Interview with Bulletrain drummer and co-founder Jonas Tillheden
Swedish band Bulletrain just released their second full length album, the utterly phenomenal ‘What You Fear The Most’ (Click here to read my review of the album). Upping their game considerably from their first record these sleaze rockers delivered one of my biggest surprise hits of the year.
Drummer, co-founder of the band and just all around cool guy Jonas Tillheden was kind enough to sit down and take some of my questions about the beginnings of the band, how they found the man responsible for the outstanding vocals, what inspired this new record and what plans the band has for the future.
MMR: Jonas, thank you for taking your time to answer my questions, I appreciate it. So, the band was started back in 2006, I believe, by yourself and Mattias (Persson, guitarist). How did the band come together back in the beginning?
JT: Thank you for giving me the opportunity! I really appreciate it! That’s right, me and Mattias have been playing together since we were kids. Years later when we took our gear and moved into the city we found like-minded people in Robin Bengtsson and our first singer Robert Lindell. At the time we had a bass player named Tim and we all shared the same dream of creating the most badass rock ‘n’ roll we ever could imagine.
MMR: Awesome, I did not realize you had been playing together that long.
Is there any story behind the band name or did it just sound like a cool name for a band?
JT: I actually got the band name from a story in ‘The Dirt’ (Motley Crue’s biography). When Motley toured in Japan, one day Nikki (Sixx) and Tommy (Lee) traveled on a Bullet Train, drunk as fuck they almost started a riot. It was a long time ago since I read that story so I can’t go in on any details, but I thought it was funny as hell and Bullettrain sounded so damn rock ‘n’ roll that we took that name right there and then. But as you see we changed it a bit. My OCD didn’t let us have two T’s in the middle. Hehe. And at the same time Bullet Rain sounds heavy as hell too!
MMR: I read the book quite some time ago but I vaguely remember the story. But cool, I also enjoy hearing how bands find their names as the stories of how they come about are always different.
The band had quite tumultuous beginnings with several changes in the line-up, including the absence of original vocalist Robert Lindell. You briefly had another singer, Mike Palace, but he soon left as well. Thankfully throughout all of these rough spots you kept the faith, kept your dream alive and continued the band. In 2013 you hit a goldmine when you brought in Sebastian Sundberg, an amazingly talented singer. How did you find Sebastian?
JT: Yeah it’s just like AC/DC said, “It’s a long way to the top if you want to rock ‘n’ roll!”. We’ve had a great trip with both Robert and Mike. Especially Robert who was such a big part of our history, but everything happens for a reason. It was meant that we should have a band together with Sebastian, as you hear he is an amazingly talented singer and also a hard-working dude just like the rest of us. When we recorded ‘Start Talking’ we were still in search for both a singer and a bass player and luckily my little brother searched the web and found an ad from Sebastian where he was looking for a band. We e-mailed, he came down for an audition and the rest is history!
MMR: That is incredible. That is one of the great things about the internet and music these days. There are so many stories where bands have found their singers or band members through the web. Just look at Journey. But yes, you stumbled on to a gem with Sebastian, he is truly a phenomenal singer, what a voice!
Now am I right in thinking that it is the same Mike Palace that just released his first album Palace?
JT: Yes, that’s the Mike Palace, super great album he’s released if you ask me.
MMR: Very cool, who knew at that point that he would have his own record and be an up-and-coming artist now. And yes, it is a great album, great voice on him as well.
You released two EP’s, you had the chance to work with the great Chris Laney, you toured in support of bands like Crashdiet and Crazy Lixx, two bands that I love. Then with the final line-up all settled and a new vocalist on board you released your first full-length album, ‘Start Talking’, in 2014. What was the reception like for the record when it released and did it start opening more doors for you as a band?
JT: It definitely did open up a lot of doors for us! Finally we could come out of the light and really show everyone who we were and finally people started to listen! In a world full of talented bands and musicians you really need to have yourself heard and with a full length album it’s a lot easier to be recognized. We got the opportunity to tour and do interviews around the continent and the album really got a better reception than we ever imagined.
MMR: That’s awesome. And you were certainly deserving of it. The album was great.
