Dregen, guitarist for Backyard Babies, Hellacopters, Michael Monroe, and many more is on the other side of the line on his cell phone, because he is on a ferry boat going to Finland, where his first ever solo tour begins the next day (the interview took place in mid-November). The talk is mostly about his first solo album, his love for fishing, and what does it have to do with rock’n’roll, his audition for Guns’n’Roses, his son, and much more.
Interview: Yiannis Dolas
Rockpages.gr: So, you’ve been in the music business for so long, but you release your first solo album just now! How did this happen?
Dregen: I don’t know! It’s been in the back of my mind all those years that someday I will do a solo album, but you know it just came very natural with age and stuff… I can’t really answer! We decided to take a long holiday with Backyard Babies, we have not split up the band, but we just wanted to sort of take a break, and then I was thinking that it was the right time for me to do an album. Because, I’ve been so busy in my entire career playing with the Hellacopters, and Backyard Babies, and now with Michael Monroe and stuff, so… it just came pretty natural OK? If we are going to take some holiday, I am going to do my first solo album!
Rockpages.gr: But, you are still part of Michael Monroe’s band, right?
Dregen: Yes, I am but the tours are going to clash a little bit right now, because they are going to Japan next week, while I will be on tour in Scandinavia. But, everything is good between the bands, it’s a luxurious problem to be a part of two great albums. I am really happy about the Michael Monroe album too, but I think that my solo album is too good a record not to go on tour with, you know? The fans are going to love the live shows and fans of Michael Monroe’s live shows as well, so they have found a guitarist for Michael Monroe’s tour.
Rockpages.gr: I have to tell you that there is some diversity in your album’s material. Maybe it wasn’t easy for you to express that with Backyard Babies, or the Hellacopters. How much would you say that your first solo album reflect your influences?
Dregen: When I first started to plan this album, the first thing that came up to my mind was that I wanted to show the listener to understand what kind of music I grew up listening to. I want you to understand what kind of a record collection I own myself. But, I mean there are some stuff that you can hear on the solo album that you’ve heard before. For example, the guitar playing from the Hellacopters, and Backyard Babies in some of the songs. For example a song like “Flat Tire On A Muddy Road” from the album… you know I did listen to a lot of black music my whole life, since I was a kid, like old blues guitarists like Robert Johnson, John Lee Hooker and stuff like that, but you never really heard that in Backyard Babies, or Hellacopters, but I’ve always been a big fan of that stuff. I used to listen to that a lot.
Rockpages.gr: You must have a big record collection if I judge from the album…
Dregen: (laughs) Well, it’s not small, but I don’t have a huge collection!
Rockpages.gr: There must be a lot of variety I mean…
Dregen:: Oh, yeah I listen to all kinds of music, but you know songs like “Gig The Pig” on the album has a little of The Cramps. I am a really big fan of the Cramps, and not rockabilly, they were a unique band. I just wanted to show people because maybe some of the Backyard Babies fans might think that I own a big Motley Crue collection, but I hardly… maybe I have one or two Motley Crue albums in my collection, I have far more Cramps albums than Motley Crue, or I have more Cramps albums than Aerosmith. I just wanted to show my side of all those…
Rockpages.gr: When I heard the first song on the album “Divisions Of Me”, I thought that this was a Hellacopters song, what do you think about that?
Dregen: Well, Nicke (Andersson) and me wrote it together… but, also I guess that I am the only guy that could be allowed to have that kind of Hellacopters piano riff. It’s very much of the Hellacopters style, but also Nicke Andersson of the Hellacopters plays drums on the track, and me and Nicke wrote this song together! It’s a little hymn to the Hellacopters, it’s a celebration!
Rockpages.gr: Why did you choose “Just Like That” as the first single and video of the album?
Dregen: Well, actually it was not me! It was actually the record company. I was so happy with the entire album that I was like “pick any of those songs, I don’t care!”. Maybe they heard a radio friendly chord… I don’t know! It’s one of the “poppier” songs on the album…
Rockpages.gr: You have a lot of people involved in the album like Michael Monroe, Sammy Yaffa, Danko Jones and Nicke Andersson. How was it working with these guys? Did you meet, or did you send each other e-mails and stuff?
