Interview: Kaasin – Start the Fire!

Kaasin – Start the Fire! 

What is the most needed thing during a really cold winter? Yeah, something hot! A pair of woolen socks, a radiator or a good cup of tea. But the best thing is a good dose of a really hot hard rock which makes you jump around, bang your head and sweat like you’ve just finished a marathon! Well, the Norsemen KAASIN, led by ex-COME TASTE THE BANG guitarist Jo Henning Kaasin, have plenty of this in their debut album “Fired Up”. Turn up the volume and read all about making this record! 

COME TASTE THE BAND were put on hold after 23 years of hard work and an amazing debut album. Wasn’t it frustrating for you that it ended this way? 

Yes, it was frustrating and not the best of times. That said, when the decision was made, I had no regrets. CTTB were a great band and I am so thankful to all the musicians I’ve worked with in that band. A fantastic journey, working with people like Glenn Hughes, Graham Bonnet, Bernie Marsden, Joe Lynn Turner and Doogie White. And I think the album (“Reignition”) we did with Joe Lynn Turner and Doogie White in 2019 was great and our shows were full of energy and excitement.

photo: Kenneth Bø

It took a lot of time to deliver an album with CTTB. Why was that? Weren’t other musicians into writing and playing original music? 

It took a long time. We had a lot of gigs and the other musicians weren’t really into writing original material except me. Me and the bass player Ståle Naas and Joe Lynn Turner wrote “Tied Down“ back in 2013. We thought that song was very good and I sent it to Geoff Barton in Classic Rock AOR Magazine and he loved the song. Classic Rock AOR Magazine put out the song with one of the issues and it got a great reception. That gave us confidence and ambitions. It started the songwriting process and thoughts about an album. So we wrote a bunch of songs from 2013 to 2018 and then recorded some of them for the “Reignition” album. The first two songs we wrote for the album were “Tied Down“ and “Don’t Let Me Bleed“ both featuring Joe Lynn Turner on vocals.

With CTTB you played a lot of covers. What was your approach to them? Did you play everything note by note or did you incorporate your ideas, trying to improve the songs so to say? 

Well, we did incorporate our own ideas to the songs. I always improvised my solos when playing DEEP PURPLE and RAINBOW songs. Our version of a song like “Mistreated“ could be as long as 15 minutes when we played it live with Glenn Hughes. So we adjusted the songs to a live format, putting our own identity into the songs.

There is a popular belief that by playing covers you can lose your identity, your own style. What do you think about that? 

There could always be a risk, but I think you learn a hell of a lot playing covers. All the great musicians of the 60’s and the 70’s started out playing covers and they turned out great, didn`t they? Blackmore, Page, Clapton, Beck – they all played covers in the beginning.

It took only a couple of weeks to mourn about the CTTB break-up and then you formed KAASIN. Did you already have some plans or did everything happen out of the blue? 

I think I had those plans for a little time. I had already discussed it with Ståle Kaasin, the bass player, a few years before we started KAASIN, so it was in my head. When CTTB broke up, it took me 14 days to shake it off and call my cousin to start a new band.

photo: Jon Sandersen

What was the idea behind calling the band after your last name? Did you want to avoid any comparisons and say it out loud, “Hey, this is me and not a Deep Purple copycat”?  

Not really. KAASIN is my name and it`s my cousin’s name, too, so it kind of made sense to call the band KAASIN, like VAN HALEN you know, hahaha. And KAASIN is an old norse name from the Middle Age, meaning “a settlement cleared by fire“, so we thought that was kind of cool name for a hard rock band.

Benjamin Dehli is a relatively unknown musician but he contributed a lot of ideas to the album. How did you find him? 

Oh, Benjamin is a great musician and producer as well. I was working in Juke Joint Studio at Notodden, Norway, fantastic studio by the way, and my tech/producer Halvor Halvorsen told me about this guy with his house full of Hammond organs, Leslies, clarinets, Rhodes, Würltzers and old synths. We tried him out on our first single “Runaway Train“ and he really delivered the goods, so we asked him to join the band. He is very important for us, writing and playing all those great ideas and producing as well.

Rick Hagan helped you with the drums in the beginning but somewhere along the way he was replaced by Chris Brush. What happened?  

I have known Rick for many years and he is a fantastic guy and musician. He helped us out in the beginning but he`s got his own great band, HEX A.D, so we thought it would be best to use a full time drummer on the album. We will probably do something together in the future.

Jan Thore Grefstad is known for his work with metal bands HIGHLAND GLORY and SAINT DEAMON. How did you know that his voice would work so well in hard rock? 

Jan Thore Grefstad is one of the best singers around and he has got this great ability to adapt to the songs in question. I knew he would fit in and I knew he liked our kind of hard rock. So that partnership was spot on!

You recorded “Revelation”, and I guess the album as well, in Juke Joint Studio, an analogue studio owned by “Seasick” Steven Gene Wold. Was it important for you to use analogue gear? Was Steve around when you recorded your music?

We love analogue gear and it was great to record some parts of the album on the console and outboards from the old Stax Studio in Memphis. Steve Wold brought it to Notodden some years ago and all the equipment is now in Juke Joint Studio. Great recording studio run by Halvor Halvorsen and Notodden Bluesfestival. We also recorded the CTTB album there. Steve was not around at the time we recorded “Fired Up“. I think he is concentrating on his own thing as “Seasick Steve“.

What is your way of recording? Do you go to the studio with everything planned and rehearsed or do you leave some space for improvisation?