I was familiar with the band from your EP’s but ‘Start Talking’ was the first time I really sat up and started taking notice of the band. Now fast forward two years and you have just released album number two, ‘What You Fear The Most’. You have read my review of the record so you know that I absolutely love it. I knew it would be good based on your previous music but I will admit that I was not expecting to be blown away. Well I was. Completely. It still spins constantly in my player. The record sees you taking your music to a whole new level. Everything about the album is on a whole other plain from the previous releases, from vocals to the playing to the superb writing. You went a heavier route with this record and much more melodic then the first album, yet still kept that edge that you had with the first record. What inspired this change?
JT: Thank you so much, it really means a lot to us to read this as we’ve put down our heart and soul in this album. The change in sound really came naturally but with the guidance from the producers RamPac. The songs on ‘Start Talking’ was our best of the “pre-record deal era”. Hehe. We didn’t know what to do back then and why, so we really did just choose our favorite songs and recorded them. On ‘What You Fear The Most’ we had RamPac (The producer duo behind Crashdiet’s ‘Generation Wild’ album) guiding us and helping us choose songs for the album. They told us why and we couldn’t disagree, it really turned out great too!
MMR: Well I certainly can’t disagree there, it is outstanding. All of you, the band and the producers, did just an amazing job with it.
The band are obviously heavily influenced by the 1980’s music scene, and why not, after all it IS the best music in the world. Who are some of the artists and bands that have influenced you with your musical career and influenced the sound of Bulletrain?
JT: The first time I heard ‘Appetite For Destruction’ with Guns N Roses I knew what I wanted to do. I was so blown away by their music and I listened to that album twice a day for years, easy! All the members in Bulletrain have different bands as influences and the best part with our musicianship is that everyones opinions matter and our music is that fantastic mash up, with everything from The Doors, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath to Skid Row, Bon Jovi and Pantera.
MMR: You know though, it is that difference in influences that causes a band to create their own sound and not come off sounding like a GNR cover band, or whoever the band of choice is for someone. Without those differing opinions and influences then a band would just end up sounding like a copy of another band. It takes that difference to create something special, which is exactly what you have done here.
I love every track on the album. There really is not one single bad one in the mix. But my two favorites are ‘Old Lighthouse’ and ‘Fear’, both utterly amazing songs. What are your favorite songs from the album and can you briefly tell us a bit about each track and where they came from?
JT: Cool thanks! Well that’s a tough question to answer but I guess I would have to say ‘Fear’ because we finished that song just before we entered the studio and it turned out killer! RamPac wanted just one more song and Matt had this music we hadn’t done anything with and suddenly Robin had these lyrics and together with Sebastian they presented the song and vocals and then it was an easy decision to make it a part of the album!
‘Memory Lane’ is about growing up and when you realize life’s damn serious stuff and all you wanna do is go back in time to when you were young, dumb and free.
‘Love Lies’ is a true story about a ex-girlfriend of mine. We had a seriously intense and crazy relationship. It was madness but it turned out to be a good song though.
‘Can’t Get Away’ is actually about my bad romance with alcohol. Today I’m sober, haven’t had a drink for almost three months, hehe, and that’s how I felt when I drank.
‘Fight With Me’ was a song I wrote when I was fed up with my job and life of working 9 to 5 day in and day out. I wanna play rock ‘n’ roll and part every day, not being a puppet in a freakshow like Dave Lepard (Crashdiet, RIP) sang in ‘Riot In Everyone’ !
‘We Salute You’ is actually written by our producers, RamPac. I fucking love that song, it’s damn catchy with a killer chorus and melody. I’m proud and thankful that they wanted to share that song with us!
‘Feed The Fire’ is a song about preparing yourself for all the toubles in life. You gotta be strong mentally because one day yourself is all you have.
‘Wet, Tired & Lonley’ lyrics came to Robin when he was riding his bike home one Summer morning after his night shift at work. He was recently left by his girlfriend and the rain was pouring down as hell.
‘Old Lighthouse’ is actually the first and only lyrics we’ve written that is fictional. At the same time you can see it as a metaphore for drug abuse.
And last but not least ‘Far Away’ is about Robin’s trip to India where he spent a couple of months trying to find himself but just ended up sick as fuck with typhoid fever realzing that he really was far away from home.
