INTERVIEW WITH PRODUCER AND DEGREED / TED POLEY DRUMMER MATS ERICSSON
Date: February 14, 2019
Interviewer: Tyson Briden
LAST SUMMER, WHEN I INTERVIEWED DANGER DANGER SINGER TED POLEY, I CAME TO LEARN THAT POLEY’S LATEST ALBUM ‘MODERN ART’ WAS ACTUALLY A COLLABORATION RELEASE WITH A BAND FROM SWEDEN CALLED DEGREED.
UPON MY FIRST LISTEN TO THE ‘MODERN ART’ ALBUM, I QUICKLY REALIZED THAT THIS WAS VERY DIFFERENT FROM POLEY’S PAST WORK. OF COURSE, POLEY’S SIGNATURE VOCALS WERE PRESENT, BUT THERE WAS SOMETHING WITHIN THE MUSIC ITSELF THAT DREW ME IN. I WOULD COME TO FIND OUT THAT ‘MODERN ART’ WAS PRODUCED BY DEGREED DRUMMER MATS ERICSSON. BEING THE EVER INQUISITIVE WRITER AND MUSIC FAN, I REACHED OUT TO ERICSSON TO FIND OUT MORE ABOUT HIS CONTRIBUTIONS TO ‘MODERN ART.’ ERICSSON WAS QUICK TO RESPOND AND WE WERE ABLE TO SET SOMETHING UP TO CORRESPOND WITH OUR SCHEDULES SINCE HE WAS INDEED IN SWEDEN.
NOW KEEP IN MIND IT IS APRIL AND THIS INTERVIEW WAS ACTUALLY DONE BACK IN FEBRUARY. BETTER LATE THAN NEVER I ALWAYS SAY. TO BE HONEST I HAVE BEEN SUPER BUSY THIS YEAR. YOU COULD SAY I HAVE BEEN BURNING THE CANDLE AT BOTH ENDS AT VARIOUS TIMES. REGARDLESS, HERE IT IS. PLEASE ENJOY AND THANK YOU TO THE EVER SO GREAT MATS ERIKSSON FOR BEING SO GRACIOUS AND HONEST. IT TRULY WAS A PLEASURABLE EXPERIENCE.
Sleaze Roxx: Hey Mats! How’s it going?
Mats Ericsson: I’m good! How are you?
Sleaze Roxx: I’m good man! Before we get to Ted Poley’s ‘Modern Art’ album, I wanted to talk about your band – Degreed. Especially for some of our readers in North America who may not be familiar with the band. Maybe you can give me a little bit of a bio. Nothing too elaborate, just maybe a bit of history.
Mats Ericsson: Sure. We formed the band back in 2007, so we’ve been around quite a while. We released our first album in 2010, called ‘Life Love Loss.’ We released that through an Australian label. It didn’t get much attention back then. We then started working with a producer called Erik Lidbom who wrote some songs for us as well. We started working with him and he knew people. We worked with Bill Champlin for instance, who was from the band Chicago on our second album, which was released in 2013. Then in 2015, we released our third album ‘Dead But Not Forgotten’ which we produced ourselves and wrote all the songs. Album number four, we released through Sony Music in the world which was simply titled ‘Degreed.’ That was our biggest release yet. We also had our biggest songs on that one because the reach was so much wider. That was technically our debut because that was the album we really had some reach with basically. Now we’re recording the follow-up to that one, which will be album number five. That’s a really short description.
Sleaze Roxx: So this latest one will be on Sony as well?
Mats Ericsson: Yeah!
Sleaze Roxx: That’s a big label man! Good for you guys!
Mats Ericsson: It’s hard to get through everything. There’s so many artists and what they’re really focusing on is pop because that is what sells the most. It’s good to have a big label with… in speaking terms of distribution.
Sleaze Roxx: There was a single released for the upcoming album back in the fall?
