Just after the tour with the Avantastia “family” is completed, Ronnie Atkins returns to the familiar den of Pretty Maids whose new album is ready for release, but it’s too early and we are not allowed to talk about that yet. Of course, his collaboration with Eric Martensson is something important, not just for both of them, but also for melodic rock as well and it’s not impossible to see Nordic Union playing some live shows, or Pretty Maids visiting Greece again. In 20 minutes Ronnie Atkins grace us with his rich experience of his career, music and life… enjoy! Interview: Yiannis Dolas
Rockpages.gr: Well, you just got back from a tour with Avantasia, can you tell us how was it to play with the family?
Ronnie Atkins: It was fantastic! It’s been a long tour since March through April and then we did the festivals. It was really cool. I did the tour in 2013, the “Mystery Of Time” tour, and it was just a lot of fun you know. We were like thirty people going on the road and everybody is very nice we were really having a good time. It’s really like a “pleasure ride”, there is no ego shit between the singers or anything like that you know! It’s basically like a bunch of friends being on the road. We had a good time, absolutely!
Rockpages.gr: Now on your collaboration with Eric Martensson in Nordic Union, how did this come up?
Ronnie Atkins: We started with Serafino from Frontiers trying to persuade me to participate in a project with another producer actually, and begin with I was a little reluctant because I’ve never had done that before… before Eric Martenson came in I had like 12 songs that I liked and considered doing. But, the first songs that I had with this other guy just weren’t good enough, you know, and Serafino agreed on that. Then, I heard two songs by Eric Martensson who I’ve met before a couple of times with Eclipse in festivals, but I didn’t really know him and I didn’t really know about Eclipse and then I heard some of their stuff. The first two songs I heard “Hypocrisy” and “Death Is Calling”. When I heard these songs I said: “we can keep that standards, let’s do it!” And so, he did! I think I had eleven or twelve songs and we used ten of them. Very good song writing ad it turned out to be a great melodic album, so I was very pleased with it you know! I just got the mp3 files got in a studio and recorded them, sent them back to him, I wasn’t really involved in the songwriting so much. I participated, but at the same time I was writing the new Pretty Maids album, so I didn’t want to mix things up, so I just appeared on one or two lyrics on the album, but was about it. But, it was a very nice album and a really nice guy and it turned out brilliant!
Rockpages.gr: Do you think that you would go for a second album? Do you see Nordic Union evolving into a band and playing shows, or is it a one-off project?
Ronnie Atkins: I don’t really don’t want to say too much about it, because I am pretty convinced that people will ask for another album! I mean the reception the album has had and all that… a lot of people requesting me personally and Eric too to take this on the road and to do a new album. But, actually we haven’t discussed it at all, because I’ve been very busy with the Pretty Maids new album and Avantasia. Next year I will be touring with Pretty Maids from November and probably a year ahead. So, maybe sometime in the future… I mean the album has been very successful and it was a good album… so, never say never! I can’t say yes and I can’t say no, but Eric is also very busy with his projects too… but, let’s see it was great fun doing it and if we do a second album, then maybe we’ll do a couple of gigs… you never know! Actually, I don’t know, so I can’t promise you anything! Hehehe!
Rockpages.gr: One thing that’s missing from the music scene nowadays, whether it’s hard rock, or heavy metal is the good songs and good song writing. A really good production is not that important if the songs are not that good. What is your opinion about that?
Ronnie Atkins: You know for me a good song requires a good riff, a good melody… basically, I wouldn’t involve myself in anything if there wasn’t a good song, because in the last two years I’ve had plenty of offers for participating in this and that for many projects, but basically I said “no”, because I don’t know if I want to involve in too much and then most of the stuff that I heard I just found that weren’t good enough, then I don’t give a fuck about the money, I don’t want to put my name on it. I think that there is probably too much crap coming out sometimes you know… I think that Eric quite agrees on that and he is very younger than me. He is a great song writer, I heard his songs that I’ve never heard before and it was great stuff. The same goes for Tobias Sammet in Avantasia. He sent me the last songs for his last album and they were pretty good. So, that’s the key thing for me I think, a good song. A good song is a good song to me, it’s just a matter of package, how you pack it in. I think it’s a bit of a problem, because there are a lot of great bands out there, a lot of great singers, a lot of great musicians, but they don’t always come up with great songs. We try to make an album with good songs, Pretty Maids as well. Sometimes you succeed… the only thing you can do is do your best! That’s what we try to do…
Rockpages.gr: I have noticed on your Facebook account that you wrote that the new Pretty Maids album is ready. Can you tell u a bit about that?
Ronnie Atkins: That it’s ready! Hahaha! Yeah, it is actually! Right before you called me I confirmed that the cover was OK and everything. The album is finished now and in two weeks’ time we will talk about which song would be the promotion video. The album was finished about two weeks ago, we started in February and then I did the tour with Avantasia and went straight back recording in May and then the whole thing was postponed and I finished the vocals on the last week of June and that was it. The album was mixed and everything, it was ready to go! So, we now get it manufactured and then is the video thing and all the stuff we have to do, but that’s the next step. It won’t come out until November.
Rockpages.gr: Any idea about the title?
Ronnie Atkins: Yeah, but I can’t tell you yet! I am not supposed to tell you actually, it’s something that’s between the record company and the band. It will be officially announced… all I can say is that it starts with a “K”and it’s eight letters…hahahah… no, it’s nine!
Rockpages.gr: This is going to be your 14th album so far. What would you say that is you secret of keep going and making albums?
