Pretty Maids interview (Ronnie Atkins)

"The music business sucks these days. That’s the harsh reality"

28/05/2013 @ 14:42
Life is sometimes really unfair. A prime example is the case of Pretty Maids. The Danish band has been around for three decades and whoever you ask that’s keen on the melodic rock/metal sound they’ll surely have something good to say. Despite the undisputed respect of the music fans though and their steady more or less quality of their discography, the big breakthrough and the big hit that would have put on the mainstream commercial frontline has yet to come. Fortunately though, they haven’t shown a single sign of slowing down, since the last few years they have made their presence quite noticeable, with two consecutive releases ("Pandemonium" and "Motherland") which -without bringing the much anticipated breakthrough- are right in the middle of their classic sound’s best elements and a fresh and honestly modern approach. About that, the inexplicable jinx, the past and the future of the band and much more, we discussed with its frontman, Ronnie Atkins. Here it is...

Pretty MaidsI would like to begin by discussing your latest record, "Motherland". Could you share with us some details about the recording process, the circumstances that led you there and how the whole thing formed to the final album?
Well, we basically started writing for this album in March last year. And so we wrote on and off during the spring. During the summer we were already committed to do some festivals so we had to take a break from working on the songs. Finally, prior to the recordings we teamed up and sort of finished most of it. The recordings themselves went pretty smooth to begin with, but then we had to do some gigs during September and things got a little stressed. We actually were recording at three different locations at some point so it was a little confusing at times. But eventually it all ended up as "Motherland".

Pretty Maids - MotherlandWhat made you use this title really? Is there maybe a specific message you wanted to give?
We actually didn’t have a title for the album during the recordings. It was our art worker that eventually came up with the title. We all thought it was a good title but couldn’t fit it in with any of the tracks already written. So "Motherland" (the song) was eventually written in the studio. It holds no particular message besides what you hear in the lyrics.

Considering that you have now thirteen albums under your belt, do you still have that rush when you write and record one? Has the writing process changed since "Red, Hot And Heavy"? If so, how?
From when we started writing for "Pandemonium", the desire to play, write and record really came back. Suddenly the old spirit was back in a way and it’s been right there since then. Back in the days of "Red, Hot And Heavy" we used to rehearse a lot more and most of the stuff back then was written at rehearsals. These days, the band is spread out all over Europe so, as you imagine, things are a bit more complicated now. Ken (Hammer) and I write a lot separately and either send ideas to each other or meet up somewhere for writing sessions with two acoustic guitars.

Pretty MaidsYour previous effort, "Pandemonium", was a hit both among fans and critics. What were your thoughts then, regarding what your next album should sound like? Did some of those ideas find their way into "Motherland"?
We knew "Pandemonium" would be a tough one to follow and expectations would be high. So we didn’t search for ways to top it. We tried that before in the past. Instead of trying to copy what we did on "Pandemonium", we just thought: 'let’s write whatever comes to us'. And that’s what we did. But still there are some similarities since it’s almost the same line up and the same producer.

How would you compare "Motherland" to "Pandemonium"? What are the new elements you believe the first brings to Pretty Maids’ discography?
I think those two albums are some of the best albums we’ve ever done. Especially the last few years. They both stand on their own equally I think. "Pandemonium" is probably a bit heavier, where "Motherland" is a bit more melancholic, moody and melodic. I believe these are the new elements it brings. I definitely think the collaboration between Jacob Hansen (producer) and us has been a good thing for everyone. He really has played a major part in updating our sound.

Pretty MaidsThat is very true. So, considering that in these last two albums you took a more contemporary direction in terms of production, what was it that made you go down that road? How do you feel it compliments your songs and you, as a band?
We never planned such thing. But the inclusion of Jacob and a permanent keyboard player for the first time in 20 years really gave us a kick in the ass and some sort of a second arising. We just got back the 'eye of the tiger', cause everybody is getting along real fine both musically and on personal level as well. And that’s really important for us. Getting along with each other and having no big problems in your life really means a lot when you’re in a band.

Ronnie Atkins (Pretty Maids)During your career, you have managed to create your personal musical style. Is it a conscious decision maintaining this distinct sound or does it happen instinctively?
I think we created our sound back in the eighties, especially with “Red, Hot And Heavy” and “Future World”. Since those days, we’ve always, more or less, tried to stay true to that sound, stick to that musical path, so to speak. Even when we tried to do something slightly different we always ended up sounding like Pretty Maids. And I guess that’s not so bad after all.

