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Mad Shadow - The Rock And Roll Kid (Danny Sveinson) - Online June 2006

Though he may be but sixteen years of age, Danny Sveinson has already accomplished more than the average teen guitarist could ever dream of. He’s played with everyone from Colin James to APRIL WINE at everything from small clubs to ski festivals. He’s toured Canada twice. He’s been hailed by magazines and newspapers as “a guitar god in training.”  He’s even been the subject of a CBC documentary (for those of you unfamiliar with our Canadian programming, it’s the same channel that broadcasts our hockey games; in other words, Sveinson’s shit is serious). Now that his new band, MAD SHADOW, has released their debut album, this prodigy kindly took the time to answer a few questions for The Metal Observer.


You first started garnering fame as the thirteen-year-old guitarist of Vancouver outfit SONIC CITY. How did you feel about the press labelling you as a guitar wünderkind? 

It was definitely a surprise; my parents had told me not to expect much when I got my first guitar, so when I was featured on the front cover of the Georgia Straight at eleven years old it was quite a shock. We soon started trying to pull that attention away from me and onto the whole band, so as to try and get away from the gimmick factor, but having such a young member was always going to stand out.


How did you become involved with SONIC CITY in the first place? Was it difficult working with bandmates who were much older than you?

I had already known Dean Richards (drums) and Matt Grose (original bassist) before SONIC CITY.Originally I played and toured as THE ROCK AND ROLL KID, which was an all-instrumental performance centred around my guitar playing. After a year or so, it became apparent that what I really craved was a serious band with vocals and all and being twelve, I was in no position to take up lead vocals, lest the crowd have to bear the sound of my squeaky prepubescent voice. I knew that Dean and Matt were my top choices for a rhythm section, but at the time I had no leads on any vocalists. A couple of weeks went by before a fan and close friend introduced us to Rod Black, who proceeded to jam out some songs with us—we knew instantaneously that he was a fit.

The fact that I was working with bandmates so much older ended up being more of a blessing than a curse. While a group of kids is hugely marketable, it’s also extremely gimmicky (“MMMBop” anyone?) The musical and business-related experience that Rod and Dean brought to the table was extremely beneficial to me, and was something that I would have never learned from kids my own age. In essence, SONIC CITY was as much a school as it was a band.


SONIC CITY broke up in November 2006. How come?

At this point my musical tastes were rapidly maturing; I would be listening to Son House or Charlie Christian rather than GREEN DAY and it was starting to show in my songs. I would be coming to practice with new songs that could’ve been “Physical Graffiti” outtakes, while Rod was pumping out songs aimed at the singles chart. There is a scene in the “Rock And Roll Kid” documentary that touches on this internal conflict, depicting Rod and I bickering over the direction of our new material, and it really shows what was going on. To recycle an old cliché, SONIC CITY sure had its fair share of “creative differences.”


Who approached you with the idea for this documentary?

When I was still THE ROCK AND ROLL KID, Dean was dating the producer of the doc, Marsha Newberry, and when she first came out to see just why her boyfriend was drumming for an eleven-year-old, inspiration struck. Immediately after the show she approached us and discussed the idea. It wasn’t long after that CBC picked up on the project and gave it the funding it needed to work out so well. It became the first documentary in the twenty-five years of the Vancouver Film Festival to pre-sell out and was so popular that extra shows were soon added. It then proceeded to become the first Canadian bio doc in years to be picked up by a major US television station and is now regularly aired on the Sundance network.


After the breakup of SONIC CITY, you went on to form MAD SHADOW, while vocalist Rod Black went on to form JET BLACK STARE. Obviously, there’s a huge stylistic difference between the two bands; while both bands have Alternative influences, MAD SHADOW has a heavy Blues-Rock feel, whereas JET BLACK STARE is more Punk-oriented. Given the fact that SONIC CITY itself was a mix of all these styles, is it safe to say that you represented the Classic Rock side of SONIC CITY, while Rod represented the Pop-Punk side?

