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Interview

Snowy Shaw: "I’m Far From Done, And I Like To Think The Best Years Are Still Ahead..."

From a non-musician viewpoint, its difficult to comprehend just how hard it is to play one single instrument. For some of the more gifted musicians, they play them all. Enter Snowy Shaw, who early on in his career was best known as the blonde beast behind the drum kit for King Diamond and Mercyful Fate.

However, he is more than just a drummer....Snowy can out play so many other on guitar, bass, and even vocals. Having played with many bands (notably: King Diamond, Mercyful Fate, Notre Dame, Opera Diabolicus, Memento Mori, Dream Evil, Illwill, and more recently Mad Architect and his solo band) Shaw is a master of both music and the visual arts.

Earlier this year, Snowy celebrated his 25 year career with the release of new DVD/CD "The Liveshow: 25 Years of Madness in the Name of Metal." The DVD is a combination of material recorded in 2011 and 2012 with a myriad of guest stars to complement his solo band. In it, Snowy does it all with all the visual creepiness of an old time horror flick.

The musician....the artist....the animal activist - Snowy Shaw has never been shy about how he feels. He sat down with Metal Underground.com to talk about his stellar career and his forecast for the future.

CROMCarl: Congratulations on the new release! What an incredible career you have had! "The Live Show" really captures all of the great material you have written with so many different bands over the years. How satisfying is it to have this out and how satisfied are you with what you’ve been able to accomplish over the past 25 years?

Snowy: Thank you very much, glad you like it. The reception and reviews has so far been absolutely fantastic, which sort of tells me that it was worth all the countless hours I’ve spent in the making of it, so no one is happier than me.

If I’m satisfied in general terms? Never hahaha! I’m far from done and I like to think the best years are still ahead, but I’m of course satisfied that the Live DVD/CD Box out at last. I’m also immensely grateful for all the opportunities I’ve had to play with all these prominent and great bands so on the whole I’m pleased with what I’ve accomplished. My life’s been one helluva roller-coaster ride of constant ups and downs. Why do you think my wife call it Tivoli Shaw?

I must say however, for the record, that even though I’ve written about 60% of all the material I performed on those two event concerts, there are many songs that are certainly not written by me but that I have a strong connection to from playing them live over the years with the original band, like "Black Funeral" for example, that was recorded originally when I was in 7th grade or something. Hell, I even did it on Therion’s 20th anniversary tour, where special guest Messiah [Marcolin (ex-Candlemass)] and I used to do a duet.

People have been asking me why I did the old gem ”I Want You to Want Me” by Cheap Trick, there’s a long story behind that that stems all the way back to the late 70s where I stole the vinyl single from my youth centers DJ booth because I had fallen in love with the song and I just had to have it no matter what. However the short story is that when we were making the debut album with XXX I wanted to include an evergreen type classic hit and made a very cool version of that particular song. You could say paying back a debt for childhood shenanigans.

Anyhow, the slogan for the conceptual project reads ”Snowy Shaw plays all his favorite songs by all his former bands” and these one and many more definitely falls under that category.

CROMCarl: "The Liveshow" is a combination of material captured from shows in 2011 and 2012, some of which were featured on the “Snowy Shaw is Alive” release in 2011, right?

Snowy: That’s correct. I released the first of the two concerts as a digital album only. This new release on the other hand is only available physical and then based on the collective material I had at my disposal from both the shows, a massive chunk of more than 6 hours of filmed and recorded material. It would have been a complete overkill to use all of that material for the DVD which I never intended to but I made a ”best of ” selection that I thought would be the perfect blend and variety of songs, to achieve the best and most entertaining product for the viewer/listener. Also due to some very unfortunate technical mishaps where for example one of the highlights Opera Diabolicus and Dusk had to be excluded from the final video because it was poorly illuminated and way to dark for the cameras as a result of miscommunication between the light designer and myself. But it sounded great so I included these songs the audio CD instead, which by the way contains a track list completely different from the DVD.

CROMCarl: You had a myriad of great guest appearances too, most notably the great Mats Leven, Andy La Rocque, Gus G, Michael Denner, Hal Patino, Thomas Vikstrom, Mike Wead…and so many more. How special was that to have so many of friends there to celebrate with you?

