"Mississippi: A hippy's wife."
AN INTERVIEW WITH JENS JOHANSSON
by Richard Karsmakers
Jens Johansson is the keyboard guy that got snatched away from
the rather unknown Swedish band Silver Mountain by a slightly
more known Swede by the name of Yngwie J. Malmsteen when he went
solo after leaving Alcatrazz in 1984. For four studio albums and
one live album, Jens and his brother Anders formed the stable
keyboards-drums part of the Yngwie Malmsteen line-up. After both
leaving Yngwie in 1989, Jens went on to do a variety of things,
including playing the keys on Dio's album "Lock up the Wolves".
Jens, one of a handful of the finest keyboard players in the
world (with Kevin Moore, Tony McAlpine and Rick Wakeman I
suppose), is still very much active in the music business,
although not as obvious as he used to be. He is now more involved
in fusion, jazz, cross-over and various other non-mainstream
musical styles. About half a year ago his name was mentioned in
connection with the position of keyboard player of Dream Theater,
something that I (along with some other people, I guess) would
really have liked to see happen. Unfortunately, however, it never
Roaming across the Internet I found Jens' home page (at
panix.com/jens) and got into contact with him. He came
across as a really laid-back, relaxed and sympathetic guy.
(Not that this actually says anything about him, for the biggest
nerd I know comes across really confident and adult in email
messages, for example)
This, in the end, culminated in arrangements for an interview
for ST NEWS. So read below the results of an interview with the
man who recorded all the keyboard solos on "Odyssey" in one
night, with some stuff from his own homepage FAQ added to make
things a bit more complete.
Can you give us a short biography of your life, education,
computers, work and social status?
Jens: Date/place of birth: Nov 2, 1963, in Fresta (actually
"Upplands Väsby"), a municipality that has spawned a lot of the
Swedish rock elite, by the way (not that I count myself amongst
the elite...the Europe guys and Candlemass are from there as
well, for instance)!
Education: 9 years mandatory swedish school, four years electro-
Computers: Atari ST 1040 (Adspeed 16 MHz upgrade). Running
mostly "Cubase" (2.1) on that one. HP Omnibook 300 for WP,
spreadsheets, etc. It travels great (typing this from an airplane
on my way to Florida actually!). Our label (Heptagon) has several
PCs for office and accounting stuff.
Work? Just music nowadays, in either a playing, writing or
Married. Yes, well at least almost (same girl for over 7 years)
What have you been doing since 1987?
Jens: I moved to New York City (from Los Angeles) in 1988 to
settle down with a girl. Left Yngwie's band in '89 after hearing
the mix on the Leningrad album - also, the record company
(PolyGram) lost interest and the money situation started to suck
onions (I essentially got sick of the whole PolyGram/neoclassical
metal/hair metal mess, it was time to move on -- a.k.a. "Musical
Differences"). Joined Ronnie Dio's band Dio in '89. Did one album
with them, and a tour which incidentally Yngwie opened on. I've
done other more mainstream studio work. I've worked a lot with
Jonas Hellborg (he's a great Swedish bass player that used to
play with the Mahavishnu Orchestra) on avant-garde records, some
on his label, Day Eight. Been touring the jazz/club circuit in
Europe a lot with this kind of stuff (it's a lot of fun).
Recorded a very strange solo album. Also did a made-for-Japan
"band" album with a bunch of ex-Yngwie guys and some other Swedes
(I go back to Sweden a lot to work on stuff).
Can you give us a short description of the surroundings where
you live? Its nightlife, its people?
Jens: New York City. Surroundings? Well, I live on the upper
east side, so it's pretty clean and safe over here compared to
downtown. Excellent nightlife, but I find myself going out less
often nowadays. Still do though, and usually regret it for a day
afterwards. :) The people here come from all over the world and
can be a bit rude at times, but it's mostly on the surface. Nice
police force. (Compared to the Gestapo-style cops in LA or
Sweden, for instance)
Can you give us a description of your home, most specifically
the room where you do your work or another room that you perhaps
think deserves to be known better?
Jens: It's a typical NY apartment. Pretty small! So I have an
unobtrusive preprod/recording rig set up that doesn't take up
much space at all. Most of the work I do in the room where the
stuff is set up, but I frequently pack up a piece of equipment or
tow and rent a studio for sessions, overdubs and such.
What do *you* look like? Or, at least, how would you describe
Jens: I've got some pictures on the web site. I guess I'm an
approximately 6 foot tall roughly humanoid biped.
What is (are) your worst habit(s)?
Do you have any pets?
Jens: No pets. Well, we had a mouse in the apartment a few years
back but he sadly departed.
If I were ever to visit you, where would you take me for a night
Jens: McDonalds? Haveli's on 6th and 1st for some curry, and a
movie? Scrap bar? Babyland? No-tell Motel? The local German pub
Do you do any other work except for that through which most
people tend to know you?
