By HANNAH MEANS-SHANNON
Christian Liljegren is best known as the lead singer of the ongoing Melodic Metal band Narnia, but also sang for Divine Fire, and more recently launched a more modern Metal project, The Waymaker with Jani and Katja Stefanovic in 2020. However, building up to his 50th birthday and approaching 35 years in music, he was determined to complete and release a solo project.
Liljegren teamed up with guitarist and cowriter Stephen Carlsson, and the result that produced entirely during the pandemic period, is Melodic Passion, due out from Melodic Passion Records and Sound Pollution on March 26. Alongside the CD and black vinyl release, there is even a limited edition purple vinyl on preorder that’s widely sold out, but you might still find some copies on Liljegren’s webstore.
The goals for each of Liljegren’s projects have been specific and distinctive, allowing him to continue to work in various veins and keep growing as a vocalist and musician. While Narnia, which launched in the 90s, is very much classic Metal, The Waymaker embraces a more modern Metal approach, and with Melodic Passion, we find yet another direction.
This solo effort is a tribute to the bands that inspired Liljegren to become a vocalist to begin with, including Dio, Sweet, Uriah Heep, Queen, Whitesnake, and more. In other words, Melodic Passion has Metal elements, but is really an experiment in Hard Rock and Glam Rock influences. It’s appropriate that for his first solo album, Liljegren shares a lot about his musical origins, and you’ll find that in the album art for Melodic Passion, as well as in some of the videos created for these songs.
Christian Liljegren spoke with me from Sweden about the development of the album and the process behind these songs where he also acted as a composer for the first time in his career.
Hannah Means-Shannon: Congratulations on celebrating your 50th birthday in February. I knew you had some music-based plans to celebrate.
Christian Liljegren: Yes, there was no party, but I tried to keep busy and I’m celebrating with my album Melodic Passion. I’m deeply thankful with how everything worked out with the release, and the vinyl is ready in time. For me, I’ve done an album that’s not as common these days. It’s like the old classics. It’s still very melodic and it’s very much me. I’ve done all the arrangements and it’s also the first album where I’ve been involved in the composing of the music. With Narnia, Divine Fire, and Waymaker, I mostly focused on the vocal melodies and lyrics, but on this album I’m involved in every aspect of the music, so it’s very much a soul album. Not without my co-writing partner and guitarist, Stephen Carlsson, though. It’s a special album for me.
HMS: I feel like the album has a lot to do with discussing your identity and origin as a music, like in the title track where you talk about where you come from and reaffirm that. How long has that been an idea in your mind?
CL: The vision for the album has been there for a while, but the song “The Rock” was the first one that I composed with Stephen in the summer of 2019. Most of the songs were composed between last February and now, so it was within a year. When Stephen and I found each other, we clicked right away. But the cover and materials with the album are about this, too, with a 24 page story about my career and lots of pictures. There are pictures of me with Ronnie Dio and the guys from Uriah Heep. It summarizes my career as an artist for 35 years. I tried to get that all into one album, though that’s not easy.
It’s really about my roots and how I grew up, with Sweet, KISS, Iron Maiden, Rainbow, Dio, and Stryper. On the album, you can hear my vocal influences from Ronnie James Dio and Brian Connolly from Sweet, as well as a lot of Uriah Heep. I wanted to make an album that I wanted to listen to, so it’s really about my musical passion as a composer and as a listener. I also cannot praise Viktor Stenqvist enough for the way he produced the album, with a lot of warmth to my vocals and real strings.
HMS: We’ve spoken before about how you have a good sense of who your fanbase are and that they have followed you to your different projects. I know you sell through your webstore and are active on social media. Are those the main ways you got the word out about this solo project?
CL: I also have a very close connection with Sound Pollution and they are a very important tool. They take care of the promotion. But to make this work, I also have some sponsors who have supported this album and also, a lot of people have preordered the signed version of the album, especially the vinyl. I’ve done a very limited quantity, only 200 copies, of gatefold purple vinyl, and it has just sold out. I have very few copies left through my website, then it’s totally gone. Those will be rarities. I wanted that special version made since purple has always been a color that I love and it relates well to where I come from musically.
HMS: What gave you the idea to do the gatefold of photos from your career? That’s a great idea.
CL: There are so many people who I want to thank for their support, since for me the music is a way to share that further. When you have a concert, it’s a party together, and you can communicate with the audience. I hope people can hear that on the album, and I think they can, my passion for the music. It’s always hard to capture that on an album, but I really got a live feeling when I did the vocal recordings. For me, I think this is the most Rock ‘n Roll album I’ve done, with the shuffle beats, and also harder stuff. Then there’s even a ballad, “This is my love song” which is really about my family and also about the fans and people who have supported me through the years. I also see music as a God-given gift and I feel deeply blessed.
HMS: I saw footage of you in the studio recording included in the video for “The Rock”. You are very energetic. You’re performing in the studio as if you are on stage. Is that how you get yourself in the right mindset to record, imagining it live?
CL: Yes, and actually, most of the recording I’m doing with a floor microphone, with a cord and everything. It works and really gets the energy that I have live. It’s easier to sing the way that I do it live, and I visualize that. When I’m creating songs, I always try to do the songs the way that they would be in a live situation. That’s also what fans have always said to me, that I sound live on the albums. Meeting with people in person is so important to me, so this pandemic has been tough. But we’re trying to see a future. We’ve booked some concerts with Narnia in November, and also with an incredible solo band since we know these songs would do well in a live situation. We are aiming to do a solo tour when things are happening again.