Snowy: Yeah it was indeed a night to remember, times two. I feel both grateful, honored and flattered that they all wanted to participate. With one single exception each and everyone I got in contact with for a possible guest appearance were more than positive and would all gladly do it, but then logistically it was a bit of a nightmare as some of the more actively touring guys simply couldn’t fit it into their schedule unfortunately.

Let’s not forget my namesake core band which did an absolute amazing job, and to be able to master all those different styles of playing is not an easy task and requires nothing but some of the best, most versatile musicians in the world. For the first show in 2011 I hand picked former Therion lead guitarist Kristian Niemann, drummer Mannequin De Sade III (ex Notre Dame) and female bassist/singer Hellinor, and for the following year former and current Dream Evil lead guitarist Mark U Black, former Therion drummer Petter Karlsson and my dear friend since the early teens Vikki Valkyrie who used to be in the all female underground Thrash metal legends Ice Age on bass and vocals.

And no, it wasn’t King that turned down my invitation because out of respect for his physical condition at the time I never even asked. But it was Messiah Marcolin as a matter of fact, who I wanted to sing a song from the first Memento Mori album, but he said 3 months ahead was far too little time to memorize the lyrics, so eventually I got tired of it and ended up singing it myself instead, along with 20 other songs, of some I had never sang previously.

CROMCarl: From the presentation, the performances and everything about “The Liveshow” – it’s visually stunning. I know that plenty of the theatrical inspiration comes from your love of Kiss and from all the projects you have had, whether it was channeled through Notre Dame, Opera Diabolicus, King Diamond or Therion. One of the things I love about everything you have done is that its more than just a rock or metal show – you put such effort into the visual as well, but its backed up by such talented musicianship as well. How important is the theatrical side of what you do?

Snowy: My goal has always been to try combining the two, both what you hear and what you see morphed into one homogenous thingy. And just like you say KISS has always played an integral role in that it helped shape that perception from early on, and definitely and above all the Destroyer album where über genius producer Bob Ezrin waved his wand and created miracles, as he also did with Alice Cooper. It’s getting a little tiring always going on babbling about the influence KISS had on me when there’s so many others influences as well, but hadn’t it been for KISS I probably wouldn’t have been here today. Not necessarily that I would have ended up an disaffected suburban junkie or dead, but I most certainly wouldn’t have become the kind of person I am today and if it weren’t for that first impact they had on me I seriously doubt I would have become a musician altogether and would probably have become a sketch artist or painter instead.

CROMCarl: The first time I actually saw you was through MTV – back when MTV used to show music videos – in 1989 or 1990 on the “Sleepless Nights” video for King Diamond’s “Conspiracy” album. I remember seeing that video (which is somewhat visually similar to what you have done with “The Liveshow” - with that old black and white original classic horror movie feel) and seeing this towering and intimidating blonde drummer that rose above the drum kit. Back then you didn’t have the trademark mustache! Do you have any memories you can share of the taping of that music video?

Snowy: Yeah, I love that video. It was right up my alley with all the black and white footage and old horror movie clips. To me coming from nowhere it was an overwhelming experience to shoot that thing in a super duper Hollywood studio with gorgeous Californian models fixing your hair and shit like that. I had just been in the band for about two days at the time having managed what more than 40 well established drummers from all over the world had failed at doing before me, which was replacing Mikkey Dee. I was totally green and inexperienced and everything just happened so incredibly fast that it was as if I had died and gone to heaven, almost.

CROMCarl: I certainly don’t want to start anything with you and people you are friends with, so please don’t answer this question if you do not want to. You followed the public mudslinging with King Diamond and Hal Patino this past July when Hal was dismissed from the band. I know you are friends with both King and Hal. What did you make of all of that as it unfolded?

Snowy: From what I’ve been told personally I can definitely see and agree with both sides. As is usually the case, the truth tend to lie somewhere in between the two opponents. However, King is always 100% serious and dedicated, meanwhile the ultimate rocker Hal got perhaps a little too much rock n’ roll for his own good.

