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Interview with Jona Tee (H.E.A.T)

Today marks the seventh album release for Swedish heavy rockers, H.E.A.T. Titled Force Majeure, this album sees the band extend their live show energy into a collection of stadium anthems including monster singles ‘Hollywood’, ‘Back To The Rhythm’ and ‘Nationwide’, and is a return album for founding frontman Kenny Leckremo. The band will also be making their Australian live tour debut next month, playing four shows across Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, and Adelaide.

Silver Tiger Media’s Tammy Walters had a chat to keyboardist Jona Tee ahead of their release and shows.

How are you feeling with your new album Force Majeure about to be released on Friday 5 August?

I don’t think we have really realised it is so soon. But we’re really excited! Going to burst. We will be in Finland on Friday opening for Toto so we will have some sort of nice release party I hope.

Oh, that will be such a good time. As soon as ‘Africa’ comes on you’ll jump into full party mode!

[Laughs] Oh yeah, for sure!

So how long has Force Majeure been in the works?

Basically we had a singer swap, so we got our original singer, Kenny, back in the band. He rejoined in June or July in 2020, which was the beginning of the pandemic which means we had a lot of time to sit down and write music. So somewhere around there we started to write for it and we started to record August last year, so one year later, here is the release!

Kenny was a big part of the identity of H.E.A.T your debut record, and Eric was a huge part of the band for a big part of your lifespan so it would have been nice to have H.E.A.T II as a send off for Eric.

Oh yeah, definitely a big send off. We love that album too so he left with a bang!

Exactly and H.E.A.T II received a lot of praise for returning to your heavier roots. Have you tried to continue that for this album with Kenny being back?

Absolutely. We set out to continue the same vein as HEAT II, and obviously it’s a little different because we have a new singer and he sings a bit differently than Eric, but Kenny is super involved in songwriting and production and Kenny plays a lot of different instruments so with all of that in it, it becomes a bit different to HEAT II but still i think the sound is still on par or in the same vein.

We’ve already heard three songs from this record, ‘Hollywood’ which has already been turning a lot of heads to watch what H.E.A.T are doing, ‘Back to the Rhythm’ and ‘Nationwide’ – all of which are huge stadium anthems. Is that what this album is about?

Hell yeah! I mean, we love to play live and that’s what we’re kind of doing now which has been awesome, and ‘Hollywood’ is working so well live. It’s probably my favourite to play at the moment – when that chorus hits, it’s like ‘YES!’. You can feel the energy!

I’ve seen footage and it’s wild! Was ‘Hollywood’ written with the live show in mind?

You know when we first started the band, we were studio based really and me and Dave we had been working the studio a lot back then but as we started to play live it was like ‘okay’. We always felt like a heavy metal band, rather than a studio AR band so when we went on stage we felt more like Iron Maiden rather than Coat or some band like that who are moreso musicians. I guess at some point, and I think it was Tearing Down The Walls, around there, that maybe it started reflecting in the music that it was more raw and live focused and more ‘okay, what do we want to do live? What do we want them to sing and play more awesome live music? But it should be awesome to listen to in your headphones as you’re going to sleep as well.

I think you’ve found that balance well. But you are known for being a great live act and I think touring with so many amazing rock legends like Alice Cooper, Toto and Sabaton has elevated your live show even more.

Oh yeah! We were blessed to play with so many incredible acts like Alice Cooper and Toto and all of the festivals we’ve been to. Last weekend we played in Wales at Steelhouse Festival and I saw Saxon play for the first time and I was blown away. I was like ‘what the fuck!’[laughs], and that really inspires you to lift your game and step it up!     

Australia hasn’t had the opportunity to witness that though. H.E.A.T hasn’t played here before!

No, it’s our first time now in September. It’s going to be awesome. Me and Eric flew over in 2016 and played Melodic Rock Fest in Melbourne but it wasn’t H.E.AT, we did a few HEAT songs acoustically and played with another band which was for fun. We had a break with the HEAT before into the great unknown, so we flew over for that and spent a week in Melbourne. But now we’re going to come full force with HEAT which is going to be awesome. And CRAZY LIXX are coming along as well so it will be amazing. Awesome band as well, amazing live!

Being your first show here in Australia, and with a new album, what will a set look like for you? Are you going to try and balance out the newer songs with older ones that we love but haven’t seen live?   