Dregen: No,no,no! We met the whole time! In the beginning I actually had plans of having more guests on the album. But, when I started to record I was in contact with some really big names of the music business… I don’t want to say who, but some really big names. Then, for me it was important, at least on the first album to show that I am capable of doing this by myself without any kind of superstars on the album. So, more or less it’s my friends that are on the album. Danko Jones had a gig in town, he is a big Backyard Babies fan, and actually for two years he’s being mailing me every week: “When is the album done?” , “When is the album done?”… So, we were working on the last song of the album which was “6:10” and he was invited to the studio to listen to the song, and we asked him if he wanted to sing on that song. But, maybe on an upcoming solo album I would have some more guests. I just wanted to work with friends on my first album, that’s all…
Rockpages.gr: Actually, that’s a Backyard Babies song… “Friends”!
Dregen: Yeah,yeah exactly!
Rockpages.gr: You have sung in songs before, but how did you feel now that you had to sing throughout an entire album, and take lead vocals?
Dregen: Well, you know I was very nervous in the beginning having to handle all the vocals, but we were working so well with the guy who produced the album, P?r Wiksten , the co-producer, and he just inspired me. It was way more easier than I thought it would be, because I always saw singing as a problem, but then I didn’t see it as a problem, I just saw it as a challenge and then it was fine you know…
Rockpages.gr: What about singing live? Are you going to focus more on your singing or your guitar playing?
Dregen: The answer to that question is that I have to concentrate on both at the same time!
Rockpages.gr: Do you feel like a “One Man Army” on your first solo album?
Dregen: That was actually one of the first songs I wrote for the album and it was kind like a statement you know… I am going to go solo now with this album. Like you said, I’ve been a musician for 25 years now, and I’ve been releasing albums for twenty years, and I have always been working as a band, or as a team, but this time I was kind like all alone. All my decisions were taken by me: who is going to sing on that song, how is it going to sound… everything was decided by me, so I thought I had to be a “One Man Army”…
Rockpages.gr: That was going to be my next question actually, what does making an album on your own mean? Less fights, more creative control, is it better, or just different?
Dregen: (laughs) Actually, I don’t really fight that much! In the long term I believe in democracy. I like being a part of a team, even if I really think that this idea is the best idea, and everybody else in the band disagree, the other three guys in the band. I even like that thing, but I’ve been doing that for such a long time… I am 40 years old now, and I’ve been in the business for 20 years, and everything, so it was time for me to be not in a democracy… it was time for me to be the dictator, you know (laughs)! I know exactly what I want nowadays and it’s good for my career. I love music, and I love my music, but I feel that album after album is a bit boring you know, it doesn’t have that spark that it had in the beginning when you were starting a band. To release a solo album at this age it feels like I am 21 again! I’ve been a guitarist, and now I am on my first solo album, and I am singing! There is a new dimension in my career! I am really happy playing music right now. I am like a kid; I can’t wait until tomorrow, to play my first show!
Rockpages.gr: It would be great if you could come to Greece… again!
Dregen: I would love to come to play in Greece again!
Rockpages.gr: You said that you are 40 years old, I didn’t say it, you did, and you release your biography! Don’t you think that you are too young to that?
Dregen: You know, the book is 330 pages and I think that we had to throw away almost 200 pages! I am sure that I could write a book of 1,000 pages. I am only 40 years old but you know a lot of fucking things happened, I tell you… And then I also played in two sensational bands at the same time, so I have as twice as many stories as anybody else, so it was a good time to do that, and it was good for myself as well to remember stuff in the right order. I know more about myself right now, than I did before I started to write the book actually.
Rockpages.gr: Is it going to be in English as well?
Dregen: We’re working on the English translation right now, yeah! But, I think that it looks like it’s going to be only an electronic book, or whatever you call it, and it’s going to be available for download. It is good, it is almost as turning the page, and having my new thing now. When I am 80 I am going to release another one. Normally, people release only one biography, but I am going to release two!
Rockpages.gr: I bet that by the time you hit 80 you would have released four books, not just two!
Dregen: (laughs) Maybe! So, the next one is going to be when I am 60!
Rockpages.gr: I read somewhere that you have auditioned for Guns’n’Roses. Is that true, and can you tell us a bit more about it?
Dregen: Well, actually I can’t do that because I have signed a contract that says that I can’t talk about it.
Rockpages.gr: Is it in the book?
Dregen: Yeah, it’s in the book, but I can tell you that it was a great time. I know Axl a little bit, and we are good friends, and of course Slash and Duff before, but he was looking for a new guitarist for the new Guns’n’Roses. I was over at an audition and we had a great time for two days. We were jamming for two days. To be honest with you on the older songs from “Appetite…” and “Use Your Illusion” some of the songs are amazing… “You Could Be Mine” and stuff like that, but to be really honest with you I really fucked up playing the new Guns’n’Roses stuff. Some of that stuff is not really my type of guitar playing, I can’t really play that. I think that for some of that stuff you need 7 strings to play it…
Rockpages.gr: You are also a big fishing enthusiast, right?