On “Fired Up“ we did both. Some of the songs were planned, like the backing tracks of “Hidden“ and “Chain of Love“. Other songs were written and recorded more “on the spur of a moment“ like “We Are One“, “Shades of Yesterday“ and “Wrong”, a real band effort, with every musician contributing to the songs. When it comes to the guitar solos, it`s all about improvisation. I am laying down 4-5 solos and we pick the best of them, sometimes editing two solos to one and so on. It`s a few first takes on the album. The solos on “Revelation“, “Runaway Train“ and “Walking Downwards” are first takes, I played them only once! The solo on the opening track, “We Are One“, was worked out and played as a planned solo.

photo: Anne-Marie Forker

In CTTB you were the main songwriter and in KAASIN there are songs which were written entirely by others. How was it? A big relief, I guess?   

(Laughs) Yes, a BIG relief! On the CTTB album I wrote almost every backing track and also some lyrics, like on “Tied Down“ and “Don`t Let Me Bleed“ and Doogie White contributed with words on the rest of them. On “Fired Up“ it feels like a real band, with everyone bringing something to the table. I like that. We are a great team! Ståle Kaasin came up with the ideas to songs like “Carry On“, “Inside Out“, I came in with “Runaway Train“, “The Smoking Gun“ and Benjamin Dehli had the basics for “Hidden“ and “Chain of Love“. A real labour of love!

I really love “Shades of Yesterday”, it is such an incredible ballad! How did this melody come to you? 

Thanks. Ståle had the basic idea with the  guitar structure in the verses. Then we worked it out together in the rehearsal room. Jan Thore sang the verses then and there. Pure magic!

“The Smoking Gun” stands out from the other songs both musically and lyrically. First of all, how did you get this southern rock sounding riff? 

The riff in “The Smoking Gun” is the cousin of the riff in “Slave For Your Love” from the  “Reignition“ album. The E string is dropped to a D, and that gives the riff a dark sounding character. I came up with the riff just sitting in my working room fiddling away on my Strat. I really liked that simple riff so I wrote the song around it. 

With the words “a Wall Street mafia” and “From the White House bunker / divide and conquer” you made a clear message. Weren’t you afraid that it would harm the sales as people could get hurt? 

Freedom of speech is important to me… to all of us. I wrote the song just after I saw what happened in America in January 2021. I love America, its music, its history and culture, its freedom. What I saw in January was not my America. The happenings made me sad and angry. If that song harms the sales, I don`t mind. And I think the lyrics also say something about the reasons behind what happened. So it`s not one-sided!

“Fired Up” has a wide range of styles. So what songs can you suggest to listen to to get the right impressions about the album? 

Thanks again. I would say listen to “We Are One”, “Chain of Love”, “Wrong” and “Inside Out”. Then you will get the right impressions of the album.

The title “Fired Up” sums it all: a new band, new songs, and the feeling of being excited about everything. I guess we can expect more new music from you soon, can’t we?  

Yes, you are right. “Fired Up” sums it all up. We are still excited and we are working on new ideas as we speak. I am looking forward to write more material. I hope we can come up with some new songs in 2022. Let`s see what happens.

I like the cover artwork of “Fired Up”, it refers both to the title and the origin of the band. Is it a real picture/photograph or is it just an idea?

I don`t know. Probably both a photo and some added design elements. It was Ingo Ertl who did the cover art and I think it turned out great. It looks like our homeplace, Telemark, with mountains, snow and woods. We are men of snow you know, ha ha ha… 

The only odd thing about the album to me is the drums’ sound — it could be a bit bigger in my opinion. But what’s your opinion on this matter? Did you suppose the drums to be like that or was it a kind of a compromise? 

It`s a compromise. The drums sound to me a little bit too modern. I would have prefered a bigger old school kind of drum sound, but I suppose it has something to do with adapting to the way many people listen to music these days. Anyway, we are considering doing a re-mix for the vinyl version of the album and taking more control of the process.

Besides KAASIN you did a song with THE NORSEMAN COMPANY. Could you tell me a bit about this project, please? 

Geir Arne Dahle is a good friend of mine and he lives just fie minutes away from me in Telemark. He had this project, THE NORSEMAN COMPANY, and he asked me to help out bringing all the riffs he had in his head down to tape. So I did just that. He sang them, I played them. We recorded rough demos and sent them to Stargate Studios. Then he asked me to record guitar on a great track called “Since You`ve Been Gone” so I did that and also played guitar on the video for the song. Great fun and the song did very well!

You are credited as a composer for the movie “Mr. Wrinckle in Mysterious Circumstances”. How did you get the job and did you like that experience?  

(Laughs) Fantastic! You found that out. I`ve almost forgotten it. I did it when I was a music student back in the 90’s. I wrote four pieces of music for that movie and it ended being brodcasted on national TV here in Norway. I liked the experience, but I don`t think I will do it again.

In an interview you mentioned Joe Lynn Turner being your mentor. What did you learn from him?  

I learned a lot from Joe. We did a lot of touring together and I also wrote some songs with him. He taught me to always play every show or every studio session as it was the last one. And take care of every chance you get in the music business. I think I have done that. He is a real pro. When we did the song “Tied Down“ in the studio, he really went into the lyrics and delivered a fantastic vocal session in Juke Joint Studio. He really meant it and it came out great. He taught me to ask what the songs need from us, not just show off, and he learned it from Ritchie Blackmore. Kind of cool, I think.

You are a mentor yourself as you work as a teacher at school. What do you teach and how do you see the mission of teaching?

I teach guitar and band in a music school when I am not working with my own career. It’s fulfilling. I try to teach the art of rock’n’roll and I try to do it in a passionate and natural way. 

Any last words to the readers? 

I hope you will play KAASIN’s “Fired Up” and feel the passion, joy and freedom we had while making it. Long live rock’n’roll!

Konstantin Chilikin

Author: Konstantin Chilikin

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