Mickael Walle Wahlgren

Back in October 2010 I spent an evening with Agents of Mercy & Karmakanic at Spirit of 66. Despite only 34 people (yes, 34!!) turning up for the show, the boys, true professionals as they are, put on a great show, which in fact felt like a private performance to all present. We then did a chaotic part-interview backstage before heading to the hotel, getting lost on the way and discovering the place all locked-up, no light and no key. We spent an hour under the stars chatting until someone was found to let them in and by then it was 3am and way past my bedtime. It was an education for me in the realities of life as a working musician which I had the intention to write up an article, but the best laid plans and all that… With the release of The Black Forest I thought it was a perfect time to get that interview finished, so I caught up with one of Progs bright-young-things, AoM drummer Mickael Wahlgren. Walle to his friends.

Interview by Dave Baird

Hi Walle, many thanks for taking the time to speak with DPRP. Agents of Mercy’s (AoM) The Black Forest has just been released and you’ve just finished a mini Scandinavian tour, how’s it all going?

Hey David and DPRP readers, thanks for having me 😀

It’s going GREAT! The tour was really fun and the band sound better than ever I would say. We actually played outside Scandinavia aswell. We’ve been to Germany, Holland, Sweden, Italy and Norway. Reactions were good and people seem to enjoy the new CD The Black Forest a lot, so I think I can speak for everyone that we are all very thrilled and excited about the release.

AoM has rapidly gone from a small side-project to a regular fixture on the Prog scene. How was it that you got involved?

I played with Lalle Larsson on his Weaveworld albums. Jonas Reingold was playing bass on those albums as well as enginering and production. Agents of Mercy didn’t have a drummer at the time and had only released The Fading Ghosts of Twilight at that time, which of course featured some great drumming by Jimmy Keegan, Pat Mastelotto and Zoltan Csörsz.

Roine wanted to turn AoM into a fully-fledged band, Jonas and Lalle recomended me for the drum-chair and I did a small audition with Jonas and Lalle playing some Karmakanic tunes: Send a Message from the Heart, Where Earth Meets the Sky and Do You Tango? Then we tracked Send a Message from the Heart which Jonas proceded to send to Roine. Recording “Dramarama” was sorta like a tryout as well, if we wouldn’t have gelled so well in the studio there would most likely have been another drummer in the driver’s seat now. But we did 🙂

That’s the long and short of it!

Did you play in any prog bands prior to that?

No I didn’t. AoM is the first prog rock band I’ve ever played in. I have played fusion in Ladah and in Weaveworld, that was the closest to prog, and I had been exposed to it in a musical situation I would say. But having Roine, Nad Sylvan & Jonas in the same band was a big help in learning and understanding prog (and it still is!), there are so many bands I need to check out!

What are your musical influences and which drummers do you admire the most?

There are so many. I can name a few that I usually come back to. Pantera, FUKT, John Scofield, Coltrane, Miles (with Tony), Mobb Deep, Bach, Tom Waits, Nirvana, Chick Corea, James Brown, The Band.

Those are a few among MANY others. As for drummers, that list is even longer, I like Tony Williams, Billy Cobham, Morgan Ågren, Chris Dave. I admire everyone who’s been able to build a career and make a name for themselves. Gary Novak, Ronald Bruner, Virgil Donati, Levon Helm, Dave Weckl, Peter Wildoer, Dennis Chambers, Anders Meinhardt, all those drummers have got their own unique style and that’s something I admire alot! Mitch Mitchell, Vinnie, Tim McIntyre, Joel Taylor, Steve Gadd, Jojo Mayer, Questlove (Ahmir Thompson), the list goes on and on…

Well that’s an interesting list – a lot of jazz in there, both traditopnal and modern, and some extreme metal too!

Yeah, like I said: among many others. Peter Wildoer was responsible early on for exposing me to alot of new music and drummers. Serious Young Insects, Tower of Power, Allan Holdsworth, Tribal Tech.. Those bands were new for me at that time. Then Tim Mcintyre also helped me get into more trad and modern jazz when I lived in Los Angeles.

