Interviewed by Jessica Clingempeel & Joshua Becker
Hello Kevin, thanks for doing this interview with us. In September 2018, Tarja finally made it back to the states. I was cheering you guys on in NYC. How did the shows go in the States?
“It was great to finally do some shows in the USA after 8 full years seeing the rest of the world with all my crazy friends. The shows went well. It was interesting seeing the contrast between the international audiences and the one here in the USA. It was a totally different perspective on things. It was a pleasure to play all of the shows, NYC especially. That was the best show of the USA tour.”
Do you think her next album will bring more shows to the States?
“Tarja has a 2-3 year cycle of things, and we are about to start that cycle fresh this year….. Europe festivals, I’m sure Europe tour, South America, etc. I’ve been in over 60 countries with her so I imagine its only a matter of time within the cycle that we are back. I’m sure it wont be 9 years this time!! In all honesty, touring in the USA is not easy for ANY international band. But any international band always finds a way to get to places where their fans live. Some places are easier than others. The USA, as a country, does not make that easy for the fans of overseas artists to tour. The United States, and this moment in time, for international musicians, is probably THE MOST difficult country to tour in, in the world. As hard as China. Harder than Russia. Its not a concern for ME, but I am the only American in the band, so it does effect me!!”
What is the worst thing that has ever happened on tour?
“I’ve never been asked that….. so many things come to mind. Some personal, some musical. Some just LIFE. Personally? It’s my feeling that the worst thing that can ever happen on tour is if nobody shows up to see you. Tarja does NOT have this issue. She certainly has a loyal and steady fan base. Everywhere! But, not every artist, of whom I have played with, have that core to work from. Her fans should be proud of the collective THEY have created!! And continue to build it.
Regardless of whom you are a fan of, just remember that to us, the musicians, we tour for YOU. And we want you all to see us do what we love to do. We admire so many of you who come to shows around the world. But I will be honest, and this can be said for no matter WHO I play with or for: we need the lovers of music to unite when we happen to be in town, under the roof we provide, to create those special moments. They are, for YOU. Especially with Tarja and her great band. It’s the best band I have ever played in. We’re all damn proud of it. The worst thing that could EVER happen on tour, is that people don’t get to see just how far we have taken it, in the live show. All musicians want to create an experience that cant be forgotten. I don’t think the band has ever been better. Come to the shows!!! I’m not afraid to say, it’s BETTER than Nightwish. Let us PROVE it to you, if you are a denier or a skeptic.”
Regarding Tarja’s new album, will you be taking part in any, if not all, bass recordings?
“Of course, always. She has an amazing team of people that are constantly moving things in new and interesting musical directions.”
Any other details about the new album you can give us, or shall more be released to us “soon”?
“I am honest when I tell you, I only put things on my calendar when there is a plane ticket in my hand to begin the journey again. Stay tuned!!! You likely know as much as me!! HA!!”
Moving on, back in 2013 you had brain surgery due to epilepsy. How has it been since then?
“It has its ups and downs, but I am still Alive. What can I say? When you go thru something like that, each day has meaning. That comes with a price….. as the meaning is not always good!! BUT, somedays, the miracle of the fact that I am touring AT ALL comes into plain sight….. and I realize that I am a lucky to be doing it. There are close call, believe me. It doesn’t slow me down. If you have medical challenges, “nothing is going to stop me” is the only choice. My normal is fucked up. But, we all can say that in ways. I’m not special. So, I pick up my complications, try my hardest, and that’s just the way it’s going to be. If you want to do this AT ALL, regardless of if you have a health consideration, that’s the only mindset that will allow you to survive as an artist. Artists are the toughest of us all, sometimes. Don’t forget: most musicians put up with rejection, apathy, judgement…. and refuse to let it EVER stop us. Throw a health concern into this equation. An occasional seizure is still far easier than making a living in the music business. HA!!!”
Kudos to you for not allowing epilepsy to keep you from doing what you love. Has it ever hindered your ability to play though or keep you from giving your all?
“Thank you for that. I’ve played gigs after having seizures. I internalize the music, so its strange. Even in the delirium of waking up from a seizure, I can walk on stage and playa show, to nearly the highest level. (google Thessaloniki 2017 as an example). In ways, not thinking about it makes it easy. I don’t usually remember the show. It’s kind of bizarre….. Yes, I have missed a few shows. But, I can usually pull 90 minutes out of me, no matter how shitty I feel. A stage always seems to help me feel better.”
Moving on to the Swedish show you have recently been part of. How did you get involved in Allt För Sverige?
“I was asked a few years ago by a casting agent in LA if I would be interested…. But it never worked out with my touring schedule. 2018 was the first year I was available. When you live in LA, there are always small, strange connections to things. I ended up in Sweden, in other words, because hearing about that kind of stuff is normal, as someone who lives in LA and knows people in the broader entertainment business. It’s connected world wide, and it’s all rooted in Los Angeles, CA. But it was driven when I realized I had a chance to, in ways, reconnect my Swedish Heritage, reconnecting a lost link. In that strange quest, I have succeeded!!”
According to the description on the show, it is a reality show to meet long lost Swedish relatives. What was the process like about finding out about your heritage?
“It was revealing. I didn’t expect to find that my great great grandfather was sold into slavery by his own mother. But escaped, left Sweden and moved to America, creating a critical piece in the amazing family I am a part of. It hurt in ways. But then, it makes sense. Al Moberg, my great great grandfather, had challenges, just like me. And didn’t give up. Now I know why I am such a tough, stubborn old bastard that refuses to quit. Al Moberg and many like him, created the American spirit of fearlessness. I’m proud to uphold that legacy”.
