Heavy Load’s Styrbjörn and Ragne Wahlquist talk about future and past


They are back! Heavy Load, the Swedish Cult Heavy Metal band from Stockholm that was formed back in the year 1976 as a trio by the brothers Ragne (vocals and guitar) and Styrbjörn Wahlquist (vocals and drums), in the year 1978 they released their very first album ‘Full Speed at High Level’, followed by underground gems such as: the single ‘Take Me Away’ (’82), and albums like ‘Death Or Glory’ (’82) and ‘Stronger Than Evil’ (’83). I was really happy when Bart Gabriel from Gabriel Management contacted me to do an interview with this legendary leading Swedish Underground Heavy Metal band. So here we go, true Metalheads, finally a chat with the most important Swedish traditional Metal band ever!

Hi Maniacs! How are you guys doing? Please let’s start with the very beginning: How did it all start with Heavy Load back in 1976?

We began as a trio in 1974 – 75 with Michael Bachler on bass guitar. The first concert was during the winter of 1976, in Stockholm. Michael and we, the brothers, had different visions for the future and we decided to part. Soon we found Dan Molén, the bass guitarist who would come to play on our first album, Full Speed at High Level. After about a year, having participated in our first tour, he wanted to focus on his family instead. Once again we had to search for a bass guitarist.

Which bands were your main influences? And have those influences changed through all the years?

Ragne: Our main influences ever since the late 60s and early 70s have always been Deep Purple, Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin. After that came Rainbow and Black Sabbath with Dio. We, the brothers, grew up in a milieu of classical music. Listening and playing and singing. It all came from our father that was a fantastic singer and a good pianist. Quite soon we turned to our own creativity, to what later became Heavy Load.

Let’s talk about your lyrics! Mostly they deal with Freedom, Honour, Metal and Vikings. Is there a reason for that and what inspires you while you write a song?

Ragne: Some examples: the reason for lyrics such as “Stronger than Evil”, “The Guitar is My Sword“ and “Run with the Devil” is about your fight within for what you in your heart feel is right or wrong. You are free to make this choice but you do need to be strong. The theme of being free is represented in songs as “Free” and You´ve Got the Power. What inspires me is music, literature, films and life itself.

Styrbjörn: My lyrics are very important to me. They essentially come from my own pondering about the world and how people deal with existence. They are often about the right to become yourself, to find your kernel, to rebel against what you find to be wrong. Their themes are timeless; their settings are not. The stories are quite often in the setting of the Viking era but I feel that they will always be highly relevant.

What made you and your brother decide to bring the band back on the map again?

Styrbjörn: Well, music is a consuming passion for Ragne and me. It is like a drug actually. For many, many years we tried to keep away from music. It is just too emotional for us so we do not want to engage in other matters. We knew that the interest for Heavy Load had increased steadily here in Sweden each year for about 20 years. It still does. Our first hint of that the same thing was going on in other countries came about with a telephone-call in the 90s, while I was working in the studio producing an album with another metal band. On the other end of the line I heard a voice saying:
“My name is Greg Varsamis I’m calling from Greece. Have I come to Thunderload Studios?” “Yes, that’s right,” I replied.
“Oh …. May I speak to either, Ragne or Styrbjörn Wahlquist, please?”
“Yes, I am Styrbjörn,” I replied.
“Oh… I can’t believe I’m talking to you!” he exclaimed.
“Well, I can’t believe I’m talking to you,” I replied. And we had a great laugh.

Greg told me that he had been a huge Heavy Load fan for ages and that we were very popular in Greece. In fact he used to be called Greg “Heavy Load” Varsamis and had a magazine named Singing Swords after the Heavy Load song with the same name on Stronger than Evil. About ten years later he paid a visit to Stockholm and we hanged out at metal bars and so on. We became friends.

So, we have known for about two decades that there is a big interest for Heavy Load in Greece. And, the last two years we have come to understand this on a deeper level since we have been approached by Chris Papadatos of No Remorse records in Athens, who is a great fan, about doing official re-releases. In addition, the enthusiastic drive of Bart Gabriel, of Gabriel Management, and his conviction that Heavy Load is very popular in various countries all over the world, has been an eye opener as well. And not the least, in 2016 we were invited to the Up the Hammers Festival, by the promoter Manolis Karazeris in order to be rewarded “The Medal of Honour”. The festival was headlined by the Greek Heavy Load tribute band Heathens from the North (named after the Heavy Load song). When I experienced them playing our songs with such a great passion, I was immensely moved. It made my own passion for playing rise to unbearable levels. I was yearning to play so much that it became painful. This experience ignited the flame in me. Having come home to Sweden I conveyed this sentiment to Ragne and the flame was kindled in him as well. And then the whole thing was impossible to stop. We have tried to stay away from music for a great many years due to its meaning too much but now we cannot stay away any more. No one can escape his destiny…. And in later years, through things like Facebook and internet, journalists and record companies asking us to let them release our reissues, we have come to understand that there is a an ever growing interest for the band in many countries around the world.

In October, it was announced here in Sweden on the National TV News that we will return to the stage this year, 2018, after 33 years of absence. Three concerts are booked so far at festivals that have been asking us repeatedly for decades. We will be one of the main acts at the Sweden Rock Festival in the evening of June 8, be headliner of the Up the Hammers Festival in Athens in May 26 and be headliner of the Keep it True Festival in Germany on April 28. Perhaps, we will play a few further venues later this year.

What are your thoughts about all those young Heavy Load fans who were not even born yet, when you have started, but even disbanded the band?