MMR: Well first of all congratulations on your sobriety man! That is absolutely awesome! That is a long, hard road for anyone but you are in a rock band! I can’t imagine the difficulty you face, yet here you are fighting, and WINNING, that battle every day! You have my utmost respect man. I wish you the absolute best with that.
And thank you for sharing all of that. Some interesting stories there. It is so cool hearing what a band’s interpretations are of thier songs and what they meant with writing them. You know the great thing, well ONE of the great things, about music is how songs can be interpreted different ways when people hear them. I can hear a song and take one thing away from it and the next guy can listen to it and take something totally different away from it.
And that is crazy about ‘Fear’. A last minute addition and now it is the first single and, in my opinion, the best track.
What is the writing process like for the band?
JT: Oh we have a lot of different writing processes! Hehe. It depends who comes up with the song idea and what kind of mood we’re in at that moment. As me and Matt always been playing together I think we feel most comfortable writing together. Mattias has this gift and his way of playing is definitely what shapes our sound and music. So 90% of the time when we have a song idea we present it for him wishing we could do some magic together. I don’t play any other instruments then the drums so those times when I get a song idea out of nowhere I need to go and sing it for Matt. He then listens, starts playing and two hours later we have a song that’s usually better than the one I heard in my mind. He’s amazing!
MMR: That is cool. He sounds like he is an amazing artist and writer, well he certainly is, obviously. But it sounds like the band really has a say and a voice in what is written and played by the band.
Now ‘Fear’ was released as the first single and it is accompanied by a music video. Personally I love the video. The horror theme fits great with the lyrics. Sebastian gives a nice little creepy performance with those contact lenses. You have a beautiful, skimpily dressed female actress in it and the song absolutely kicks ass. What is not to like! lol. It’s rock ‘n’ roll, and I love it. Was the idea for video one of the band member’s ideas or did it come from outside the band?
JT: My little brother, Jacob, who is almost like a sixth member of the band, has always got this vision of a story based music video as something we really needed to do. Finally we had the perfect song to do so with and, as we’re huge fans of horror movie fans, it was no question about the concept nor the song. We called our friend and director Robin Jansson who immediately understood what we were looking for and got our vision to be ten times better than we hoped for. But like everything else we do, all the members had a brainstorming session before filming it and this is what we agreed on.
MMR: Well it turned out fantastic, I love it.
So far everything I have read has been raving on how great a record it is, and rightly so. Has the overall reception of the album been positive so far?
JT: Yes it has been a really overwhelming response! We’re damn proud of our album and love every song on it but you can’t expect that it will be the common man’s opinion even if you wish it was so. But so far so good, the reception has been really positive! There are those who wished we would have improved more on our song writing since the last album, but hey, this is what we do and what we sound like, you can’t make every one happy! Yet. Hehe.
MMR: Well first of all to the naysayers, they don’t know what they are talking about, obviously! You most certainly improved on your writing from the first record. You turned everything up to ten on this record and kicked ass. However, as you said, you will never be able to please everyone and at the end of the day all you can, and need, to do is write music that you as the band enjoy and to hell with the rest of the world. If you write what you truly feel and are inspired to write and WANT to write and you are happy at the end of the day then that is what matters. The day you start writing to try to please everyone is the day that you sell out and stop being you. You can write the biggest song in the world and there would still be people that wouldn’t like it, so as long as the band is happy with the finished product that is all that really matters.
Not only do we have all of the legendary, classic bands still putting out great music but we keep getting new bands that are releasing tremendous stuff as well. Bands like Bulletrain (of course!), Kissin’ Dynamite, Maverick, Cruzh, Dynazty and Crazy Lixx, to name just a very few, are putting out amazing music and helping to keep this incredible genre alive. What are some of the newer bands you are currently in to?
JT: Santa Cruz is definitely the coolest new band out there today if you ask us! I think that all of the guys in the band would agree with that! The genre is actually full og treasures I think. H.E.A.T., our fellow countrymen, is easily one of the best live acts out there today.