That is exactly the case. Rod is an extremely prolific writer and can pump out great Pop-Punk songs like no tomorrow, but I’ve always been inclined to take a more artistic route. I always thought that Keith Emerson’s exploding piano was a lot more intriguing than the predictable power chords heard in so many modern Pop-Punk songs.


How was MAD SHADOW formed? You wasted no time gathering a group of like-minded musicians after SONIC CITY broke up, but it couldn’t have been easy finding a whole new group of people who shared your vision.

I was introduced to Josh McDonald through Bro Jake, a popular DJ on Classic Rock 101 in Vancouver. Josh had attracted Rock 101’s attention as he was drumming in a RUSH tribute band at the time; one’s got to have the chops to be able to pull off Neil Peart while in the early teens! Josh and I jammed a few times before SONIC CITY broke up, and it was at this point that I realized I needed a new group. As soon as SONIC CITY dissolved, I called up Josh and started making plans for a new band. After months of auditioning and searching, we came across Tyler Lindgrin (bass) and knew he was our man. He had previously been an extremely proficient sax player, and he brought with him an uncanny knack for improvisation that has hugely benefited MAD SHADOW, most of all during our improvisations and extensions that are so integral to our live performance.

Last of all, we needed a vocalist. We weeded through countless Craigslist ads and auditioned an overwhelming number of vocalists without any success; not one of them seemed to gel with us and after a couple of lacklustre songs we moved on to the next in line. When Erik Olufson walked into the audition, however, we knew we had found a fit. A spitting image of 1970s-era Robert Plant, Erik’s retro image was soon topped by his Daltrey-meets-Morrison-meets-Plant set of pipes. We jammed out a few standards before writing our first group song, “Fake Love.”


Speaking of “your vision,” what was your goal with MAD SHADOW? You obviously didn’t want to just create another SONIC CITY.

My goal with MAD SHADOW was to bring some good old-fashioned Rock N’ Roll attitude to the table. “Zep III” had been on my turntable for the last year and I was determined to try my hardest at recreating some of that raw Rock N’ Roll energy.


Which guitarists did you study in the interim between SONIC CITY and MAD SHADOW? Your rhythm playing in particular sounds quite different.

While in between bands I didn’t play all that much, but I became a fiend for vinyl records and because of it started spending vast amounts of time listening to artists that I hadn’t paid much attention to beforehand. Around this time LED ZEPPELIN’s music really started to hit home—of course, I had heard “Black Dog” and “Whole Lotta Love” on the radio, but I hadn’t spent more time hearing the material that didn’t make it onto the airwaves. Once I had listened to songs like “Out On The Tiles,” “Tea For One,” or “In The Light,” I was completely taken over by the band, and as a result, delved deeper into the music of their roots (ie. Willie Dixon, Muddy Waters, Son House, etc.) and this started to show in my playing as it became noticeably more Blues-based. On the MAD SHADOW album, you don’t hear repetitive, barred power chords as on SONIC CITY’s offering and instead you hear the song exactly as we want it to sound like—recorded as a heartfelt song, not just a generic offering for the radio.


Clearly all the members of MAD SHADOW like the same music, otherwise it’d be difficult to make an album together, but I’d imagine each band member also has a few more…unique choices. Can you take us through a few of your band’s more interesting tastes?

You know, the whole band really listens to everything—I recently showed Josh my disgust after he purchased a THE GAME album. I listen to a huge variety of music—my favourite band at the moment is John McLaughlin’s legendary early ‘70s Fusion band, THE MAHAVISHNU ORCHESTRA. When I picked up their first record, “The Inner Mounting Flame,” at a vinyl swap a few months ago, I couldn’t believe my ears and I was just flat-out astonished at the quality of the musicianship. McLaughlin’s guitar playing blew me away to the point that I had to sit for a couple of weeks and learn songs like “Meeting Of The Spirits” and “The Dance Of Maya.” MAHAVISHNU led me to Miles Davis, who I’ve been really into lately. Jazz-Fusion has definitely been a big factor in my playing lately and listening to players like Al Di Meola is teaching me a thing or two about how to play a guitar!