Dregen: Yes I am!
Rockpages.gr: How did you get into fishing, and what does fishing has to do with rock’n’roll? How do you combine these two elements?
Dregen: Well, I was fishing a lot when I was a young boy, but then I got into rock’n’roll music and I forgot about fishing for almost 20 years! Then, it came back to me, when me and my wife bought a house near the ocean. You know, I am too restless to do yoga, or some kind of meditation, so for me fishing is like meditation. Because, I am always thinking about music, for 24 hours, but when I go out and fish I am focused on nothing! There is almost a rock’n’roll element, because fishing is like writing a song. You are in there in the water and you are trying to catch a fish. It’s like you are playing, and playing but you can’t come up with any ideas for a new song, and suddenly you get something, and it’s the same with fish. You know that the fucking fish are in the water but you can’t catch them! If you are patient enough you might catch a big motherfucker, it’s like songwriters… if you are writing a song and you are writing, and writing, suddenly the fucking song is there… you can combine fishing and rock’n’roll.
Rockpages.gr: There is a scene on your documentary about Backyard Babies, by the way I loved your interview in the car, where you say that in the beginning of the band you left everything behind to move to Stockholm to chase your rock’n’roll dream. What do you remember from those days?
Dregen: We were four guys from a village – you know the story- and we moved to Stockholm. I feel very blessed that here we are 25 years older, living and believing my dream, and being able to… you know the only thing I wanted to do was playing rock’n’roll guitar, and that’s what I’ve been doing! So, I am pretty happy for that! Also, there was a lot of hard work in the beginning… well, it’s still a lot of hard work! Good times, we were living in the same apartment the whole band those years, and a lot of traveling, hotels, but you know when I remember it back now it’s good memories.
Rockpages.gr: So, let’s suppose that your son comes home from school and tells you: “dad I decided to quit school, and become a rockstar!” what’s your reaction?
Dregen: Oh, my God (laughs)! I don’t know! But, if he has a dream he really believes in, he can be whatever he wants to be, but probably very often kids revolt against their parents, so if my kid revolts again Dregen maybe he becomes a bird watcher, or a stamp collector…
Rockpages.gr: Did becoming a father changed you as a person?
Dregen: Yeah, a lot! They’ve asked me again this question in interviews, but it’s kind of hard to describe what it is, because it is almost like… I am not religious you know, but it’s almost like a religious feeling. He is only 9 months old now, but even when he is really really tiny you can feel that you can connect in some way. It’s half me, you know? And then also I become very much faster in my creativity! Because, when I started to record my solo album my wife was pregnant, and I finished the album when my son was born. And, I’ve got to say that the stuff that I did five months before he was born I could do that in five weeks when my son was born. But, it’s good. When he gets a few years older, two, or three of course he is going to change my life, but I’ve been in nearly in different nightclubs and bars, so I am not that interested in doing that thing anymore. I am going to travel with my son around the world. You get to experience your life once more. For example, I love going to Athens, or Tokyo for example, but now if I am coming with my kid, and seeing him checking out new places it would be great…
Rockpages.gr: What about music though? What if your kid asks you to show him a good rock’n’roll band, where would you take him? To which concert?
Dregen: His first show? Ahhmm… Oh, my God! That’s a good question! I don’t know, but maybe… maybe AC/DC will do another album and tour some more…
Rockpages.gr: I really hope he makes it…
Dregen: Yeah, I think AC/DC would be a good band to be his first band to see live.
Rockpages.gr: What was the best advice that someone ever gave you , that you still follow?
Dregen: Well, I’ve been given a lot of good advice throughout the years… but, actually I remember when I met Lux Interior from the Cramps once he gave me an advice. He said: “do what you got to do, do your best, but it’s not going to be an easy ride!”. I think that a lot of young kids today that play they think that if you write a song today and you sell it to a record company tomorrow, or the day after tomorrow you are a famous rockstar. You know, if you wanna rock’n’roll, it’s a long way to the top! It’s a lot of hard work. When I was younger I had a lot of older friends, so I was given good advice from my older friends, and also I’ve been seeing some stuff that I shouldn’t do. There’s a lot of my friends that are dead now because of drugs. I did my share of drugs too, but since I was a kid I realized that drugs are dangerous as well. Because, I saw my older friends that didn’t do well because of drugs. I can’t really say that anybody gave me a really good advice, but hanging out with older guys was really helpful for me.