Interview and transcription by Miriam C.
Surely, Sweden‘s melodic metal powerhouse Follow the Cipher represents one of the band revelation’s of this year whose musical panorama proves to be quite stagnant and devoid of novelties. Their self-titled debut shows beyond doubts their talent and for its freshness, you can get easily caught in a loop. Since the occasion has arisen during their promo, I got the chance to speak via Skype with both guitarist and founder Ken Kängström and singer Linda Toni Grahn.
Hello Linda & Ken, welcome to Femme Metal Webzine. How is life treating you?
Ken: Thank you very much, it’s…
Linda: Thank you, life is very good.
Ken: …it’s great over here, the sun is shining and nothing to complain about.
Let’s start with an order, according to my intel, Follow the Cipher was welcomed by the Nuclear Blast family back in January. How did you manage to get in contact with them?
Linda: We did a show at a summer festival called Sabaton Open Air, it was our second show ever with Follow the Cipher and Markus from Nuclear Blast was there and he saw our show. The A&R asked for like 2 years to watch live, see our full potential in us and to listen to the music. So, after the show, we had to meet with him in the VIP area. Everything started that day with the working process together with Nuclear Blast.
For what I get from your words Linda, I must consider that Nuclear Blast has set eyes on you already a time ago. Let’s say that there was an interest…
Ken & Linda: Yeah!
Linda: It’s another story, Follow the Cipher…
Ken: Markus told us at Sabaton Open Air that they kept an eye on us like two years before that show, so that was quite the surprise for us because we couldn’t even imagine that a label like Nuclear Blast for Follow the Cipher as our first goal, if you consider that we even didn’t send out a demo-tape to record companies. So, it was kind of a shock wanted to go for us straight away.
It’s a nice story, I mean you got lucky and I know that Nuclear Blast in their choices is quite forward-thinking. Also, I think it’s a good card to play with them, in a way, because they are really good professional and they work really well with their bands, they 100% completely support their bands…
Ken: I would say I haven’t experienced any kind of corporation like this before because Nuclear Blast is really serious, they are super-fantastic people and every single one of them. It feels like it’s a family which works for the same kind of thing and I would say that we’re already a lucky band to work for Nuclear Blast.
For our readers that still are not familiar with Follow the Cipher, do you mind give us a general glimpse about the band history?
Ken: Follow the Cipher was meant to be a solo project for my sake. I wanted to do something that I didn’t have to work with any other people and as a songwriter, that is sometimes really relieving not to work with anyone else but sometimes it can be quite boring to do this on your own. Though, on the other side, I wanted to try something for myself. I needed someone to sing on the album and I had a bunch of auditioning like 5 or 6 people who have previously auditioned before. But the last one was Linda and it was a super-cool experience and everyone before Linda, they stood by the microphone for like 3 or 4 hours just to write songs for each of them to see what capabilities and which kind of voices they had. However, when Linda came, she stood by the microphone for 15 minutes and we didn’t have to try more because it was all set! [laughs] She has a powerful voice and I needn’t try to search for more but after that, the second time we met up we actually wrote “Windfall” together. And that was the starting point for Follow the Cipher, after that we decided to create the band because we became friends very very fast, really good friends and everything felt so great. So, I think it was our start.
So, at the base of the band, there’s always friendship…
Ken: Yes, of course.
Ken: You cannot have a band without a friendship.
Linda: Exactly, it’s like being in a family because we support each other in everything.
Your debut self-titled was released on 11th May 2018. What sort of recollections you have about its early creative process? I mean, you were together in the studio with the band or it has started just you composing and the other followed after.
Ken: From the beginning, I was the only songwriter in the band and Linda and I met up. But I wrote some songs while Linda stood up by the microphone delivering some vocals and trying-outs of my ideas along with her stuff. After this point, we were joined by Viktor (which is also the second band’s songwriter) and then by Jonas and Karl. Both me and Viktor, we have roughly written half of the album each of us and it’s quite diverse in that aspect, I think.
So, Linda’s contribution has to be recognized only for the vocal lines?
Linda: Yes. Totally. I didn’t write anything. I came up with some ideas when I met with Ken for the trying-out session but as far as writing the music, Ken is the right person for it.
In general, which sort of connection can share the evocative and dark artwork with the lyrics contained in “Follow the Cipher”?
Ken: I have an idea from the start with the cover – actually Chris Rörland from Sabaton did the artwork for us. I sampled him a picture that I have done on Photoshop, it was a really sucky portrait [laughs] and it was so bad. But the important thing was that he got the idea really fast and he completed my idea which I have consequently discussed with the band. After further discussion, we decided to use a black-and-red theme which without that would be quite dramatic for the cover art. It also connects a little bit with the music: Chris really did an amazing job because he completely understood our ideas which fit with lyrics concept’ and music too.