Ragne: We are very honoured and happy that they are out there. They inspire us all, immensely and we are looking forward to meet them soon.
Styrbjörn: It is fantastic! Here in Sweden I am often approached by these young fans whenever I visit metal clubs and so on. It is indeed very inspirational and should mean that the music we did 30 years ago has a lasting value. We are of course very grateful that they like it.
-Are you positive that Swedish Heavy Metal is hotter than ever before!? Finally the attention it deserved! Thank god to internet and YouTube haha…..
Ragne : Of course we are positive to this fact “. . . that Swedish Heavy Metal is hotter than ever before” it is fantastic and very inspiring. We are honoured for all the attention.

Heavy Load have released 3 studio albums, some singles and ep’s. Is there any release you like most?

Ragne: It is hard for me to value our own creations. We, Heavy Load, are always honest to our hearts – we do our own thing. The outcome is always very much depending on the circumstances at that time. Like the first album Full Speed at High level. We were very young and inexperienced and the entire album, including sound check and everything, was completed in one week.
Styrbjörn: I, for one, favour our last two albums Death or Glory and Stronger than Evil, but I cannot chose which one is the best, actually.

What about a new Heavy Load album, are you working on it, or do you think the fans are not waiting for it and just want the magic of the past?

Ragne: I guess our so called “Unreleased album” will be released one day. I love the material. It is definitely very much Heavy Load, yet I think I hear something more, some elements that feel new. And, there are still some things lacking on some songs such as a guitar solo and of course proper mixing.
Styrbjörn: It would be wrong to say that it is completely finished. However, there are definitely enough songs for a whole album. Some of the songs could perhaps be said to be ready for release, but most of them need to a few more things recorded. Since the time span we worked on it stretches over so many years you can discern a vast journey into different moods. We are not ready to release it today or tomorrow, but sometime in the future.
Ragne: Another aspect is that we are involving a guy to replace Eddy and we want him to take part in this new album as well.
Styrbjörn and I are fooling around with some ideas for new songs. Yet we do not know what will come out of it. But I can say that I like what I hear, I enjoy what I feel, I love being back on track with Heavy Metal.

Back in the year 1987, the band was disbanded. What was the reason for it at that time?

Styrbjörn: You mean 1985, don’t you? During the autumn of 1985 Eddy left the band and later also Andreas, our new bass guitarist. These choices where rather strange, to Ragne and me, we had just finished a very successful summer tour in Sweden.
Ragne: We did not split up actually. After Torbjörn, a young and very enthusiastic guy joined the band, namely Andreas Fritz. During the summer of 1985 we were out on what turned out to be our last tour, called ”The Monster Tour”. Andreas fitted the band perfectly; he had a lot of energy while performing on stage and his playing was very inspired. After about a year, however, Andreas wanted to follow his own path in music which had other goals than those of Heavy Load. We are still good friends and keep in contact.
Styrbjörn: Eddy leaving the band and later also Andreas (the new bass guitarist) did not mean that Heavy Load split up. Ragne and I, who are the founding members, kept on working and recording for a new album; and have never said that we would not return. Our last recordings were actually in 2001.
Ragne: We are good friends with Eddy and we meet frequently. Eddy has his Eddy Malm Band now and they released an album in December 2016, Northern Lights.
Styrbjörn: Eddy will join us at the concerts of 2018 as a special guest singing some of the songs on which he did the vocal part.
Ragne: A short while after Eddy and Andreas had left, we found two new brothers in arms in the guitarist, Patrick Karlsson; and the bass guitarist Paul Grey, former UFO. Sadly we never did any proper recordings or concerts. Styrbjörn and I became busy recording albums with other bands and one night everything grinded to a halt;
our studio was flooded and almost everything was destroyed, but this is a totally different story.
Styrbjörn: We the Wahlquist brothers continued to create new songs and “Lionheart” came about during this period (1984-5). It is one of the six bonus tracks on the re-release of Stronger than Evil.

How was your life look like when Heavy Load was on non-active? What have you done between the split and the reunion, were you still active in the Metal scene, any other bands for example or have you focused on a decent daily life with work, wife and kids?

Ragne: I have worked on academic degrees in Art History and in Design. I like to educate myself in different fields so I also have academic degrees in Communication, Economics and the Science of education. I guess I am curious of many things in life but yet it always comes down to music and lyrics. I have also two wonderful daughters together with my fantastic woman. My daughters are very much into dancing as I was very much into music. I am excited to see what comes out of it.

How many comeback shows have you played so far and what was the best till now? Have you planned any concerts and/or festivals in the near future?

Ragne: Today we have not played any comeback shows. The first one will be Keep It True, where we are headlining on April 28, 2018.
At this moment we have two more on contract and they are Up the Hammers, where we are headlining on May 27, 2018 and Sweden Rock where we are one of the main acts on June 8, 2018.
Styrbjörn: The Keep It True festival in Germany 28th April will be our first concert in 33 years. Besides Up the Hammers in Greece and Sweden Rock there may be further venues.

Last but least! Sweden is still a promising Country for Heavy Metal! Any young acts you really like?

There are too many to mention one in particular. I am just proud to come from the same country.

Thank you for your time! Any last words or something to get of your mind?

Ragne: for me it is all about being true to your heart and do it with Passion, Devotion and Drama. When I feel it is in place I get euphoric and my creativity flourishes. It is like my soul materializes through my music. And this is like living forever.
Styrbjörn: We cannot wait to play the concerts and meet our audience. We are extremely grateful for them wanting us back. It has been more than three decades. It will be extremely emotional to play on stage again. There is no doubt about.

(C) Marco van Empel – Headbangers Zine