We try to incorporate songs from every album but we have seven albums [laughs] and a bunch of music and it gets harder. We want to play the new stuff and we really want to play songs from HEAT II as well because we didn’t get to tour it so we have four or five tracks from HEAT II, yes we will play a few from Force Majeure as well but we try to play at least two from the first album, one from Freedom Rock and a couple from the Eric albums as well!

That sounds great because we had missed out on seeing you through all of your era’s, and it will be great seeing Kenny step up into the Eric vocal songs. Has that been a learning process for him?

I think he has done his thing with Eric’s songs. It’s not copying Eric’s style, he does his own thing and adds his melodies and small wails and stuff like that. He’s more soulful – I don’t know if that’s a word – he likes more soul and does the runs more than Eric who is more of a power singer. He does his interpretation on tracks, it sounds really cool! It’s awesome to play all of the tracks live at the moment!

I have to ask about the new album’s title, Force Majeure. Is that a nod to the changeover of singers or is there another meaning to it?

For us, it’s like the word force was with us all along. We wanted to make it undeniable and have this force – that was the key word – and we thought about naming the album just Force but then we thought of Force Majeure and we’re like ‘oo’. It’s like a major force and it reflects the pandemic it was written during. Force Majeure, I mean swapping singers is almost a force majeure but you can read some meanings into it.

Up for interpretation!

Most of all it sounds badass.

It does! I won’t lie I did look up to see whether you were using the English or French pronunciation but glad I didn’t have to add my French ‘r’s onto it.

[laughs] Haha yeah we’re using the English pronunciation until we go to France and sound quite pretentious! *imitates French accent* Force Majeure.

So it’s out on Friday – are there any other single releases or music video releases coming with the release?

We wanted to but couldn’t make it work because we are touring. But as you do these days, you have a focus track and that is ‘Tainted Blood’ for us. That is the one we pitched to streaming platforms. And I really love that track and cannot wait to play it live! Actually I think we’ll be playing it for the first time in Australia because the album will be out by then so we can play more songs from Force Majeure!

Amazing! We obviously can’t wait! Why was ‘Tainted Blood’ a standout for you?

I’m not sure it’s a standout but it has this heavy riff that is reminiscent of Judas Priest and I kind of love that classic metal vibe to it!

We love Judas Priest here so that’s a good sign! In terms of that logical side of pulling this album together, you did say it was created during the pandemic. Was that during lockdowns, were you writing together?

Most of the time we would write individually to get the basic idea of the track and then get together to finish it. But in terms of lockdowns, we didn’t have any hard lockdowns in Sweden which everyone had to do their share of separating and distancing from each other. So it was up to everyone to make sure they didn’t affect people. So we all got together and hung out in the studio together and we did!

That makes it so much easier. And I guess with Kenny being back it would have been important for dynamic.

Yeah and just hang out and get to know each other!

Were you in contact with Kenny during his departure?

Every now and then but not really in contact. We met up in 2015 the last time before he rejoined the band, with me, him & Dave, and Dave wasn’t in the band then. We had dinner and a few beers, actually a lot of beers [laughs] I remember! But apart from, that there would be the text are Christmas or birthdays. Until he decided to rejoin.

So how did that conversation happen that he wanted to rejoin? With him rejoining like an instant back to being close or was there a big transition period?

We had to make sure he had his priorities right this time because he left the band for a reason back in the day but he has a lot of regret leaving and you can tell and he has been very open about that. He missed it and wanted to get back. He told me in 2019 when Eric was still in the band that he wanted to come back and I told him it would be pretty hard because we had a singer but you never know for the future. It happened quite quickly for him actually. You never know!

It all happened for a reason!       

It worked out so well and we’re super happy to keep it in the family!

   That familiarity helps with excitement for fans as well.

We can tell that because we sold out our show in Stockholm and I think a lot of that is because Kenny is back. We sold out our biggest venue so far! It has to be because he is back and we’re so glad for what’s happening moving forward.

So does that mean already planning for the next album?

I actually couldn’t sleep last night because I was shifting through a shit load of song ideas! I’m constantly working on new stuff. So absolutely. We’re touring now but creating music is a constant thing. I can’t turn it off. We should start recording again next year, at least I hope!

Incredible! Well, remember when you do start planning the next album tour to add Australia to the top of the list!

We will, I cannot tell you how excited we are to be coming down and playing!

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