High Spirits is a band which you simply must hear, regardless of what type of metal is your favorite sub-genre. This band is the musical vison of multi-instrumentalist Chris Black, who has created some fantastic pieces of melodic heavy metal since 2009. There’s always light and shade in High Spirits’ albums, but the pure joy of listening to good music is always present and their fifth full-length is no exception to the rule. Safe On The Other Side has a cemented place in my to-of-the-year list already, so this is more than a good reason for our first interview with main man Chris.
Hey, Chris, congratulations for the fantastic new album! There will soon be a review on the Velvet Thunder website, but I want to ask how do you compare Safe On The Other Side to the four previous full lengths?
-Hi Stoyan, thanks for inviting me here and for the great feedback about the album. I think it’s a lot like Another Night, because I simply wrote the songs I was in the mood to write, over a long period of time, and so there’s a natural variety as a result. I do think the album has a certain hardness to it, it doesn’t have the soft and misty atmosphere of Another Night. But it still is warm and inviting.
What does the labyrinth on the cover symbolize?
-Well the album is hard – not soft – and you could say the album is also hard by the other definition – not easy. Yes, it was a difficult album to make, and the labyrinth represents that challenge, which can also be a metaphor for these difficult years in human history. There is some ambiguity though, as we raised in another interview, whether the viewer has solved the maze or is about to enter. I don’t have an answer for that. Myself, personally, I feel like I have solved it, like I have reached the other side, but maybe the album cover is inviting the viewer to enter and try to reach the floating High Spirits logo in the distance, ha ha ha…
I can honestly say this is your best sounding album so far. Did you and Dan Swanö do something different in the studio this time?
-Thanks, I think so too, but on my side no, it was almost exactly the same as the previous time. One thing that was different, well to be precise it was two things, those being the overhead microphones on the drum kit. Those are new, and they picked up a lot of the actual drum kit rather than mostly responding to the cymbals. So Dan was able to build the drum mix a bit differently. Even so, we got the foundation together rather easily, since it was our second time through this process together. And then we could take it even further from there.
The High Spirits facebook page is very fittingly titled “high energy rock”. This is exactly what comes to mind first when you listen to these songs, but there is once again that touch of melancholy and nostalgia in your melodies and lyrics. What were the main emotions that drove you while creating Safe On The Other Side?
-I think you’re on the right track, yes, and it of course depends on the song. But there is always a hint of sadness in our best times, and I wish for there to always be some speck of hope no matter how hard life can be. To answer your question though, the range of emotions that I experience while actually doing the work of creating an album can be quite different than what is conveyed there. At times I am exhilarated, calm, determined, intrigued, frustrated, exhausted, and I should add that in addition to his technical and musical expertise, Dan Swanö is also very good at keeping a positive mood. I valued that a lot, because I can get a bit fatigued, and sometimes agitated, when I think I’ve reached the limits of my ability.
Did you record all instruments by yourself or there were other musicians who helped in the studio?
-No, I recorded everything by myself. That’s the High Spirits way since the beginning, with only a few exceptions. So just in case you are ever in a High Spirits trivia competition, remember that the Motivator studio engineer Matt Crooks played an acoustic guitar on the song Down The Endless Road, and my kids got to hit a couple of cymbals on In The Moonlight. Everything else is all me.
What is the most important thing for you as a fan and as a composer to make a song a classic? Is it the riff or the good vocal melody? Or both?
-It’s both, absolutely. Not so much the riffs, but the melodies coming from the guitars. In fact, I think that is one of the main characteristics of the High Spirits method – the vocals and guitars working together to form the melody of the song.
There is a steady band of musicians that play live with you for the last 14 years maybe – would you introduce them to our readers?
-Guitarist Scott is my right-hand man for many years in many projects. He also does most of our graphic designs. Then drummer Ian is like my left-hand man, same story there, we have played so many gigs together over the years that it’s like automatic. In every band there is one rock and roll wild man and in our band it is Bobby the bass player. Then our somewhat new guitarist Jon is just solid as anyone can be. He’s a carpenter when we’re not on tour, and he brings the same strength and work ethic to the band. The musical intuition is very strong between us and also the personal relationships. We are five very different people, some more different than others, but what bonds us is our experience together, so many different situations and challenges we have passed as a group.
High Spirits is a band that doesn’t follow trends and you often play with white trousers and casual t-shirts on stage. How important is image in metal nowadays?
-It’s too important. I only care about songs. The entire image or brand of High Spirits is already encoded in the songs. There’s nothing to add.
Why did you decide to cover the old song Memories by Europe? What does that band mean to you?
-I don’t know much of their music, except the mega-hits which everyone can recognize. But a friend and I were researching an old Stockholm venue called Studion, and he discovered this live recording of Memories from 1984 on Youtube. I was really shocked, because it sounded like it could be a High Spirits song. I always swore that High Spirits would never do a cover song, simply because we always had enough of our own songs. But this one was just too perfect, and to be honest, not many people are noticing that it is a cover song. But no, I don’t own any Europe albums.
I suppose you follow the new scene very closely. Are there any up and coming bands that have impressed you recently?
-No, actually I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that I hardly listen to anything new. It’s usually the same things I’ve listened to for most of my life. That would be a better question for Scott because his tastes are more current and also more sophisticated.
High Spirits rarely come to Europe but I am sure there are a lot of fans who would be happy to see the band here. Do you plan to come to Europe again soon?
-Honestly we have probably played over 100 gigs in Europe including 20 this year. In 2023 we played in Germany, Netherlands, France, Belgium, Denmark, Sweden, The Czech Republic, and the UK. Of course there are lots of other countries we hope to visit someday. You’re right that we have lots of fans over there and also our record company is in Germany, so they have played a big part in our success there.
Please tell us what is going on with your two other projects Dawnbringer and Aktor?
-After many years of total silence we have decided to do a few exclusive shows with Dawnbringer in 2024. It almost happened in 2023, but I’m glad we waited, because 2023 was already very full, and now I can give Dawnbringer my best attention. No new recordings, just four shows. With Aktor we are currently making demos for album number three. It’s always so hard to describe the music there, especially at this stage, but the process is always fun, and the process is what makes them Aktor songs anyway.
Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions, Chris, and, more importantly, thank you for the great new album. What would you like to say to our readers in conclusion?
-Thank you too Stoyan! I know there are just so many albums and tours happening all the time now, it’s really hard to pick and choose what might get our attention. So whenever someone chooses High Spirits I can only say thank you, and that I hope you enjoyed the music.
Safe On The Other Side is out on November 24th via High Roller Records and can be ordered from HERE