CROMCarl: You have made your feelings pretty clear about the state of the music business – especially downloading and the fact that the music business is pretty much dead for musicians seeking to make money for the art. There are so many who rightfully feel the same, yet it still seems like there are 20 times more bands around these days and in terms of available music – it has never been more alive, to me. Music seems more like a hobby than a job to so many musicians these days, especially when you see many of them holding down “normal jobs.” Why do you think there are so many more bands with so little to gain financially?

Snowy: Have I?

To say that it has everything to do with the evolution of internet is a pretty safe assumption as practically everything has everything to do with that these days. I’d say it’s due to the accessibility where everything is now just a click away and everyone can have a shot at it, this rockstar fantasy. It’s also about the digital revolution that has made things so much easier for everyone. Haven’t you noticed have all of a sudden everybody is a "photographer"?

For the same reason everybody can easily have their own home studio and make decent recording with programs downloaded legally or not, and then upload and get exposure for their band on YouTube, Facebook and so on and release your music digitally on various platforms whereas pre-internet only a handful were persistent or good enough to get signed and have their music put out.

From one perspective it’s an amazing era right now, where practically everyone can have a go at it from the same starting point regardless whether you’re rich or poor. This will surely bring out lots of new young talents and weed out the lesser good ones, whose claim to fame may have been for all the wrong reasons, like making big bucks. But since that option is now long gone and there’s no money to be made, so we’re left with people who’s genuine and have something unique to offer. The problem is, that they don’t get paid anything either so the question is how long they keep doing it without throwing in the towel. I’m not talking about a life in luxury and excess, but it gets a lot harder to be productive and convince yourself that people love your music when you live under a bridge and surviving on dog turds.

We can probably debate this depressing topic till our teeth fall out and still come up with no solution. Besides, I soon have to go look after all my business duties and obligations so that I won’t end up under that said bridge six months from now.

CROMCarl: In 2013, I had the privilege of seeing you a whole lot on the live front with Sabaton – especially on board 70,000 Tons of Metal and then culminating in the headlining performance at ProgPower USA.

a. With Sabaton, was there ever an offer to be the permanent drummer when Robban has left?

Snowy: Yeah, from the start they offered me the job as a permanent member, which I turned with the motivation that I had just quit Therion in order to concentrate on my own stuff but then they asked if I couldn’t at least fill in for a while as a touring drummer and made an offer I couldn’t resist. And I’m glad I did because we had a great time and loads of fun. After the first six months of touring we decided to extend the contract for another six months and I promised I’d be there until they found a new permanent drummer. Then they held auditions and picked Hannes that had occasionally been my drum-tech with Sabaton and had previously been my drum student. A good choice and a perfect match. They are without a doubt the nicest most grounded and hardworking people I’ve ever been involved with and I’m happy things are going so extremely well for them, they have truly earned it.

b. Do you have any special memories or thoughts you can share about festivals like 70,000Tons of Metal and ProgPower USA?

Snowy: I’ve played them both and headlined both twice with two different bands, as a singer with Therion and as drummer with Sabaton and I really love both festivals. ProgPower is such a friendly and cool festival and 70.000 of metal,.. what can I say, it’s just flat out fabulous to be on that fantastic cruise ship in the Caribbean for 5 days straight. It’s truly one of the few perks of playing music, a paid luxury vacation with the most wonderful people who all have one thing in common, the music. And for me as a Swede, in January it’s not quite as lovely back home. So I can’t wait to go back to play them both with my solo band.

What can we expect from you in the future – is there more material currently in the works with either Notre Dame, Opera Diabolicus or just under the banner Snowy Shaw?

Snowy: Loads and loads. "The Liveshow: 25 Years of Madness in the Name of Metal" is not only a summation of my past but the kick off for my next 25 as a solo artist and I’ll be locking myself up working on the studio tan recording my new material within shortly. Or actually as soon as I’m done with all the remaining work that still needs to be taken care of in connection to this new Live DVD/CD Box, which is quite a lot actually as I’m now running own record and production company, web shop etc and there’s so much happening right now.

There is however a new Opera Diabolicus album in the planning and another one with Mad Architect, and believe me when I say I’m doing my uppermost to organize my time for all the things I want to do in connection to all the things I have to do as a self employed.