Jens: Nope, only music stuff, like playing on and producing
records (a bunch of different types of music though).
Which book have you read recently that made most of an
impression on you? Why? If it's difficult to pin down one, feel
free to name a few in different genres.
Jens: Hm. "Brave New World" by Huxley? But that wasn't recently,
that was almost 15 years ago. :) "Gödel, Escher, Bach"? (Only two
books? Looks pretty stupid. I read a lot actually...)
What's your favourite season, and why?
Jens: Winter! Snow.
What's your favourite music for flipping out (if ever you do)?
Jens: The mexican band "Bakteria".
Do you use any computer hardware in your creative process and,
if so, which? What tools do you use on it?
Jens: Just the Atari and "Cubase".
What is the computer game you play most at the moment?
Jens: I almost never ever find myself playing computer games! :)
(Although I became a mean motherfucker on "Ms. Pacman" at one
point in my life - we had a machine on one of our tour buses.)
What is the film you've been to recently that made most of an
impression on you?
Jens: Hm, "most" in combination with "recently" is difficult. Of
"recent" movies I liked "the Shawshank Redemption" and "The Usual
Older movies: "A Clockwork Orange", "Brazil", "The Meaning of
Life", "Natural Born Killers", and a bunch of others I can't
Do you remember a film that struck you as being especially crap,
a film you was tempted to get a refund at the cinema for?
Jens: No. If I was dumb enough to shell out the bucks, I should
pay for it. :) Good question, though. I just can't remember any
movies like that. Maybe "Caddyshack" and "Porky" would qualify...
I probably repressed the memories, that's how bad the other ones
Do you play any instruments other than keyboards?
You are connected to the Internet. What would you advise other
Internet users to check out without further ado, i.e. what would
you have parted with your right arm for to have someone reveal to
you when you started out?
Jens: My right arm? :) Nothing!
Advice: try to be conscious of what you're actually looking for
out there, since it's so easy to just have your attention
diverted and waste a bunch of time exploring a bunch of stuff
just because it's there. :)
When, in many years, you'll eventually die, which song would you
like to be played at your funeral service?
Jens: Something weird. Like maybe Penderecki. Or Varese? :)
People would hopefully forget to be sad and say "what the fuck is
*this!?* This isn't music. Air raid sirens? People shouting
gibberish, making other horrible noises, and smashing up
What is to you *the* music release of 1995 so far?
Jens: Nothing I've heard so far has had me overly excited...
What is your favourite holiday destination, and why?
Jens: Any! I'm basically a vagrant that's always on holiday.
Is there something you see everybody likes but that you loathe
Jens: Organised religion.
Most cliche question of the interview (possibly): What's your
favourite food? And favourite drink?
Jens: Indian food. Beer.
Suppose you could be Aladdin for a while. Which three wishes
would you make?
Jens: Raise the average IQ of the planetary population by 100,
extend the average life span for humans human to 900 years, make
interstellar travel cheap, and readily available.
Is there a person you haven't met yet which you'd dearly love to
Jens: J.S. Bach? Hmm, perhaps Frank Zappa, but he's also gone
If you were confined to a desert island and you could only take
with you one book, five CDs and one luxury item, which would they
Jens: Book: "Survival techniques for desert islands", Five CD's:
Bach's "Goldberg variations" (Glenn Gould), "Art of the Fugue +
Händel harpsichord suites" (also Glenn Gould), Holdsworth's
"Secrets", Zappa's "Ship arraving too late", the new Shakti
compilation I just bought. Luxury item: A solar-powered CD
player, of course. :)
What invention do you hope mankind will come up with soon?
Jens: Faster-than-light travel.
Which famous person would you like to have at a party?
Jens: Sam Kinison.
If you were ever to have the opportunity to have your own
perfume cosmetics line, what would you call it?
Jens: Maybe "Heroin"?
What is your ultimate ambition, the thing you hope to be
Jens: Oh, just putting out a decently interesting record now and
What musical projects are you currently involved in?
Jens: A lot! "Johansson Brothers", a fusion record that
hopefully will feature Alan Holdsworth; two collaborative records
with Yngwie (but one of those is not until next year); I'm going
to play on a record by a finnish band called Stratovarious, and I
also am involved in playing/producing two or three more record on
the Heptagon label, one possibly being a solo record (hard-core
What do you like and dislike particularly about the music
Jens: Dislike: Talentless people making musical decisions, the
usual corporate backstabbing and scheming taking its toll on
artists, stuff like that.
Like: the music part, not the industry part.
What musicians are you most influenced by?
Jens: Bach, Eddie Jobson, Zappa, John Lord, Holdsworth, Uli
Roth, Yngwie, and many many others.
