Songwriting Interview With Andreas Blomqvist
Ryan Buckner: This is Ryan Buckner of SongwritingLessonsOnline.com and today I'm talking with Andreas Blomqvist, bassist and songwriter in Seventh Wonder. Andreas, thank you for taking the time to talk with me today and it's great to have you.
Andreas Blomqvist: Hey Ryan, no problem man good to be here.
RB: So my first question is, how did you get started writing music and what were some of your early influences?
Andreas: For me I guess it was... originally I never started out playing anything particularly advanced... just riffing along to Sabbath, Iron Maiden and Metallica and all those types of bands. I think it just comes natural because it's all very riff-based or riff-oriented, you just kind of drift into trying to create your own stuff and piece it together and create some kind of hold. For me it's always been kind of important to take the box if you will and create something that is done and complete. For me, it was never as satisfying or fulfilling to noodle on something. I always wanted to wrap something up and say "Okay this is a song". I think that drive was there right from the start.
RB: When did you get more serious about writing your own songs and recordings?
Andreas: For me I think I started writing before I partly knew how to play which became very evident in the first songs because they were pretty horrible. Right after I started out playing I think I started writing right away, like instantly. Probably the first day I started playing I started writing. It wasn't until several years later I had to step back and actually start practicing a lot more to get that routine up to start diving into the genre I ended up in. From the get-go, definitely started writing songs right away.
RB: So you write in the genre of progressive metal, how important would you say it is to learn music theory, or how important was it for you?
Andreas: It definitely wasn't there to begin with. To be fair, I think it's helped me a lot to progress as a songwriter. For some people everything really comes natural to them... they have perfect ears or a sense of harmony. For me it was never really like that to be honest. Starting off in more of a doomy, thrash-based environment it was never all about the sophisticated stuff at all. So to dive into that, I started getting my chops down to get my technique in place really to help take the step and tie the technique into the songwriting. I think that music theory was a great way to bridge that gap and marry the two disciplines if you will.
RB: Yeah instead of being totally abstract stuff it was like bringing the music together and playing something musical.
Andreas: Right. It was a great way to expand. It is very easy to get stuck in a rut, you end up doing the same thing over and over, day after day. You know I learned the modes for instance, like scales, modal scales. And, "Ok, I never used this before, let's look at this." Then bam, all of a sudden you end up writing a new chord progression, a new riff or melody or something. So I think it's a great way to expand your comfort zone. To some people it might sound a bit analytical. In the end it's always going to be up to your ears what you end up liking. Bottom line is, when you think it sounds good it probably is good. It's just a means to an end I think. It might help you take steps into new directions that you probably wouldn't have gone without having that kind of inspiration to begin with.
RB: Just curious too, do you have a favorite mode?
Andreas: Mode? Haha, that's a question I've never heard before.
Andreas: It's too boring I supposed of an answer but... Well no. Let's put it this way. Yeah yeah yeah... I notice that too often for our singer's preference I end up writing stuff in Locrian mode. I was originally going to say that you know as any kind of metalhead, just the standard minor scale, the Aeolian scale. But yeah let's throw in the Locrian there with the minor second, I usually end up using that.
RB: Nice. That's interesting. Also, since you guys are in the progressive genre you are often writing in different time signatures, not just standard 4/4 stuff. Do you have any advice for anyone listening to this on how to practice writing for different time signatures?
Andreas: Wow, how to practice writing... I think it goes hand in hand with playing the stuff. It's difficult for me to take the two things apart. I'm kinda just winging it here... but if I was to think back to what happened to me. It was that I auditioned for a band and everybody was way above me in terms of technical proficiency and whatnot. So that was a great learning experience... Being forced to play stuff you're not used to... you know somebody would show you a riff in an odd time signature and you have to internalize that and digest it and make it your own. I think it just dawned on me after a while you know, 9/8, 7/4 or whatever. After a while it just sounds natural to you. And when it does, it's as easy writing anything in that time signature as in anything else. I was actually today working through some old material that I wrote some five years back that was in some odd signature, I think it was 9/8. It just felt very natural and straightforward. The thing you don't want to do is for the heck of it just add the extra beat on the chord progression or whatever. You can kind of hear that upon starting out, you would go like 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 '1' 2 3 4 1 2 3 1. And it would sound a bit forced sometimes. My best advice would be play some odd riffs and it will be just as natural to you as any time signature.