Though all of the songs on the MAD SHADOW album have the same unifying Classic Rock-meets-Alt feel, they also differ wildly in what type of Classic Rock meets what type of Alt Rock. “White Lies,” for example, has a very straight-up Alternative feel to it, with very little Classic Rock influence. By contrast, “Turn Me On” leans much more heavily toward the LED ZEPPELIN side of things than it does the SOUNDGARDEN side of things. Which style do you prefer?

I am stuck firmly on the Classic Rock/Blues side of the equation. Though once in a while I’ll go off on a grunge binge and end up writing something like “Fear The Voices,” most of the time I’ll be jammin’ the Blues or listening to PURPLE/SABBATH/ZEP or funky Blues bands like JAMES GANG or early FLEETWOOD MAC (Peter Green is one hell of a guitarist; his work with John Mayall is bloody phenomenal too).


When did you take up the keys? Your Hammond figures very prominently into the overall MAD SHADOW equation.

I really got into keyboards after I was given a Rhodes electronic piano in August of 2007. I soon amassed a collection of vintage keyboards—I eventually sold off my numerous Hammond organs once I got a B3—and realized how much a simple organ riff could beef up a song (“Fake Love” or “Living In The Past”).


You co-produced the MAD SHADOW album with Tyler. Do you think you’ll continue to be involved in production in the future?

I would hope so. We’ve been talking to a big-time producer recently about working on some songs so it will be very interesting to see how someone like that can help make the most of our songs. On the other hand, I don’t want my music to be made into something it’s not. Not getting that big check would be worth it to me if it meant that tracks like “Fear The Voices” and “Turn Me On” weren’t turned into three-minute radio songs.


Who writes the songs in MAD SHADOW? Is it just a single band member, or is it a group effort?

This varies from song to song. Some are written by a single member, as I wrote “Fear” or Erik wrote “Reflections,” but more of a group effort will go into others. For example, I came into a band practice one day with my Telecaster, started playing a slide riff, and within a few minutes we had written “Long Road Blues.” A similar process went into “Turn Me On” and “Just One Time”—we just gelled on the song and creativity struck.


What can fans expect from the next MAD SHADOW album?

I think that our next album will cover a lot of ground. Judging by what we’ve been writing, I’m thinking that it will be a heavy Blues-Rock album that will both tackle the borderline-Metal of “Just One Time,” get into funky grooves (see a great live video of our new song “So Hard” on YouTube) and delve deeper into Blues territory. What you can always expect from MAD SHADOW, however, is the good old testosterone-fuelled Rock And Roll that today’s Rock radio is so deprived of; we’re not going to compromise our musical integrity for a hit, but our musical integrity might get us one judging by the fans’ reaction to our new material!


What kind of promotional stuff do you have in the works for MAD SHADOW? I notice you’ve got a video for “White Lies,” and it appears you’ve planned a rather extensive summer tour of British Columbia.

We now have a new manager who’s really well connected with the music scene—we’re currently working on dates for the summer and planning on recording new tracks later this year. With any luck we’ll make it into the States soon; playing over the border is always a blast.


So…I’m just curious. Is MAD SHADOW a full-time thing for you, or do you still go to school and stuff?

Josh, Erik, and I are still in school, so it’s not full-time for us, but we still put as much effort as possible into the band. Once we are all out and able to tour it’ll be great to hit the road for extended periods of time.


Thanks a bunch for the interview, Danny!  Best of luck to you and MAD SHADOW!

Hey, no problem, thanks for taking the time and patience to talk with me. Rock on!


2008: s/t (CD, Self-Production)

Mitchel Betsch

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