Mats Ericsson: Yes. We’ve released two singles actually with a very long time between them. We released the first single back in September called “Body of Work.” We released the second one back in January. The 11th I think that is called “Ruins” and we’ll be releasing at least three singles more before the album.
Sleaze Roxx: That seems like the way to do it now.
Mats Ericsson: Yeah, I think so. It’s moved from an album business into a track business. I think with the streaming and everything. Especially when you’re Swedish and you like Spotify.
Sleaze Roxx: Every advance that you hear now for upcoming albums — when I am preparing for an interview, you have three singles to choose from. It gives the fans the basis of what maybe the album will be. Back in my day [the ’80s], you got the single and you had to wait.
Mats Ericsson: I like that type of way more actually or we all do, I think! That’s what it is right now!
Sleaze Roxx: I remember being a kid. You’d have to go to the record store and wait in line on release day. You knew what the release date was and you’d say, “Ah man, I gotta get to whatever record store it is to get it before anyone else”.
Mats Ericsson: That’s cool. It’s dedication! You don’t really have that anymore when it comes to music. Everyone sees music as something that should be free basically. Everything is at your fingertips.
Sleaze Roxx: It’s kind of disappointing. It takes away the desire for the music and being excited about it.
Mats Ericsson: Yeah, exactly. That’s the biggest problem with the development of the business. You had more hardcore fans back in the day.
Sleaze Roxx: I totally agree.
Mats Ericsson: The labels today — they’re focusing more on downloads than the actual marketing or promotion for the album. People are supposed to buy the album. It’s a lot of money put into it and a lot of time. It’s not as appreciated anymore. Only 20 years ago, I remember as well, when you bought an album for 20 bucks and that was the price for it. Nobody complained. That was what you paid for it. As you said, you were standing in line. You were dedicated to the music, you were dedicated to the artist and you wanted to get that album. Now it’s a different thing. You can sit at home. You don’t have to do anything to get the music.
Sleaze Roxx: I’m still that guy. I got the download advance on Ted Poley’s ‘Modern Art’ album, but I still bought it after the fact because I don’t want that download as my copy. I bought the vinyl [holds it up].
Mats Ericsson: That’s good. That’s lovely. I haven’t gotten mine yet!
Sleaze Roxx: So you did mention that Degreed had toured with The Poodles which features Danger Danger / The Defiants guitarist Rob Marcello. How did things go on that tour? Give me a bit of an idea of the touring culture in Europe. I’ve never been over there to see a show. Do you get good crowds?
Mats Ericsson: Yeah, it depends. It’s very different from country to country. Germany for instance is fucking crazy every time, but when you get to the Netherlands they’re like — I don’t know if everyone is stoned in that country or something, but it’s really weird. I don’t know, maybe they’re respectful. They’re not making a lot of fuss during the songs. It’s a bad country to play in if you like energy. The UK is the same as Germany. It’s fucking crazy. Then on top of everything, Spain is mental. It’s above all else. It’s so crazy. In Madrid, the audience is louder than the band usually. Like I said, it’s very different from country to country.
Sleaze Roxx: What’s it like in Sweden?
Mats Ericsson: It’s just a small country. It’s a bad rock music scene here. It’s basically non-existent. We have a little following of people who follow rock. Than we have Sweden Rock Festival, which is the happening of the year for everyone that’s into rock. People come out to shows and everything, but it’s more like the Netherlands here than Spain. Everyone’s kind of holding back, unless they’re drunk. Then they’re really going for it.
Sleaze Roxx: Being from North America, we had always heard of rock bands from Sweden, but we don’t hear of the pop bands. Our perception is that, “Oh, all these Swedish bands — it must be awesome over there because of all these bands!”
Mats Ericsson: No — it’s because you have to get out of Sweden as fast as possible. That’s why you hear it over there. Sweden is a small country. We’re only about 10 million people. You can’t win them all.