The album is mostly about the post-apocalyptic future, really alike to sci-fi but we retain some seriousness because some songs have some connections with the reality we’re leaving it nowadays such the environmental crises, the recent wars and matter of global insecurity. There’s this kind of chaos right now and definitely, for us it was an inspiring source for the general theme of this album.
Linda: No, I totally agree. I don’t think I have anything to add with respect to this matter and how I perceive Ken’s view. There’s all the time a developing process and it feels more and more natural to think it about in that way.
When I mention to a random metal fan the name of your city which is Falun, the logical association that pops up in every metalhead fan are Sabaton and Civil War. I know that you have a great connection with them, you are a close friend of them and I wanted to take it on an overall aspect: what you can tell about the local scene there? I mean, in the latest years, we saw a lot of bands coming out from your city and consequently, it has developed really good. Is a good scene to be part of?
Ken: The first thing I want to say is that Linda and I we don’t live in Falun [both laugh].
Linda: Actually, only two of us live in Falun but obviously, we have a connection with Falun’s local scene. Although, we don’t leave there I think we can answer the question because there a lot of metal bands and we seriously help each other. We’re not considering each other enemies and it feels like a huge family. For example, if someone goes on tour and there ìs a need for a temporary replacement that can happen without problems. It feels really good to be in this kind of environment.
I don’t really know the reason why but Linda’s vocals on the album recalled me a lot a fellow Swede of yours: the former Nightwish singer, Anette Olzon and on top of all, I was positively impressed your performance on Sabaton’s cover “Carolus Rex”. Personally speaking, Linda which is your musical influences and besides this, how did born the idea to include that Sabaton’s song?
Linda: It is, it is. I would say thank you so much for your kind words and I really appreciated them a lot. My influences? I don’t know because I’m not a pure metal listener. I like everything that is good and I’ll never put myself in a box. Through the years, I’ve been listening to pop music, hard rock, rock n roll, blues, sleaze, metal and everything. It’s hard to pick one genre or one artist that has been an inspiration for me. I have inspiration but it’s not so much related to the voice instead it’s for the acting and my main references are Alice Cooper and Lady Gaga. I like the theatrical setups on a stage and throughout the years, I’ve been developing my voice and when I met them, they were surprised (even I was amazed by it) by my ability in reaching higher notes with so much ease. So, I cannot really say that I have just one musical hero. Well, in relation to our Sabaton’s “Carolus Rex” I can tell that we wanted to have a cover and the idea was born during our performance at the Sabaton Open Air the past summer where Markus Staiger from Nuclear Blast was present. After our concert, he suggested that we should seriously give a try and I felt instantly a connection with both my vocals and lyrics. I don’t know what you can say…
Yeah, yeah I agree with you. When I’ve listened to the cover, I got the impression that both vocals and musical structure were perfect for your peculiarities and personally, I think they were fitting like a dress…
Linda: [laughs] Thank you so much!
Ken: I agree! [both laugh]
It’s simply perfect and you know what it’s astonishing because being totally aware of how the original version is and on a first instance, it’s hard to imagine a woman singing that kind of music, please don’t take it personally, due to Joakim’s peculiar voice and on top of all, it’s challenging to envision a woman singing “Carolus Rex” with that kind of register that Joakim has. For me, it was mind-blowing!
Linda: Oh, thank you so much, it means a lot to me! I understand you because if it didn’t sound right in the moment we’ve tried, we would never ever feature it in our debut! It needed to feel 100% right.
Perhaps what it follows is a stupid question but I’m curious to learn if it wasn’t this what you would have chosen then?
Linda: From Sabaton?
Hmm yeah, not only Sabaton but also other fellow bands. I don’t know.. Did you have already set some eyes on other songs besides “Carolus Rex”?
Linda: Personally speaking, I like to mix the genres. So, I would have picked something else from a different genre and cover it in our way. At this moment, I don’t have any specific song in my mind but surely it would be from the pop genre and later, recreate a heavier version of it.
You have recently played Graspop in Dessel, Belgium but I didn’t read any live scheduled for foreseeable future. Do you have any idea if a full European tour will happen?
Ken: The plan is to really do a full European tour, unfortunately at the moment we haven’t got a lot of opportunities to choose from, I think. We’re saving this for the right occasion for us to go on a really suitable tour. As a newcomer, it’s truly expensive to join a tour and we would like to find the perfect tour for us, so we’re still waiting for it. Hopefully, if everything works out, our intention is to start touring this fall.
So, Ken & Linda, we’re almost at the end and with this please be free to say hi to your fans and our readers. Thank you so much for this interview!
Ken: Thank you very much!
Linda: Thank you so much!
Ken: It was a real pleasure to speak with you!
Photos by Allan Balkanberg