MMR: Yeah, ‘Screaming For Adrenaline’ is a fantastic album! And H.E.A.T. are incredible, with both Kenny Leckremo and Erik Gronwall. Both outstanding vocalists. Of course living here in the States I have never had the opportunity to see H.E.A.T. live before and Santa Cruz was here in a neighboring City just a few months ago opening for Sebastian Bach but sadly due to circumstances I was unable to attend. I have seen footage of both bands live though and they put on fantastic shows.
If there was one band that you could tour with who would that be?
JT: I think the other guys would agree with me if I answered the Aussies Airbourne!! Damn that would be one hell of a tour and party of the century!
MMR: I have never seen them live but I have heard that they put on a hell of a show. I imagine the two of you would be a damn good night!
I am assuming that you handle most of the band’s social media. Do you enjoy the closeness that things like Facebook bring you with your fans around the world?
JT: Yeah that’s right. It is definitely the best thing with social media today I think, that you can have this closeness with your fans! We’re so thankful for everyone who supports us and I hope you agree that it is one of the best ways to show your appreciation by engaging your listeners online.
MMR: Certainly! I absolutely love the closeness it bring us fans with you artists. Years ago rockstars were a seemingly unattainable thing, these days we can sit and chat with you on social media and actually feel like we are a part of it all. I have spoken to some who are not approachable, kind, or appreciative in any way, some just flat out ignore you, talk about a turn off from being a fan! But the majority are extremely nice and appreciative of their fan base and, like yourself, will take the time to sit and talk with you, never even realizing that they may have just made someone’s day or year or even life by simply taking a few minutes of thier time to just sit and talk and show their appreciation to the folks that put them where they are by buying thier records and being fans. I have had the privilege of meeting and talking to several artists like yourself and it has been an absolute blast. I love it. I think, as far as that kind of thing goes, social media is the best thing that has happened to music in the computer age.
Now you are quite a talented drummer. At what age did you start playing?
JT: Thank you, that’s really cool to read! I started playing drums back when I was fourteen years old. Me and Mattias actuall picked up our instruments and started learning together.
MMR: That’s awesome man. You two actually started together on this journey in every sense then.
What are your touring plans for the album and is there any possibility that we may get the chance to see you here in the States sometime (hint hint)?
JT: Right now our booker, Alex, is working on a tour over here in Sweden. We’ll do a couple of shows a month here this Fall and hopefully we’ll get the chance to get out on the road and tour the rest of Europe next year! Unfortunately right now we haven’t got any opportunities to play in the States yet. But you can count on us that we’ll do what it takes to get our asses over the Atlantic and play for you!
MMR: Well that is great on touring there! Congratulations and best of luck with that, and the lucky bastards that get to see you there! lol. Sadly living here we don’t get the opportunity to see too many bands in the melodic rock genre live. Amaranthe tours clubs here almost every year and Dynazty comes to a metal festival each year, but other than that we don’t get too much save the Melodicrockfest in Chicago, Illinois which is often too expensive for the regular Joe, and the random tour here and there. But I do hope we get the chance to see you over here some day soon!
As mentioned before, you have had the chance to do some do some touring with some great bands and the chance to work with some great talent. What has been the biggest highlight of your career thus far?
JT: I would say that the biggest highlight so far has been to get the chance to record ‘What You Fear The Most’ together with RamPac. It was such a trip to do the recordings in Riga. One hell of a party after long working days and even longer nights out on the town. Hey it ended up sounding so good that Tobias Lindell wanted to mix it without hesitating and the same came to the legendary Vlado Meller when we asked him if he wanted to master the album as well.
MMR: Well Jonas, again, I appreciate you taking the time. It has been a privilege. Congratulations on the new record, you guys outdid yourselves with this one. Good luck topping it with the next one, lol. Seriously though, best of luck to you and the band. Last question. What is next for Bulletrain?
JT: Haha, thank you so much! It’s been a pleasure. I can tell you that the next record will top ‘What You Fear The Most’, promise! Hehe. I can’t see us recording a bad album nor writing terrible songs. It will just become better and better. Next up is world domination, we’re ready to go out and play every city, stage and women that’s possible to conquer!! We’ll see you on the road!
Learn more about the band and follow them on social media:
Click here to visit the band’s Facebook page.
Click here to visit the band’s website.