When you get home from a long gig, or a lot of touring, what is the very first thing you do?
“I remember after a 32 hour flight home from Tokyo, in the wrong direction, Tokyo-Rome-Paris-Atlanta-Detroit-Escanaba, instead of the direct over the pacific flight, I kissed the ground. After this last tour, I totally unplugged all my devices and stared at the trees for a few days. It continued almost 2 months. 2018 was a bitch. It’s beyond exhausting. Tours never end happy. Because the tour is ending. Even though, you are exhausted. It’s complicated. You’re happy to be home but sad because you aren’t on the road. Every musician knows EXACTLY what I am talking about.”
You have been very vocal about the political state of our country lately, and with the Presidency. If you were a mouthpiece for the government, what would you say to them, and what policies would you change to make things better for us all?
“The mouthpiece TO them? Or FOR them? TO them (meaning any leader of any country, since we are talking politics), I would say the simple shit. If you care about your country more than you care about yourself, you are free to stay. If not, please consider another profession. Greed is the universal thing that divides people. Nothing can be successful if its run by people who openly dislike the idea of it even existing in the first place. How can you be a political leader if you say “government IS the problem”? YOU are government. You can’t build the house and tear it down at the same time. I honestly think the changes are nothing more than decisions we need to accept, as we all are forced to do in our own lives. There’s no right or wrong, there’s only compromise and results. It’s the easy way out to be famous for being against things. The path of a leader is to be FOR things. At that goes down to each and every one of us. What are YOU….. FOR!!!!?? Not AGAINST!!!? Would our leaders PLEASE rise to the occasion? And start to work FOR us, once again, as is possible? It’s our choice at the ballot box, then their choice, once in office. Only to be held accountable….. by THE PEOPLE. We all must join, then remain, in the conversation. To not care is to simply let the idiots win. Personally, I would never want to be the mouthpiece FOR the government. I DO know how to talk a lot however!! HA!! For future thought!!!!”
Do you find being successful in music makes certain things difficult, for example, going to a grocery store without being recognized? In other words, does your profession keep you from living a normal life?
“Not at ALL. People in Escanaba are people I have known my entire life. I’m not Kevin there. I am “Jack Chown’s kid”. As it has always been and always will be. Its why I love it there. It has NEVER changed. Not one iota. People there will see me and talk about the weather. In LA? I’m the least famous person in THIS town, believe me. That stuff happens on tour, but its supposed to. That’s part of touring….. running into fans. I enjoy it.”
Having been in the music industry for so long, what is one key thing you would change about it, to make better for you, and other professional artists in the industry?
“WHEW. Where to begin? When I fell in love with music, at the time, music was what defined everyone. Were you a metalhead? A new-waver? A punk rocker? A fan of pop music? Country? Or, did you just love some of EACH of them? That was me. I love all music. But, I say this because there was a time when MUSIC, not social media, not gaming, not even movies or TV at the time….. shaped culture and how each of us fit into that culture, based in music. It drove our hairstyles. Our fashion choices. Our attitudes. It created our groups of friends. Its was led to us forming our first bands. That culture has been lost, and as a result, people are defined by a much broader menu of cultural options….. and music has lost its greater audience. People still and will always love music. BUT, its not like it used to be.There is no doubt the business has gotten smaller since I started. Its up to the fans of music to look back to the history of its role in our lives. If music matters to YOU? Then, spread the gospel. I hope one day, for music to return to being the themes to what matters to us. That’s when good music HAPPENS. When culture and music are in tune with each other. What the music business needs, just like any other, is customers. WE call them FANS. No mater what, if musicians cant make a living, there will be fewer people making music. I have watched it happen in my lifetime. Are the fans of music, who are the TRUE music business, aware of this? Musicians, with the exception of very few, are all normal people. We have bills, a life, health problems….. just like everyone. The more we have OF your, the more we can then give back TO YOU. Because we can make a decent living. Believe me, being a musician is NEVER easy. The music business, and everyone who is a part of it, needs nothing more than YOU.”
It’s been a little while since we heard anything from Der Elefant, and the Facebook page is not updated much anymore. Are there any future
collaborations in the works?
“Me and Alex have thrown a few concepts around about what we want to do next. I’m sure we will be doing something when the universe makes it so. That goes for nearly anything I do. Nothing in life is certain, let alone in the music business. It happens when it happens. Then you make it the best you can make it.”
What about a future with Chad Smith’s Bombastic Meatbats?
“I just returned to LA for the first time since May. Jeff has been gone. Ed is all over the place with his solo career as well as Robbie Krieger, Chad of course, is all over the place. This is the first time we all have been in LA at the same time in a few years. There’s talk, we even have about half a record written. Its just a matter of time. We just never seem to have enough time to do it!!”
What else would you like to say to our readers and to all your fans out there?
“I would say, it’s an honor to play music for you all. Keep the love moving forward. We live in a crazy world. We’re all surrounded by bullshit on a daily basis. It’s an honor to help create a world of openness, optimism and honesty, all rooted upon the waves of music. The bullshit is always at the doorstep, but at a show, at least for those 90 minutes, it’s a pleasure to be part of creating a moment that matters from time to time, for anyone who’s looking to come in search of a moment, away from the madness. We’re all in this together.”
Photo © Jessica Clingempeel