I also already have songs for a follow-up album and there are new songs for The Waymaker. Also, we’re entering the studio now for Narnia as well.
“This Is My Love Song”:
HMS: Wow! You are keeping incredibly busy.
CL: It is the music that really keeps me going. It’s my elixir, both listening and composing.
HMS: Can you tell me more about how you and Stephen Carlsson met each other and started working together for this album?
CL: There is a Norwegian band called Extol, and I know the drummer, David Husvik and his brother Morton. Morton told me, “You have to meet Stephen. I know that when you meet, you will totally click together.” We got in touch in the summer of 2017 and he sent some ideas for “The Rock”. It was a work flow I’d never had before. We could create three or four songs in a week. I think we have 20 or 25 song ideas for a coming album. We’ve tried to use this time as best as possible.
HMS: The sound of this album, as you’ve mentioned, is quite strongly toward the Hard Rock side versus the Metal side, though there is Metal DNA, I feel. Is that a departure for you?
CL: Actually, I’ve done a little of this stuff with my former band in the 90s before Narnia, Modest Attraction. I can now reveal that and American company, Retroactive Records, will be rereleasing those albums from the 90s, remastered, on LP and CD. So one side of me really misses that late 70s and early 80s Hard Rock style, and now I have the opportunity and a solid fanbase to do it. For me, it was perfect to do this celebratory album. You can hear Metal elements in “Melodic Passion” and “Victory”, but most of the songs are rooted in the classic Hard Rock style. I want all these projects to be different. Narnia is classical Melodic Metal. The Waymaker is more modern Metal with Melodic elements. That also keeps me developing my voice in different ways. I think people who have loved my style in the past will have plenty of albums coming up to listen to.
HMS: I think you’ve mentioned the influence of Queen and Whitesnake on you before, too, and I feel like I can hear that on the album for sure. When you say that you did a lot more of the composing on this album than ever before, what did that mean for you? Were you sitting down with instruments?
CL: Usually, Stephen sent an idea, and I’d say, “I hear this.” Then I’d sing melodies on my cellphone the way that I’d want the guitar and the keyboards. The next day, he’d send something, asking, “Is this okay?” And I’d say, “Yes, great!” Mostly, he’d start with a riff, and I’d hear other styles and arrangements to match my vocal melodies. It’s a very guitar-oriented album and you can hear lots of guitar harmonies the way that Brian May from Queen and Andy Scott from Sweet. I know that Stephen loves Randy Rhoads as well. I’ll say, “Bark at The Moon-style” so we don’t mind our influences at all, though it’s also our own songs. That’s how we compose songs.
HMS: That’s amazing using vocals to write in that way. In the “Melodic Passion” video where you talk about your background, you’re a superfan, because you wear the different t-shirts for the bands you love, too. You also show photos and memorabilia. You’re very open about the importance of fandom in your life. Some people are too cool for that.
CL: If you are grounded in your personality and identity, you can do that. I know I’m very grounded in my personality as a Rock singer. I love things and I have my own style. I’m an open-hearted person and I think that’s been one of the key things about my success. I want people to leave shows feeling like they got something out of it. Dany Gatica produced the video and he’s doing even more cool videos, like “Salute for the King”, which will release on the same day as the album, using old footage from the 80s of me with long, curly hair!
I want people to smile when they see these videos and recognize the feelings they get when they hear this album. I still remember the first time I heard Sweet’s song “Action” from the album Strung Up, the first album I hold up in the “Melodic Passion” video. I first heard it in 1978 or 1979 and it was a magic moment. That song had it all and I really tried to show my passion for these styles in my vocals on “Melodic Passion”. I love this operatic, falsetto style that Freddie Mercury and Brian Connolly of Sweet had. I know they actually competed against each other back in 1975 and 1976 to see who could hit the highest note.
HMS: Are there other videos yet to be released for the album, aside from “Salute for the King”?
CL: There are actually five videos for this album, with three remaining. There’s “Melodic Passion”, “Salute for the King”, and then “History”. “History” is a song with a more serious subject, asking, “What have we learned from history?” It will take in the environment, the pandemic, and how we treat each other. We have to love each other, and I’m sorry to say that so many have used religion and faith in a bad way. I also ask myself, “What can I learn from my own history?”
HMS: I thought it was interesting that the ballad, “This Is My Love Song” is about community and family more than is common in love songs. That suggests how important both are to you and how big a part of a person that can be.
CL: Yes. My wife isn’t a Hard Rock person, but that one really touched her. It was very emotional to record that and when I recorded the video, I also tried to preserve a bitter-sweet feeling because life is not always easy. There are always ups and downs in relationships, but I want what is lasting in the long run. The cello in the song really shares that bitter-sweet feeling. I think that may be the best song I’ve ever composed, and it’s really special. It’s interesting that all of these songs came through during this time of the pandemic. I think that, actually, this time has shown what really matters in the end, and for me, the music is so important. It really got to the core of things, and revealed that, for me, it’s music. Hopefully someone out there really gains strength from hearing this album.