Sleaze Roxx: So Degreed has upcoming dates, first with Dare and then Eden’s Curse — I believe.
Mats Ericsson: Yes, that is correct.
Sleaze Roxx: That’s in the next two months?
Mats Ericsson: In March, we’re playing in Sweden and Norway with Dare. In April, we’re doing the UK with Eden’s Curse. In March, we’re actually doing HRH with Ted as well.
Sleaze Roxx: Oh cool! So you guys are actually backing up Ted?
Mats Ericsson: Yes!
Sleaze Roxx: Oh, that’s awesome.
Mats Ericsson: That’s the first one of many we hope!
Sleaze Roxx: I want to touch on Sweden a little more. Growing up in Sweden, what would you have listened to? My favorite Swedish bands growing up were of course Europe, Kingpin, which became Shotgun Messiah. I love John Norum as a solo artist. Then the neighboring bands like D.A.D., Electric Boys and Hanoi Rocks. We can’t forget Yngwie Malmsteen!
Mats Ericsson: [Laughs] My cousin who is also the keyboard player in Degreed adores Yngwie. That’s his all-time favorite artist. Europe — I grew up listening to them. KISS was my favorite band when I was growing up. Then Toto. Our Dad listened to Toto. Chicago as well. Especially when Bill Champlin sang with them, so that was kind of an accomplishment to have a song on our album, which he wrote and actually featured on. More slick music I think. My first concert when I was seven was KISS. Then I saw them again when I was nine. That is quite an important band for me.
Sleaze Roxx: Make-up or non-make-up?
Mats Ericsson: With make-up. The comeback tour in 96-97. Then I went to the ‘Psycho Circus’ tour. Then I saw them five years after the ‘Psycho Circus’ tour and that was not as good as before.
Sleaze Roxx: Tommy Thayer and Eric Singer?
Mats Ericsson: Yeah, the first tour when Eric Singer was back with make-up. He’s a really great drummer, but he played like shit on that tour. I don’t know why, but I think they told him to play like Peter Criss or something. It didn’t sound like Eric Singer and that fucked with me.
Sleaze Roxx: I’ve actually only ever seen Eric Singer play with Alice Cooper.
Mats Ericsson: I’ve seen that as well.
Sleaze Roxx: He was awesome.
Mats Ericsson: He’s an awesome drummer. That was such a disappointment. I think I left half way through the KISS show with him on drums.
Sleaze Roxx: The Europe thing and that’s pretty much it of the bands I mentioned, which was a surprise. John Norum was in Europe. His solo stuff never got as commercialized as the Europe stuff, with it being a lot different.
Mats Ericsson: There’s a few albums with John Norum that I really love as well. All of them are great, but some of them are really good and they should have gotten more attention.
Sleaze Roxx: The one with Glenn Hughes on it is really good.
Mats Ericsson: Yeah, that one is really fucking amazing.
Sleaze Roxx: ‘Face The Truth’ I believe.
Mats Ericsson: Then you have a few albums that Joey Tempest did as a solo artist.
Sleaze Roxx: Oh he did? I was not aware of that.
Mats Ericsson: Yeah, he has a few. It’s more pop-ish. He’s a great songwriter, so it’s great songs. He has an album called ‘A Place to Call Home.’ That one is fucking amazing actually. If you go on Amazon and punch it up, I promise you they don’t have it.
Sleaze Roxx: Did that album come out in the mid ’90s when they were on hiatus?
Mats Ericsson: Late ’90s I believe or even mid ’90s.
Sleaze Roxx: The song that Joey Tempest did on ‘Face The Truth’ is amazing too. I can’t recall the name of that track, but regardless that album was good from start to finish. ‘Total Control’ was really good too, which came out before that one. I have the albums after, but those are the two I like that best. He kind of changed singers and some of it was a little mismatched. So let’s get to Ted Poley’s ‘Modern Art’. Ted did kind of explain to me how you came to work together in our past interview, but I’d like to hear your take on it.