When you didn't get selected to become the new keyboard player
in Dream Theater, how did you feel about that?
Jens: I was disappointed, I guess I felt at the time that they
deserved the best possible replacement for Kevin. They'll have to
live with their horrible mistake for the rest of the band's
(I liked the band before all that stuff went down, and I still
think it's weird that Kevin left.)
What musical hardware do you use?
Jens: Oberheim Matrix12, matrix1000's, Matrix 6R, DPX-1. Korg
PolySix (I have around 10 of those), Yamaha DX7+TX816 rack,
Roland D20, DS-330, Hammond + Leslie (I have two actually), Korg
CX3 as a "touring hammond", and a bunch of others. I also rent
stuff a lot.
I'm not too crazy about the "new breed" of keyboards like the
K2000 etc; they sound a bit thin to me. But whatever.
Any funny anecdotes about some of the albums you have already
recorded on, especially the more popular ones (Dio, Malmsteen)?
Jens: Oh. I have tons! None that are fit to publish though. :)
How was Malmsteen to work with?
Jens: No problem for me there... he's a stubborn guy though, and
can be quite blunt. He earned his bad reputation the hard way (by
being truly offensive), and he's very proud of the fact. Still
one of the best guitar players on the planet. I talk to him all
the time... he's doing good.
Are you still active with Anders? Could you tell me something
about what he's up to these days?
Jens: Yes, we run Heptagon (a Swedish record label distributed
by Warner) together. He still plays a lot as well. He just got
back from China a few weeks ago, doing a stadium tour with some
weird Chinese pop singer (Wei-Wei -- she's *HUGE* over there).
Following now is the "words to react to" segment. Feel free to
associate and write away!
Jens: Nice, beautiful country, its citicens in general are very
friendly. Negative sides: some Norwegians are a bit "uptight"
(heavy Christian stronghold). They BANNED the movie "Life of
Brian" for instance. Sounds more like Iraq than Scandinavia! Bad
roads there too.
Jens: Dream Theater's new keyboard player!
Jens: The format has gotten weirder and weirder! :) Sure signs
of one getting old -- listening (or watching) what the 14-year-
olds dig nowadays and going "what the heck is this all about!??"
Jens: Ah. I remember seeing them in the Troubadour back in the
mid-80's handing out flyers for their next show. Me and everybody
else I talked to were in TOTAL agreement that the name "Guns and
Roses" was the stupidest thing we've ever heard -- and that those
losers would NEVER get anywhere with such a moronic name! We
laughed heartily at them as we sipped our drinks.... :)
Jens: He loves children.
Jens: An ANSWER and also a LEVEL.
Ronnie James Dio.
Jens: Nice guy, one of the most normal singers I've ever met.
Jens: Good lyricists AND keyboard player (like I said, when they
called about that Dream Theater gig I was pretty surprised that
he was leaving the band. And suspicious! :). I certainly wouldn't
have wanted to be involved if he was fired or something stupid
Jens: Stubborn bastard. One of the best guitar players on the
planet. Unsurpassed in his style, which he by the way just
conjured somehow out of thin air.
Jens: My first real record! Holding that first piece of vinyl in
your hands was an amazing feeling.
France and Nuclear Testing.
Jens: Of course I'd prefer if they didn't do any testing. BUT...
To me, It smells of media hype. It's just not a burning issue
for me -- after all the tests are deep underground. I don't see
why it's that big of a deal. China does tests as well but not
many people seem to have the guts to be very vocal about that. Or
about the US when they did massive amounts of testing in the 50s,
60s, 70s and 80s.
And of course the US also did a few above-ground "tests" over
densely populated Japanese cities... if there are a pair of nukes
in history to be miserable about, I would pick those two, not
some underground testing in the middle of the pacific ocean with
absolutely no loss of human life. Just my $0.02.
The World Wide Web.
Jens: It's a very nice thing! It seems to be working pretty well
now... but I do get annoyed when people (or even worse,
corporations) put a lot of lag-inducing bandwidth-eating little
pieces of crap like cute 400k graphics, advertising imagemaps or
backgrounds up. Using "Lynx" certainly helps, though. Strips all
that fluffy garbage away. :)
JENS JOHANSSON DISCOGRAPHY
(with his own personal remarks)
Shakin' Brains (RoadRunner, 1983; Apollon/Fems, 1991)
Fairly awful. Early-80s Maiden/Rainbow/Purple-influenced record.
Some interesting keyboard bits here and there. :)
Yngwie J. Malmsteen's Rising Force (Polygram, 1984)
Good. A mostly instrumental neo-classical metal record. Was
nominated for a grammy in the US actually. Drums were played by
Barriemore Barlow on this one.
Studio/Live-85 (Polygram, 1985 (obviously!))
Awful. Contains rough mixes from the "RF live in Japan" video
and a few cuts from Marching Out.