CROMCarl: I always like to ask musicians – especially musicians who can do it all – how the writing process usually happens. For you – does song writing start with a melody, a chorus, a riff, a title – or does it come from all of the above? Does it more or less follow a pattern?

Good question. I always try to challenge myself to not follow any certain patterns, but after many years of experience you’ve learned that in the end they are some structures that usually works and turns out the best. But they doesn’t keep me from trying to break the mold and come up with new ways of thinking and approaching that piece of music. To me the perfect scenario and ideal situation is when I’m in the mood and the flow and just lose myself in the music and come up with the title and at least parts of the lyrics for the chorus preferably at the same time as I compose the music.

Personally I never cared as much about riffs like most people and especially guitarists are so hung up on. The kind of songs I tend to like the most are all based on the vocal melody on top of a set of chord or harmonic structure. I more or less picture the whole arrangement in my head for all instruments with effects and all when I write and what I leave for last is actually the drums, as I figure I can always come up with something that fits and enhance the vibe and character of the song in question. Although I have a pretty clear idea of it from the outset and coming from the perspective of a drummer originally I tend to think very rhythmically. A good example is Whether with or without where I wrote a song based on a riff that in turn was based on a poly rhythmic drum pattern.

Come to think of it, what I said just moments ago isn’t entirely true as I just realize that I do in fact occasionally write songs starting out with a riff like for "The Book Of Heavy Metal" [Dream Evil] and basically that whole album but without having a good vocal line on top of it you’re only halfway home as far as I’m concerned. Then again like I said, I try to approach it differently depending on the project at hand the style and what I’m trying to accomplish. I’ve been writing so much great new songs over the last couple weeks, and I must say that there is nothing in the world that gives me any greater pleasure and I’m never ever as happy as when I do and have an outlet for my creativity.

CROMCarl: You have played so many live shows over the years with so many different bands, so surely you have witnessed some crazy crap that either happened in the crowd or on stage! Do any particular memories come to mind?

Nothing in particular that I can remember right away. I’m usually so busy doing what I’m doing that I don’t pay a lot of attention to what’s going on in the crowd and besides with the blinding lights and all you barely see beyond the first few rows or so.

There’s usually a lot more weird shit going behind, on and beside the stage I tell you that.

CROMCarl: In addition to my appreciation for all the music you have made, I have great admiration that you are a big advocate for animals! I think there is a growing sector of metal community – both musicians and fans - that join you in that regard! Have you thought about starting your own charity for that?

Snowy: Oh thank you for noticing and I’m delighted to hear that you and many others share my view.

If I had the time I would surely love to do some charity work, maybe some day down the road but I already have way more on my plate than I can handle. To be perfectly honest I’m currently trying to recover from hitting the wall big time having been working literally 24/7 for far too long stretching myself so thin that eventually I just snapped.

But anyhow I had already planned to raise money by donating the profit from the sales of this particular T-shirt I did a while ago with the slogan "Be Kind To Animals or I’ll Kill You." It was just one of the things I had to put on the back burner, but now that you reminded I will see to it within the next couple of days or weeks. Thing is, I was checking the terrain but couldn’t decide to which specific animal rights organization or shelter like PETA for instance I should donate actually, but that should really be the smallest of my problems, as there are sadly always animals in need and there’s plenty of options out there and I can actually decide that later.

CROMCarl: Thank you so much for taking the time Snowy! I can’t wait to see you again live in the future! Hopefully, you can get on 70,000 Tons of Metal with your solo band or even sneak in with Therion!

Snowy: Thanks for the opportunity, it’s my pleasure. Yeah, I’d love to bring my solo band for the 70,000 tons of metal cruise. Can’t wait actually.

You can grab your own copy of "The Liveshow: 25 Years Of Madness in the Name of Metal" by heading over to this location, or via CDBaby in North America at this location.

CROMCarl's avatar

From the early to mid-90's, Carl published his own fanzine called C.R.O.M. In 1997, he released a compilation entitled "CROM: The Resurrection of True Metal," which featured songs from bands from around the world, including the first U.S. release of any kind for bands like Italy's Rhapsody (n/k/a Rhapsody of Fire) and Brazil's Angra. Follow Carl on Facebook and Twitter: @CROMCarl.

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