Mats Ericsson: Yeah… sure! Of course! We met back in 2015 at a festival here in Stockholm, Sweden where we were both playing. Actually, Ted was picked up by the guy who arranged the festival at the airport. They were listening to the radio and Degreed came on. Ted said to the guy arranging the festival, “This is my new favorite band!” That guy replied with, “Well, they’re playing at this festival tonight! You know that right?” Ted was like, “No way!” Later that night, he actually met Robin [Eriksson], who sings in Degreed. So they met and Ted was very energetic and enthusiastic, as always. The next day, we were playing. In the middle of a set, Ted runs up on stage and he grabs Robin’s shoulder. Robin gets very nervous, thinking something’s wrong. Ted says, “I love you!” He wanted to sing, but didn’t know the words exactly. Robin was like, “Yeah, sure!” Then Ted says, “No, no, no!” He just wanted to rock out with us. Then after the show, we got to talking and I spoke a lot with him. He said he loved our sound. He loved the album ‘Dead But Not Forgotten’, which I produced, mixed and mastered. He said, “We should do something together!” I said, “Sure!” I didn’t think he was serious basically, then I gave him my e-mail address.
A few days later, he contacted me saying, “We should really do this!” When he writes e-mails, it’s pages long. It took a while because it was a lot to read. Then I had to respond to everything to be polite. I listened to him when I was a kid, so I look up to him. Then we skyped and started talking seriously about the album. I sent him songs that we’d written with Degreed that didn’t suit us. Usually we write 30-35 songs for an album. He heard the first song and he got all energetic like he always does. He was pumped up and said, “Yeah, you’ve got to do nine more of these and we have an album!” That process was actually quite long because we did everything else with Degreed, I did other jobs like mixing, mastering and all that, but six months later we had the songs. Then he just told us, “Yeah, this is awesome. I want you to write two songs and we’ll think about this!” We wrote two songs and he got so excited about the results, that was a done record basically. He said, “Now go in and record this!” So we started recording and the next thing we knew he was in the studio here in Sweden. It’s a really fun, fun story. It’s all very coincidental actually. He’s listening to a Swedish internet radio station, where he hears Degreed for the first time, before he even got to Sweden, then we play the same festival. The odds of that are so minimal.
Sleaze Roxx: Yeah, and the fact that you were a fan of his.
Mats Ericsson: Yeah. “I Still Think About You” by Danger Danger was the song. We listened to that when we were kids.
Sleaze Roxx: I have the ‘Screw It’ album on vinyl.
Mats Ericsson: I bet. The best way to listen to music is on vinyl.
Sleaze Roxx: As I was listening to ‘Modern Art’ initially and I mentioned this to Ted — it was the fact that the snare follows the vocals in some ways. Ted kind of alluded to the fact that he is a drummer. Possibly that’s how he does his phrasings.
Mats Ericsson: Yeah, it might be that actually. It should be him that does the phrasings after the snare. I haven’t analyzed it actually like that. Now I’m going to think about that next time I listen to it.
Sleaze Roxx: When you and Ted actually sat down to discuss the album and as you mentioned, you already had the tunes that Degreed wasn’t going to use, which means it wouldn’t have been a basis of Ted saying, “Okay, let’s do an album that sounds like me doing Degreed songs!”
Mats Ericsson: He said he wanted to make an album that had our sound music wise, but we do it his way. Like a mixture of the two basically. Then we changed a lot. Ted has been — he’s very honest with what he thinks about things, which is great when you want to move forward fast, so he’s been producing the songs as well and arranging. He was changing out stuff. It was our songs that didn’t fit on our album back then that he came in and really arranged, co-produced something that suited him. So like I said, it became a mixture basically.
Sleaze Roxx: Yeah, he touched on the videos for the songs with the whole animation thing. They are so cool.
Mats Ericsson: That’s something as well. He’s really passionate. When he does something he does it 100%.