Ronnie Atkins: Hmmm, well I think that the whole thing starts when you are a kid. You want to do albums, you want to go on the road, to play music in front of people, you know… and as long as you are having a good time and as long as you feel the same with the guys that come and play and as long as we can keep writing good songs that’s fun. To be totally honest with you, I am not doing this album for the money! Because, I mean the business is so fucked up now with the physical sales and everything… basically, these days you are doing in album because you want to put out new music every now and then, but to me these days is more like a visit card to get out on the road again. And that’s a bit hard but still I can say that this new album as far as I am concerned is very good and it sounds great. Once again it’s Jacob Hansen who produced it and I think it’s not totally like “Pandemonium”, but it’s the same atmosphere to the album I guess. It turned a little bit different than I thought it would be. But, I think there are a lot of good songs in it. I hope that the fans, the supporters and the critics agree with me, that’s how I feel now.
Rockpages.gr: You mentioned that when you are a kid you start to get involved in music, playing shows, going on tours, dreaming about making it big and everything, right now your son Patrick looks like he is following your footsteps being a singer. How does that make you feel and what advice do you have to give him?
Ronnie Atkins: Well, I always told him: “do whatever you feel like doing”! Of course, to some extent it’s funny to see my own son doing the same thing as me, or want to do the same thing, maybe not the same style, but he is a singer and he has his own kind of style. I don’t think that he found exactly where he wanted to be, but he is the progress. I of course helped him as much as I could, I always did… but, I mean even when he was a kid, when everybody was listening to Spice Girls, or whatever it was, he was listening to KISS… I always knew that he was going to get involved in music, that’s what he always wanted. Even when he was a kid he was playing guitar and we were singing together, and he was listening to the music I was listening… so it was always on the cards… but I never tried to pressure him do anything, I never told him “you can’t do that”… it was always his own choice. If he said “I wanna be a butcher”, he would have become a butcher.
Rockpages.gr: You and Ken started out in Pretty Maids in the ‘80s and you’ve been together in the band all those years, how would you say that your friendship evolved all those years?
Ronnie Atkins: It’s like a 35-year marriage you know… at sometimes we have arguments and we may not talk for a couple of months, it’s nothing serious, it used to be much worse! These days we are just two old farts you know… we talk many times during the week and we are still very good friends, we share the same humor and thinking about that we’ve played together for 35 years it’s quite magical that we are still together. But, we shared the same dream we wanted to do that, we both respected that, but of course sometimes there is a thing or two that you won’t agree. That’s all natural… the chemistry is still good, we are good friends and that’s what makes it possible to do this still. Still writing songs, sit together play the guitar and write most of the stuff. Some stuff we write in the rehearsal room, we spend the day together, we’d share a couple of beers… it’s good!
Rockpages.gr: Actually, this year, 2016, it’s your 35th anniversary! Is there something special you have planned for that?
Ronnie Atkins: No we don’t actually, we decided to take a break, because since the “Pandemonium” album was released in 2010 we had a tour every year, we’ve done gigs on-off, this year I decided I want to take a break. I am going to take half-a-year break, we’re going to release the album and then go on a tour. We will be playing with Gotthard in February next year all over Europe and then hopefully we will go to as many places as we can… South America, we hope we could go to Japan again… let’s see what happens you know… and we might as well play some gigs where we play the “Future World” album… we just might you know, because it’s the 30th anniversary of the album next year.
Rockpages.gr: That will be great, hope we can see you in Greece as well…
Ronnie Atkins: That would be great! We haven’t played since 2010. We’ve been to Greece twice. You know I used to come to Greece a lot when I was young and go to the Greek islands for vacation. I haven’t been there for a long time. I am looking forward to that and I hope we get to play in Greece… we’ve got great response from Greek fans.
Rockpages.gr: That would be great! Looking back in your career, what would you say that was your highest point, as well as your lowest?
Ronnie Atkins: You know this is a pilot band, it goes up and down all the time. I think that the highest point was actually two points! That was basically periods like ’87 when we did “Futureworld” and from 1985 to 1992 was also a very good time for us. And then, up through the ‘90s and actually up to 2010 when we did the “Pandemonium” album. That was the lowest period, because we took a lot of time off… we did lot of albums in the ‘90s, but the kind of music we were making was suddenly considered “kitsch”, or “old” you know with all this new metal going on, grunge, whatever it was, different to traditional rock or metal. That was a little down for the count, but I mean I was a little fed up with the whole thing in 2002-3 and we took some years off, we did the “Wake Up To The Real World” album in 2006, but I don’t look up to that as a full effort. It wasn’t until 2009 when we started writing songs and did some European dates that we had the desire to do a new album, so we did the “Pandemonium” album in 2010 and since then it’s been a lot of highs for us in the last five years. It’s been great! And we also attract a lot of people again and that’s great!
Rockpages.gr: You often include cover in your albums, the most popular one is definetely “Please Don’t Leave Me”, originally by John Sykes, although I am sure a lot of people think that it’s your song actually. How did you decide to do that cover?
Ronnie Atkins: I think a lot of people though it was our song, maybe we thought that too, until we didn’t get paid any money. First, I’ve got to say that I am glad we did “Please Don’t Leave Me”, because it gave us our first big hit in Japan in a time when hard rock was down. We became massive in Japan and in Germany it was quite a hit you know… But, the thing is that it wasn’t even supposed to be in the “Sin Decade” album. I knew the song since 1982 when it was released and it was a bit crappy. When we did the song we started again John Sykes career again in Japan! But, we didn’t really know where to put it, we thought about using it as a B-side, because we didn’t want to have any ballads in the “Sin Decade” album. Then the record company people heard the song and said: “are you guys kidding? Are you fucking out of your mind?” It was released in a compilation album in Denmark and became a massive hit. I can’t complain it was a big song for Pretty Maids and it’s true that a lot of people thought it was ours. Listening back I think we’ve made a pretty good version of it. We still play it a lot. We have to, because people want to hear it!