Most hard music fans identify with Carl Johan Grimmark as ranking among the finer guitarists within the power and progressive metal segments. And rightly so when factoring his body of work with Narnia, encompassing 6 critically acclaimed studio albums, one compilation and one live album. Standing out equally are his side projects, including albums with System Breakdown (102 from 2003) and Full Force (One released in 2011) in addition to his Grimmark solo release from 2007. His best, however, could very well be his new group Empire 21, in which he has joined forces with drummer Tobias Enbert (Darkwater & Harmony), bassist Andreas Ålöv (A Secret River), keyboardist John Svensson (Harmony) and vocalist Ricard Hulteke (The Rain Town Poets) to record the groups independently released debut full length from the fall of 2014. Angelic Warlord had the recent opportunity to interview Grimmark, who goes into detail in regards to both Empire 21 and its new album and his background and future with Narnia.
I would like to start by asking about your musical background. Who were your musical influences while growing up? And what guitarists inspired you and why?
My first real interest in metal and hard rock music was when I heard Europe's The Final Countdown back in 1986. I had a strong musical interest when I was even younger, but nothing had ever caught my attention the way melodic rock did when I was about 9 years old. For obvious reason the first guitarist I "studied" was John Norum, and later Kee Marcello, Yngwie Malmsteen, Joe Satriani and Ritchie Blackmore and others.
Your new band Empire 21 is soon to release its self-titled debut album. How did the writing and recording process for the album go? Are you happy with the way it turned out? What are some of your favorite songs off the album and why?
I must say I'm quite happy with it, and that's something not to be taken for granted. It was actually written over the course of a few years... no stupid deadline interfering or anything. I started out lightly working on some material about a year after we paused Narnia in 2010. I wrote most of the music over a long time and then all the lyrics during a shorter and more focused period. Tobias (Enbert – drums) wrote a song too, "Would You?"
I like all of the tracks in one way or another, but sure there are favorites. The opener "When You're falling" is quite smoking, and I have a thing for "Heard it all", and "No matter the winds of change" too... and some more.
How would you describe Empire 21 musically?
I like to think of it as quite straight, powerful and organic rock/metal, but definitely not primitive. We value musicality and instrumental challenges, no doubt. We don't want the album to be boring for those who crave something spectacular now and then, but we want the "average" rock listener to have a good time too, by simply writing strong material. I think we made it. We're so happy for all the amazing reviews we get, so...hopefully a lot of people will like it!
What is the meaning behind the Empire 21 name?
That's something we will let You think about, also for the future.
What does the future hold for Empire 21? Is another album in the works?
If I could have it my way we'd DEFINITELY make a follow-up, no doubt. But there's something I've been outspoken about recently, and it's the simple fact that making records costs money. I'll never regret making this album, but the only way to make another album is to first sell the first one. So, please - buy a physical CD, or buy a download on for example iTunes and You will help us covering our costs. If you can't afford it at the moment - listen to it at a "free" streaming service until you've saved up for a copy... we really appreciate Your support.
The final Narnia album, Course Of A Generation, was released in 2009. Why did you decide to put an end to Narnia after its release?
Narnia became too much of a burden, honestly. I had to struggle for small decisions to come through, and for a few shows during the 2009 tour I was surrounded by "stand-in" musicians. They were all GREAT and I'm so thankful for them offering their talent, but the Narnia that used to be was gone, and I was quite worn out.
You recently re-formed Narnia with original vocalist Christian Liljegren. What does the future hold for Narnia? Is a new album in the works?
Yes, Christian and I had been talking about it for about a year. We have a quite unique relation, being so different and quite different musical preferences and all that. But at the same time we're having the same values and goals. We had a great time playing some reunion shows during 2014, and I'm sure there will be more. And yes, there's quite a bunch of songs lying around that might want to be recorded.
I recall reading that Narnia plans to re-issue its second album Long Live The King in celebration of its 15th anniversary. When will the re-issue be released?
For different reasons that release couldn't be made as planned in 2014. We possess all rights to our older material, including the classic Long Live the King, so... we'll make new plans for that (in the future).
What are some of your most memorable moments from Narnia?
I suppose some shows and journeys that we've done left more marks than others. We met great audiences at so many places, but looking deeper, the best side of it was always when people were notably touched by our music and message in different ways. People made life changing decisions, decided not to commit suicide, got strength through difficult times and illness through our music. Stuff like that... it's great!
I would like to close by thanking you for honoring Angelic Warlord with this interview. Do you have any last words you would like to offer our readers?
Thank you so much for You attention! We wish you the best and hope to see you soon!