RB: What I always felt about your guys' music is you guys use all that stuff but it doesn't feel off like 'this' is 7/8 or 'this' is 11/8 or whatever. It feels like a melody... like it's musical and it flows well.
Andreas: Yeah, I'm just going to take that as a huge compliment. That's been an intention all along from starting out, though we progressively got better at it. But yeah, definitely it goes back to what I just alluded to. When you try to force it, it sounds forced. If you write something and it ended up that way... you know sometimes you can just shift things in eight just to make things sound more interesting. All in all its going to sound natural if it is natural. Also I've got to give credit where credit is due. I think both our keyboard player and our singer are very, very talented at disguising what we do underneath and adding something smooth over top of that. It's kind of funny that way, especially with Tommy. We throw stuff at him sometimes that is just the weirdest things... multiple key changes and time changes in a single verse, and that usually ends up being the most smooth and poppy, melodic thing coming out of that. Then if we're getting too straight, then instead he totally freaks out on it. I think we just managed to land a good collaboration there. That's a cool way to do it I think, have some of the guys move around and at the same time someone else lay down a beat that you can kind of relax to or flow with.
RB: Would you say you guys work more as a band or individually?
Andreas: If I had to pick between the two, it would definitely be individually. Arrangement-wise we definitely work through everything together. We definitely pick things apart, put them back together. In all fairness, most of the times – especially I think the songs that end up being the best – in our genre I really don't think it is a matter of improvising it. Improvising can only get you so far. Cool in live environments sure. Add the thing that comes to your head when you are recording, sure. But to really write those types of multilayered stuff you really need to sit down and work through it. When I bring stuff to the band I've usually written for all the instruments. We might end up changing a whole bunch... you wouldn't see any composers just randomly improvising one of those things. Without trying to toot my own horn or anything... The more advanced you want to make it, the more work you have to put into it. Let's put it that way.
RB: That might come back to, if it is all improvisation – for you kind of genre, it can come off as being less musical sounding because you end up with all this jargon...
Andreas: Right. Because what happens is, what you do is you fall back on the routines you have. If somebody asked me to improvise, I would use my standard licks. That's how people improvise, you have your standard licks and you put them together in different ways. You keep doing that for a long period of time and you just have a chord progression that keeps rolling forever and ever and it's going to get totally tedious I think. Some people are better at it than others for sure, but if you are going to create a studio product of like 60-70 minutes of high density music, fans expect it to be thought through and worked through.
RB: How often do you guys go back and change parts before the whole song is finished?
Andreas: Too often I think. That's probably the thing we fight about the most. We'd be done recording and somebody is like man we need to run this extra one, add this chord in there and chop it up or whatever and that always pisses people off. I think we end up doing that quite a lot. I think it makes for a better product in the end although it's kind of frustrating going through it. But we're also very slow in our process for working. Even though I'd bring something that is "complete" for every instrument, we'd still spend weeks and weeks sometimes up to two months working through a single song because everybody would be nit picky about every detail, turn it inside out, bend over backwards to make sure it's original... we'd be at each other's throats for should it be this note or that note, should it be a syncopated beat or not... I'm not sure if it'd be easier to let loose a bit more, at times we do. But most of the time we really make sure that everybody is happy before going forward. In that sense we do change a whole lot in the basic arrangement and once we land that it's less dramatic changes that will happen when actually recording it.
RB: Do you personally have any favorite songwriting techniques?
Andreas: I probably can't answer that question the way you would like me to. I'm not familiar with any techniques per se. I remember reading about a Swedish pop singer who is really not my cup of tea music-wise, but I've got to give it to him that he really writes great hit music. He always started with a chorus. I tried that once or twice but it never really worked. Usually I'm practicing or I hear something, I noodle with it and most of the time that's going to be the intro and I just build on it that way. That's usually how it ends up being done.
RB: You mention choruses, you guys' choruses generally always have intricate harmonies, they're not just one voice. Is that something you work on as a band, or just something that is done by Tommy?
Andreas: Do you mean the vocal harmonies exclusively?