Marching Out (Polygram, 1985)
A little more straightforward than "YJM's RF", has vocals on
most songs. Has that typical neoclassical Swedish sound
Rising Force '85 (video, Polygram, 1985)
Quaint. Rookie band does their third gig ever together in front
of a Japanese audience and camera crew.
Trilogy (Polygram, 1986)
More of an attempt at commercialism. New singer and big budget.
First recording delivered under contract with Polygram USA (the
others were one-shots that went thru Polydor KK Japan IIRC.)
Odyssey (Polygram, 1988)
Even more of an attempt at commercialism, but pretty cool
anyway. Joe Lynn Turner sang here. Good keyboard stuff too in
Live In Leningrad (Polygram, 1989)
Awful sound. Everything overdubbed except the drums (which you
can't hear anyway).
Live in Leningrad (video, Polygram, 1989)
Better video. I had stupid Russian cigarrette [papiryoska] in
mouth because we were told it was for a Soviet-only broadcast,
not a video, and certainly not world-wide...
Perfect Partners (EMI, 1987)
A soft-edge instrumental guitar record.
Lock Up The Wolves (Warner Brothers, 1990)
Good sound IMO, and Ronnie sings his ass off as usual (but not a
lot of keyboards on there). Simon Wright on drums.
Fjaderlosa Tvafotingar (Amigo, 1991; Jimco, 1992)
Instrumental record with four lengthy and complex instrumentals
(weird Swedish phrase "F.T." means "featherless bipeds", so it
was picked with a tip of the hat to Plato but mostly because it
has a bunch of cool Swedish dots and rings and stuff in it.)
Ten Seasons (Heptagon, 1995)
Kind of mellow piano stuff recorded in NYC, summer of 1994.
Dissident (Day Eight Music, 1991)
Medium tempo ambient noise-techno world music mix. Featuring
Bill Laswell, Bootsy Collins, Jonas Hellborg, Ayib Dieng, and
Midnight Drive (Shrapnel, 1991)
Really awful. Was rushed by idiot/studio owner that had made a
bad deal with Varney (a flat fee for the whole record). All
keyboards were done in a few hours, and that included lots of
stuff that was unison with the guitar that you can't hear. About
a half hour was left for the key solos...
Unseen Rain (DEM DEM, 1992)
Interesting all acoustic record.
No Other World (DEM DEM, 1992)
Simulated thrash metal. The cover used to feature the pope with
a Nazi arm band, which caused a lot of problems in Germany.
Mudbone Cooper singing here.
Ode To a Tractor (DEM DEM, 1992)
Really weird but pretty cool. Some free-form stuff, some ambient
stuff, some strange stuff. Features Peter Brötzmann, Ayib Dieng,
Bill Laswell, and others.
Shu-Tka (DEM DEM, 1992)
Interesting mix of Arabic, North African, West African, Swedish,
and Industrial music. Features Jamal Evans, Ahmed Alamnaghasi,
Aydin, Tesfalidet Keflay.
Smoke And Mirrors (Arctic Records, 1993; FEMS, 1993)
Pop metal made for the Japanese market. Pete Sandberg sings on
JONAS HELLBORG GROUP:
"E" (DEM DEM, 1993)
Complicated and heavy progressive funk using organ, bass, drums,
coffee. Dry production.
THE JOHANSSON BROTHERS:
The Johansson Brothers (Arctic, 1994; ZERO, 1994)
Some good progressive cuts, some poppier cuts. Made mainly for
Japan. Found a good Swedish singer for this one by the name of
DAVE NERGE'S BULLDOG:
The Return of Mr. Nasty (Arctic, 1994; ZERO, 1994)
The music is a mix of rap, pop, blues, and death metal.
Premonition (Shrapnel, 1994)
Played a few solos on it when I was in Cotati for the DP thing.
Good stuff actually.
"7" (Lakeside Music, 1994)
Instrumental record on a Swiss label. Robert is a great Swedish
guitar player. The music is heavy indian-influenced acid-fusion.
Smoke on the Water, a Deep Purple Tribute (Shrapnel, 1994)
A bunch of DP songs which people are 'guest starring' on
(Yngwie, Paul Gilbert amongst others. Highlights: Paul Gilbert
and Jeff Soto IMHO)
Thanks to Jens Johansson for his time and the signatures. You
The text of the articles is identical to the originals like they appeared in old ST NEWS issues. Please take into consideration that the author(s) was (were) a lot younger and less responsible back then. So bad jokes, bad English, youthful arrogance, insults, bravura, over-crediting and tastelessness should be taken with at least a grain of salt. Any contact and/or payment information, as well as deadlines/release dates of any kind should be regarded as outdated. Due to the fact that these pages are not actually contained in an Atari executable here, references to scroll texts, featured demo screens and hidden articles may also be irrelevant.