Sleaze Roxx: Did Ted ever mention to you that he played drums in the band Prophet?
Mats Ericsson: Yeah, he mentioned it. I think — I don’t know if he mentioned Prophet. He played drums in a few bands before.
Sleaze Roxx: In terms of recording the album, was it done digitally?
Mats Ericsson: It was recorded through an analog console, but everything is digital when it comes to — the tape today is digital. It’s my hard drive. I actually have an Ampex 24 channel MM1200 I believe. The console is a 48 channel analog console. I have some outboard while recording but the rest is digital.
Sleaze Roxx: 2” tape is so expensive now too.
Mats Ericsson: Yeah, it is. As I mentioned I have a 24 channel tape machine. Its 24 channels. 16 minutes. It’s like 500 bucks or something. So you need to buy quite a few of those. If you only have 24 channels with how you record today, that would be hard. If you’re recording on tape, you usually record drums on tape, then you transfer it into the computer. You do it like that, but it’s time consuming. Unless you have a large budget and a large amount of time, which you never have either of those these days. It’s a nice piece of gear to have at least. It’s collecting dust in the corner.
Sleaze Roxx: I’m just happy to hear that you have it. I love the production side of things and talking about gear. In regards to producers, as a producer, who did you grow up admiring?
Mats Ericsson: It depends which era. Producing wise, it’s probably Mutt Lange. He makes shit sound large. He’s a great mixer as well. I usually listen to country music. There are several country producers that I love. For instance, Dan Huff. There’s also a Canadian guy, but I can’t remember his name. He’s been producing Nickleback, but doing a lot of country as well. He’s living in Nashville and doing a lot of pop country. He’s one of my favorites of all time. I listen to a lot of the mixes more than the production side. The mix is just polishing the production. Chris Lord Alge does a lot of nice things. Everything he does sounds so big. It’s so good.
Sleaze Roxx: I noticed the sound of your snare drum. When you mix it, do you actually hit it hard or do you put it hard in the mix? That snare is so punchy. It’s right there.
Mats Ericsson: I actually do hit it really hard, but then I compress it extreme to get it through. With Degreed for instance, it’s always so dense production. It’s hard to get something through because there’s like 10 synthesizers. Then you have a layer of guitars and a layer of vocals. You really need to get it to punch. I hit all the drums with everything that I’ve got. Drums are supposed to be hit hard. If you hit loose, it’s going to sound like shit.
Sleaze Roxx: With everything being so layered, would you actually double or triple the snare to beef it up?
Mats Ericsson: No. There might be a few samples, but usually there’s only one snare. When you start to throw too much things into a mix you’re not going to solve a problem like being too dense. If it’s too dense and you can’t get the snare through, maybe you should look at other things. Maybe putting more samples. I know several of my friends who mix, that do the layering thing, they put more samples in to get it through, but I think that you’re just adding stuff to something that already has a lot. I’d rather take something away to make all the elements pop through. I don’t know, that’s just how I work and everyone works differently. The friends that usually put layer and layer, it sounds great when they do it. They know how to do it. That’s the beauty of sound engineering as well as the sound of music. There’s no right or wrong. It’s just do shit when you find a recipe to make it sound good. Do it again! Sometimes when you have a night off to be creative, you find stuff. Several techniques that I use, they were mistakes in the beginning and they turned out great.
Sleaze Roxx: Obviously, with your snare for instance, it works. It cuts through perfectly. That was the first thing I noticed when I listened to ‘Modern Art’. I was, “Okay, I hear Ted, but I also hear that snare!” There’s a lot of music you never hear that. The drums are just dead. I love to hear the snare. Job well done!
Mats Ericsson: Thank you very much. Glad you like it!
Sleaze Roxx: Anyways, that is pretty much all I have.
Mats Ericsson: It’s been nice talking to you man!
Sleaze Roxx: You too Mats! Thank you.
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