Guitarist Erik Martensson once aspired to have a career in motocross. But after being involved in a crash and during his subsequent recovery, he began focusing his time on guitar and soon discovered his true calling.
Today, Martensson not only splits his time between his own hard rock band Eclipse and the "super-group" W.E.T; a project that also features Robert Säll (Work of Art) and Jeff Scott Soto (Talisman), but he's also written and produced songs for a variety of artists.
After providing material for a Jimi Jamison (Survivor) and Bobby Kimball (Toto) project, Martensson was asked to write songs for a Jamison solo album. The result of which, Never Too Late, has received critical acclaim both here and abroad. With catchy hooks and melodies that not only emphasize Jamison's vocal prowess, it's also an album that sounds fresh and new.
I spoke with Martensson from his home in Sweden about Never Too Late as well as his guitar-laden new Eclipse album, Bleed and Scream.
GUITAR WORLD: How did this collaboration with Jamison take place?
I had originally written a few songs for the Bobby Kimball/Jimi Jamison duet album. Following the success of that, Frontiers Records asked me to work on a solo record with Jimi.
When you approach a project with Jimi Jamison, what kind of writing process do you go through?
I had Jimi's vocal range in mind when we started. I knew the sound that would fit him and also suit the fans. That was something that was really important to me. I have the Survivor Vital Signs and Too Hot To Sleep albums, so I know the style. But I didn't want to just re-make an album from the '80s. I wanted it to sound fresh. I wanted it to have one foot in the '80s and one foot in the now.
What was the recording process like?
I played and recorded everything on the demos here in Stockholm and then sent the files and lyrics to Jimi. On the demos, I also did the lead vocal so Jimi could hear my intentions for the songs. He then recorded his vocals in Memphis and sent them back to me. We then replaced the demo music with real guitars, drums and Hammond organ to give it an authentic feel. It worked out well.
The song "Never Too Late" sounds like vintage Survivor.
I really wanted to write the one song that sounded a lot like Survivor. One that the fans would really love. As a Jimi Jamison fan, "Never Too Late" is a song you really want to hear him sing.
Lyrically, how do you like to write?
I always start out with guitar and melody and then lyrics will come later. I write a lot with a guy named Miqael Persson. He's a good friend and we've worked together for many years and he's my go to guy for lyrics. He's a lot into country music so lyrics mean a lot to him. I'm more of a melody guy to be honest. But I write some lyrics myself as well.
Your band Eclipse's new album, Bleed and Scream, is also receiving a lot of attention. How do you approach writing for an Eclipse record as opposed to writing for Jimi Jamison?
An Eclipse project is very guitar-oriented with riffs. When writing for someone like Jimi, it's more about acoustic guitar and melodies and making them work. Then you add the guitar riffs and hooks afterwards. For Eclipse, we always make the songs catchy, but the riffs are the most important thing.
The last Eclipse album, Are You Ready to Rock, was released in 2008. Why such a long time between albums?
We've been wanting to do one for a long time, but I've been involved with so many other projects that time just flies.
What's the key to a great guitar sound?
For me, the key to a great guitar sound is plugging directly into the amp with no bullshit in between. Too many pedals just mess up the sound. Bleed and Scream is just direct into Marshall. We did use a DOD Yngwie Malmsteen signature pedal to push the input stage of the old Marshall heads we used, but that's it.
How did you get started playing guitar?
I started getting serious about playing when I was 18. My main interest and focus at the time was motocross. One season, I hurt my leg really badly in a crash and had to have my foot patched up with screws. While I was recovering, I started playing guitar more and discovered that it was what I really wanted to do. I then went to music school and took it from there.
What projects are you currently working on?
We have a new album with W.E.T. called Rise Up that will be released in February. I'm very excited about it.
What do you feel is most important about recording?
I always strive to make albums I would want to buy myself. If I bought a Jimi Jamison album, Never Too Late would be the one I would want. It's the same with Eclipse, W.E.T. or any other project. When you put a lot of heart into it, you make the records that people want to hear.
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James Wood is a writer, musician and self-proclaimed metalhead who maintains his own website, GoJimmyGo.net. His articles and interviews are written on a variety of topics with passion and humor. You can follow him on Twitter @JimEWood.