone else. Straight from our hearts and minds… to whoever wants to listen.
Not that there are ingredients that could never appear in a Kee Marcello or Alien song, really. Just a lot more of them - time signature and key changes etc. More is more, in this case.
Since it’s not a band, in the usual sense, we can also go for guest players, as much as we want, which is pretty cool.
On Freakshow you were mostly involved with the lyrics on the album. Is it the same this time around?
Yes, those were existing musical ideas of Peter Lazar’s, which we selected, arranged and wrote vocal lines and lyrics for together. This time around, though, Peter and I wrote an equal amount of songs (music), whereas I’ve written almost all of the lyrics and vocal lines.
So having been involved with the music, would you say the new album has got a different approach?
It does, partly because we’re different in our writing, and Peter was only happy to welcome me bringing in a bit more melodic, almost aor-like elements. We also planned this album to be a little lighter in mood, because it’s a different concept with lyrics and all.
On the other hand, when writing for TCA I ‘m totally dedicated to and inspired by Peters vision for this project. Let’s just say I wouldn’t normally write a nine minute, five chapter song for any of my other bands, haha.
To make some references; you might find bits reminding of Kansas, Saga, Supertramp or Pink Floyd now… as well as Peter’s usual household gods Yes and Genesis.
Rock of 80's - the Show (performing the songs included in the movie Rock of ages)
Roch of 80's the Show 2017 photo: Fredrik Strömberg
For quite a while now Rock of 80's plays on different places around Sweden. Currently you got a floor show at Trädgårn in Gothenburg. What has been best about doing this gig?
First of all, Rock of 80’s (the arena tour) and Rock of 80’s - the Show (the recent Gothenburg floor show) are spin offs to Rock of Ages (the musical). So, it doesn’t have to have the exact list of songs nor the story of the play. The setlist and dialog is unique for each setup and suited for the dynamics of the present artists.
I absolutely loved doing this show; the concept, the songs, all of the cast and crew, the venue, having a longer run of gigs close to home, etc.
Who's in The Show?
Kee Marcello (guitar/vocals), Stefan Odelberg (cicerone/ vocals), Jessica Andersson (vocals), Andreas Johnson (vocals), Jakob Samuel (vocals), Lollo Gardtman (vocals), Annica Svensson (backing vocals), Mats Jenséus (band master/guitar), Håkan Werner (keyboards), Darby Todd (drums, Jan-Feb), Pontus Engborg (drums, March-April) and myself (bass/ backing vocals).
Who would you say are the biggest surprise amongst the performers?
To me, I’d say Stefan… ‘cause I knew what to expect of the artists and musicians, and they all deliver! Having seen both the musical and the arena tour with Per Andersson as the cicerone, I didn’t really know what to expect of the character they wrote for Stefan. He made an awesome job developing a unique and great part for himself in this show. The audience loved him!
Any plans on taking the show on another tour?
That would probably have to wait a while, since they sold out ten arenas last October. Let’s hope for 2018. The floor show might pop up for another run, in another major city, before long though.
What does the future hold for Ken Sandin?
So many different things in the pipe right now!
There’s a finished album to be released on Frontiers Records, a new project named ‘Kee of Hearts’, as in Kee Marcello and Tommy Heart (Fair Warning). Straight forward melodic hard rock.
We’ve just shot a couple of promo videos in Italy, and the album is scheduled for a late summer release.
I’ve started recording an album with Swedish singer-songwriter Mats Westling, in an unplugged-soft pop-americana style. First single, ‘Ömtåligt
gods’, was just released on digital platforms.
I’ve played live with Mats for years and years, so although the approach in sound and playing is a lot different from my work on the rock scene, it’s just part of the diversity of my job... which is what I love about it.
On the prog rock side there are both the finishing of the second Timecode Alpha album and the making of the debut of new act ‘Sonic Desolution’. Those will be two beautiful pieces of art rock!
Sonic Desolution will have several altering singers, male and female, so it’s quite a challenge to write and arrange the vocals/lyrics. One is a famous Swede you wouldn’t expect to find in this type of band! And, Morgan Ågren is tracking drums and percussion for this album!
Italian singer Chris Catena is about to release two records that I’ve provided bass to, one unplugged type solo EP and a full on hard rock album (band/project).
On the live front there’ll be tours, clubs and festival shows with Kee Marcello Band, Joe Lynn Turner, Mats Westling, (possibly and hopefully) Alien and Jim Jidhed,, Black-Ingvars a.o.
Rock of 80’s - the Show was announced for one-off bookings, festivals, events or whatever by Sweden Live, so there will most likely be more shows already this year.
Rock Icons will be back with one of those mighty combo line-ups this fall; featuring Steve Augeri, JLT and Fran Cosmo (ex Boston).
Thank you for making time for us.
Thanks for having me.
Bob Wheeler - s/t
Fury - s/t