Pretty MaidsI wouldn’t disagree. Now, anyone who has heard a couple of your records knows that lyrics are an important part of your songs. You can write excellent rock & roll songs and power ballads while at the same time you can make acute social commentary about politics, corruption etc. How does these two parts coexist? Where does the one stop and where does the other start?
I really don’t know. Most of the time the music dictates how the lyrics are gonna end up on a song. Usually they are written last, some times in the studio, while singing them. The truth is I never wanted to be political, but I always preferred to write about something from a real life perspective. Something that most people can relate to, you know. I’m sure that many people in the world can connect to songs such as "Mother Of All Lies" or "To Fool A Nation". Now, the fact that they are related to today’s political situation is just a fact and not the purpose of them. "Sad To See You Suffer" for instant has very personal lyrics and it stands for something completely different.

Ronnie Atkins (Pretty Maids)Since you have recorded some great covers, with the most successful being John Sykes’ "Please Don’t Leave Me", I guess that your musical influences play an important role during your writing process. So, what are the main artists that influenced the sound of Pretty Maids and what are the ones that shaped you as a musician?
Ken always loved doing covers. I don’t. I’d rather write my own music to be honest. So, as you’d imagine, we always had a few discussions on that issue. As far as influences go I think Ken was always into Thin Lizzy, Kiss, Purple and that kind of stuff. I like that too, but I was always more into old Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin and Queen. I guess we’re both very diverse when it comes to music. But to us, a good song is a good song. That simple. Whether it’s rock, pop or whatever.

Pretty Maids have been on the rock & roll map for thirty years now and they are surely one of the most respected bands out there. But the truth is that the big breakthrough hasn’t happened yet. Considering the quality of your material, why do you think that is?
Because of bad luck and bad decisions. Simple as that.

If you were starting off as a band now, do you think it would be different?
Well, personally, there are definitely a lot of things I wouldn’t do. A lot of traps that I would avoid, if given the chance again. I’m referring to the business side of it all.

Pretty MaidsIn that in mind, what are your thoughts about the music business in whole nowadays? Do rock artists and bands have a shot at dominating the charts anymore or is that a thing of the past?
The music business sucks these days. That’s the harsh reality. There are a lot of things wrong with it. And a big part is due to all that free downloading shit. Don’t know how it eventually will end up to tell you the truth. If it wasn’t for the love of music, I’d quit.

So, what’s your opinion about the internet? Do you think it has only negative effects on music or do you see a ray of light in it all?
Well, it obviously has its good and its bad sides too. But as I said, at least from my point of view, it has fucked up the business and the life of many musicians. But as it seems it’s here to stay, so I guess we all, along with the whole music industry have to figure out something progressive to find a mutually beneficial plan.

Pretty MaidsDespite all these, Pretty Maids are still standing. What do you think is the secret to your band’s longevity? How do you reflect on the past and is there anything you would change if you could?
The love of music, our friends and the always faithful fans and supporters around the world. There are a lot of things that I would have done differently, but that’s a business issue. Reflecting on the past, I wouldn’t exchange my 32 years in rock ‘n’ roll for anything! I had the chance to live my childhood dreams and I consider that a huge privilege.

While touring all those years, I’m sure that there are numerous things happening both on and off stage. Could you share with us some of the most memorable experiences you had on tour?
Unfortunately I can’t. What happens on the bus stays on the bus.

Ronnie Atkins (Pretty Maids)Understood. I’d like to ask you also about your involvement in Avantasia’s "The Mystery Of Time". Tobias Sammet told us in a recent interview how he kept trying to convince you to participate in an Avantasia album. What made you reply positively this time? How was it working outside Pretty Maids and what are your thoughts about touring with the likes of Bob Catley, Eric Martin and Michael Kiske?
I met Toby in the Caribbean last year and I thought he was a really nice guy. We had a few beers but we actually didn’t talk about Avantasia at all. It’s true that he asked me many years ago to participate in that project, but I guess I didn’t know who he was back then and besides I didn’t want to do anything else but Pretty Maids at that particular time. So when he dropped the question again last October, I asked him to send me the song he wanted me to participate in. I thought it sounded great and I could hear myself singing it. After that, when he asked me a few months ago to tour together, I had second thoughts at first, cause I never toured without the band before. But since Pretty Maids weren’t touring in the spring I committed to it and I don’t regret it. The tour has been a joyride really. Super nice people all over, no ego shit and a fantastic audience I must say. I can’t do all the gigs though this summer, because of my commitments to Pretty Maids.

Pretty MaidsWhat are your plans about the future? Is there anything specific you want to share with our readers?
We’ll do some big festivals this summer, which we are really excited about. Also, we maybe do a few recordings as well. And come September we’ll kick of the Motherland Tour, during which we hope to play a lot of gigs around the world the next year or so.

Do you want to say anything to your fans here in Greece?
Well yeah, I hope we’ll be able to come back to Greece and play some gigs, cause we have great memories from last time we were there. I also want to thank all those over there who’ve been supporting us over the years. It means a lot to us. We appreciate it.

We sure hope to see you soon. Thank you for this conversation.
We hope that too. Thank you very much.