Andreas: Yeah, that's Tommy's thing altogether. I've got to give credit where credit is due. Before he joined the band it was mostly me and the guitar player Johan that worked on the vocal arrangements. Tommy is one of a kind in that aspect. He loves to toy with those things, those kind of big-production, Quincy Jones/Michael Jackson type of harmony parts, very playful and kind of bouncy on the off rhythms and everything. He just excels at that. While we work the harmony parts out sometimes with guitars, keys and bass or whatever. Those types of arrangements really give it our special flair and I definitely give credit where credit is due, and it's all Tommy's work.
RB: Cool, definitely love those choruses by you guys.
Andreas: Yeah I know, I love those too. There are a lot of songs over the years (usually collaborated with Tommy) I would usually write everything except the chorus and I'd say Tommy throw out the chorus here and work your magic. That's a fun way that we write songs sometimes, most significantly on our previous album The Great Escape where our keyboard player finally started contributing original ideas instead of adding to what is already there. He would throw out these great chord progressions, he has a fantastic taste for tonalities and key changes. That would get something basically like a chord progression with alternate bass notes... something that was clearly written like an orchestral piece on keyboard and I would write bass and guitar parts for that which is like totally working in reverse from what we've ever done before. Maybe he could work something out to give it that kind of bombastic, big, ostentatious movie score type of thing. Then Tommy would work with it to get that kind of majestic sound if that's what we'd be after. Then I would bring that home and conjure up some guitar and bass parts for that. So that happens also.
RB: In your music, I would say in my experience listening to progressive bands, you're really bass-heavy. I know you're the bass player, so I was wondering if you try to work that (bass) in or that is just more of your guys' style...
Andreas: It's definitely intentional. Starting out on the first album, I was clearly driven by bands like Talisman and Mr.Big. I think bass really suffered during the 90's, 80's too I should say. Like in the 70's it was awesome and all over the place, then for a while people just forgot the art and it was really an under-utilized instrument. There was just so much stuff that could be done. I just marveled at the stuff that could be done that people never did so I for me it's just an endless treasure to dig from. I've always had the philosophy that if I'm going to play something, I want it to be audible and people to hear it. Otherwise I might as well not do it. Also maybe I've stepped back slightly. Especially I find that the more I write, like if I write the entire thing like when I worked through The Great Escape which is about 30 minutes... I tend to prioritize the bass less because I tend to take more of a holistic view on everything. If someone gives me something that is more or less written and I'm just supposed to add the bass parts, then I would more deliberately try to make sure it sounds like me so to speak. Everybody that works with me needs to know that the bass is going to be there. It's definitely a big foundation of our sound. It was always cool working with Johan, our guitar player, because he a huge Talisman/Mr.Big fan, he loves that kind of bass that is right up there shredding with the guitar. That was never really a conflict or anything. Him and me really laid down that as the foundation of our sound when we started out.
RB: That definitely has a really unique sound when you have the guitar and the bass playing in unison with that unique timbre when they combine together.
Andreas: Right. Plus it's the most fun in the world playing those things. I still kind of get a big childhood... big smile across my face when we do those runs together. Really feels like I'm 18 again and just practicing every morning. I love that stuff. We both start sheepishly smiling at each other when we do those things... remembering when we'd be shredding to Yngwie licks and stuff like that together. It's just for fun.
RB: Here's my final question. What is one piece of advice that you would give to anyone listening on how to become a great songwriter and begin writing their own music?
Andreas: Don't be afraid to try stuff out. Sometimes you might feel like, " I could never venture off to write something like this or that guy did." For me, not having the best set of ears I was always struggling with maybe poor confidence in that aspect... " Can I trust my ears", "Do I know what sounds well?" I think for people starting out, regardless of if you are a shredder, you have perfect ears or whatever your fortei is... don't be afraid to stick out your chin so to speak. Get a vision of what you want to do... "This is the feel I want to create"... "I want it to be a song like that one", "I want it to be a feel like this"... work with different instruments and different feels, it doesn't have to be the way it's supposed to be or whatever. Try stuff out, play around. All of a sudden you're stumbling onto something that you think "this is cool, nobody has done that before". And you know, all of a sudden you learn and you'll be able to kind of harness that and shape your own style. So maybe that's good advice. Dare to move things around a bit and try new stuff that nobody taught you. If you think it sounds cool, I'm sure it is.
RB: Yeah, that sounds like great advice. I'd like to thank you for joining me today. It's been great having you.
Andreas: You bet!