The former singer who was asked to leave Arch Enemy after several years with the band, Johan Liiva has returned with a vengeance! His new band is called NonExist, and features members of Andromeda and Defleshed. Raw and filled with passions seething, the music found on NonExist's debut Deux Deceptor will turn those who thought Liiva's career was over into true believers. In this exclusive Highwire Daze interview, Liiva speaks on his new band, the break he made with the former band, and what he thinks of Wages Of Sin and Angela Gossow. Read on as Johan Liiva Strikes Back!!!
Why did you leave Arch Enemy, and at the time, did you think that was a wise career move?
I was fired basically. I got the letter saying that we've got to try out a new singer. And I was like, "Okay, what the hell am I going to do now?" I didn't want to argue about it. I just accepted the fact that I was out after three albums and one live album and plenty of touring. I decided to move on and got a new band quite soon after that.
What did you think of the Andromeda album and how did you initially hook up with Johan Reinholdz? He doesn't seem like your first choice for a guitarist because of the different styles, but it works great.
Yeah, I think he's a really good guitar player. He's just 20 years old and I think he's a natural talent. He's so young and he's got a lot more to learn, but he's already this good and can write his own songs and that's really cool. I really love it that I hooked up with him.
When you guys first started out songwriting together, did it pretty much click right away?
Yeah. The first introduction, we talked on the phone and everything was cool. He explained to me that he had 25 songs that he had made on the computer with programmed drums. He had made everything at home by himself. And he said, I can send it over to you, so you can check it out and see if it's something for you - and if you would be interested in singing on this album." So I said okay, so he sent it to me and at least 50 percent of the material was really great - and I guess that 50 percent ended up on the album later.
Did you know him when you were in Arch Enemy?
No, I never met the guy before - I had never heard about him. When I got fired from Arch Enemy, I moved down to the old neighborhood where I grew up in the South Of Sweden. I got in contact with War Music, the record label here. We knew each other from the time when I was in Arch Enemy and he released the first album - he also ran Wrong Again Records a few years ago. It was kind of like we planned this and put it together - he had Reinholdz and he had Andromeda on his record label.
What is the big deep meaning behind the band name NonExist?
There's really no deep meaning at all. We had two options. We didn't think much about the name. First there was NonDivine, but then we thought there was some other band who had the name already. We thought, well NonExist sounds pretty cool, so we picked that up instead.
What made you decide on Matt Modin as the drummer? He's been in some pretty famous bands (Dark Funeral, Defleshed).
I heard the Defleshed album Under The Blade and it was so intense - the drumming. There were blast beats but it had groove in it. Also, War Music released the Fast Forward album, so he had good contacts with the guys in Defleshed. We called Matt one day and asked him if he would be interested in being a part of the band or at least do drums for the first album, and he said yeah, no problem. So that was a pretty easy move.
Where do you get the ideas for some of the lyrics you have written for Deus Deceptor?
All of my lyrics, especially on this album, come from my own mind - my experiences in my life - what I've been through - and disappointment of course. I really got everything out that I wanted to say - and maybe a lot of it doesn't make sense - but to me it does in some way. It's more less just words put on to paper straight from my mind.
What was Tommy Tagtgren's contribution to the making of this album?
First of all, he really let us do exactly what we wanted to do ourselves. He really gave us free space. He was just there to keep control of all the effects and to put the microphones to the snare. He gave us a lot of feedback. He's a really cool, laid back guy. And for me, that's important - that the producer is in the background - but when something goes wrong, he tells you "Maybe you should try this." Or when something is good, he says, "Oh that rules! It's fucking great!" And he was that kind of guy to work with. He was really patient and was the best guy. I really recommend him to other bands.
Has NonExist played live or plan to do so in the future?
Not yet so far. We are trying to hook up with two other guys. We need a bass player and a guitar player. We haven't found the right ones yet, but as soon as we get them, we'll try and put something together. We need to be a five piece live - that would be the best.
Hopefully you guys can come over the States…
We have to. I toured there with Nevermore a few years ago and it was totally great. I think it was just the Eastern part of the States.
Yeah, you guys didn't get here in LA, so we never got to see Johan in Arch Enemy!
I know and it really sucked! I really wanted to see the fans around the other side. We just played like half the States, so it was totally weird. It was fucking freezing as well!
Well, if you came over here to this side, it wouldn't be freezing!
Yeah I know! We wanted to go to LA and San Francisco, Miami and Houston.
Instead, they banish you off into States that are like Norway! (Much laughter). So where did you get the idea for the album title Deus Deceptor?
It was actually Johan Reinholdz idea. He was the one that figured it out. The meaning is like "The Deceiving God." You could say He always turns His back one or another way - if you are not an agnostic or athiest of course. We tried to say something with it, and it sounds powerful as well.
So when you were in the studio and someone shouted "Johan!," what happened? Did you both turn around and go "Yeah?"
(Laughs) That never happened. When we tried to get someone's attention, it was like "Hey! You!" It was more like that. Always like that. Confusing. We actually call Johan Reinholdz "J.J." - it's like a nickname, but he doesn't like it.
So what nicknames do they call you?
Well, my friends call be Liiva, but no one in the band. But maybe I should tell them to call me that so there would be no misunderstanding.
Yo, Liiva and J.J!
Yeah, Liiva and J.J.! Why not? (Laughs)
Where you surprised by who turned out to be the new lead singer of Arch Enemy?
Oh yeah, kinda. I was expecting maybe Tomas from At The Gates or something like that. But this girl - no way. I was kind of taken by surprise, as were a lot of other people.
What do you think of the Wages Of Sin album?
The first time I heard it, I was really honestly impressed. But the more I listen to it - and I've listened to it like seven or eight times - it's not like everyday because of various reasons. I think it gets more and more monotonous and dull - for me anyway - because the songs are really, really good but the vocals are just one way. And it takes the album down a bit - in my opinion that is. But she is doing a really good job, just as the other guys. I remember the songs from rehearsal tapes and I really got into them - and I like the way they write songs. I would have been more than proud to sing them out, but now things are different. And I'm happy the way things are now anyway.
You know, Sharlee is like in 50,000 bands right now. Why don't you ask him to be your bassist too?
(Laughs) That would be something, huh. No, I don't think so. He's one heck of a bass player though. I really like him - he's a really cool person. But I think there must be someone else out there for us.
What are your impressions of the Swedish metal scene these days?
I think it's getting back to what it used to be. It went down a bit for a few years, but now it's more like how it was in the early 90's. It's back to that now and I kind of like it. It looks more familiar to me nowadays than between 95 and 99. I guess it's gotten stabilized now.
What's up next for NonExist?
Next up for us - we're going to get together and start writing songs. Johan Reinholdz has already called me asking for my riff tapes. I have cassettes filled with guitar riffs, but I never managed to find them. But we'll start writing songs and maybe this fall hit the studio again. We don't know which it's going to be. We want a more different sound this time, but we'll see what's going to happen. And maybe some shows as well, but nothing is decided yet.
Do you have any messages for people who have not heard NonExist yet?
Yeah, definitely. If your into the melodic power and intensity that maybe you found in Arch Enemy for example - and if you like thrashing death metal with balls, then you have to check this album out. Hope to see you all out on tour - sooner or later.
Well thanks for your time Liiva. And tell J.J. hi for me.
(Laughs) Yeah, I will. I promise.
CENTURY MEDIA RECORDS: The US Record Label for Nonexist!
NONEXIST: Their Official Home Page!
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