The band-centric approach for Dramarama obviously produced a different album than The Fading Ghosts of Twilight, but the general feel of the songs wasn’t so different – quite light, almost pop-prog in places. However, The Black Forest is quite different though being much heavier on the prog side

Definately! And there is alot of heavy/classic rock on the album. Roine had the idea of bringing more rock to the album/band, which fitted great I think, seeing as myself, Jonas & Lalle all grew up with or listened/listening to heavier sounding music. The mix is also more focused on drums and guitar in the foreground, generally speaking, and a bit more punch in kick and snare. There are also some Zeppelin & Sabbath-esque grooves and riffs on the album that worked great I think. We have had soooo much fun playing this material live!

And how about the writing and recording of the album, I guess this was another experience this time around?

Roine and Nad wrote all the songs. They sent early demos that were close to the vision they both had for their songs. Then we rehersed, arranged some parts and hammered it out live in a beautiful studio called Fenix Recordings (the studio lies in the shadow of a 11th century, giant church surrounded by a big forest where you can walk in the footsteps of Arn) EPIC or what!?

It was recorded on a 24-track analog tape. We would play each song, listen back to it then change, rearrange parts or write new parts to fit the songs.. Or keep it if it feels right. Both Lalle and Jonas are great songwriters themselves and they had some great ideas for some of the songs as well.I love the live sounding recordings and the way that anything can happen then and there when it’s live, so I’m glad Roine found this studio and decided to do it there.

Arn? And how is it for a young dude like yourself playing with these old men?

Arn is a story written by Jan Guillou (famous swedish writter) based on a couple of myths and storys or perhaps actuall events that took place around 1100-1200…

I feel blessed to be playing with my bros man! Even if some of them are the same age as my pops:-) I don’t even feel the agedifference to be honest. It’s a great learning experience aswell, Roine and Jonas have played something close to 3000 shows or so (maybe more, I don’t really know) my point is that they know what works and what sucks, so for me it’s good to take all the feedback up, keep my ears open and listen to what “these old men” have got to say.

Yeah, I can imagine as a learning experience it’s totally invaluable and something that will help you out for the rest of your career as a musician. On that point, is drumming your full-time occupation or do you need a “proper” job to keep things going?

No, I’m happy to say that I drum for a living.

That’s really cool! So what else do you have on the go on top of Agents?

It’s a mixed bag. I just released an album with Karavan called Tools of the Trade and I’m heading into the studio soon to record Lalle Larssons third Weaveworld album, Recording a trio album with Jonas and Lalle in December. I work alot from a studio a have togeheter with bassist Alfred Andersson and guitarist Jokke Pettersson called Ladahlandstudios which we built ourselves. So all kinds of different gigs comes through there and I try to jump on all of them. I also do the occational wedding and top-40 gigs.

Top-40 gigs – you mean playing covers, like Lady GaGa etc.?

Yeah, Lady GaGa, BeyoncĂ©, Creedence… You name it, I play it 🙂

Lalle’s last Weaveworld album was great, more accessible than the first. How’s the new one shaping up? And what about this power-trio with Jonas, sounds interesting, you have a goal/plan already?

I like the second one more as well. Hard to say at this point, I’ve gotten a 20minute epic so far from Lalle and that one will be killer. This album will complete the trilogy so I imagine it will be very special once it’s out.

The power-trio will be supercool! We will record it in Ladahlandstudios and release it on Reingoldrecords, gonna be something very special indeed… Can’t tell you more than that at this point but keep your eyes open!

It must be quite awe-inspiring to play with such amazing musicians, it can sometimes be quite technically challenging I imagine?

It’s very inspiring for me, and keeps me on my toes 🙂 Definitely, takes a while to get the setlist in your head. And when the time signatures starts flying you best know where you are haha!

Reviews of The Black Forest have been published on www.dprp.net – did you happen to read them? In fact what’s your personal stance on reading reviews and general Internet opinion of yourself and your work?

Yes I read them, very positive and thorough reviews from all three, good reading!

I’m happy to read reviews and even more so that people take the time and listen and share their thaughts on the music on the web, magazines, blogs, what-have-yous… Spreading the word so to speak!

In the end it’s just what one girl or guy think so it’s hard to be objective about my personal stance. Everyone has their own oppinion and I have mine.

When you review something it’s good to have an understanding of the material before you sit down and write I would say.
What’s terrible with the internet sometimes though is that some people set out to bash on others, it’s like you’r on the web so there are no consequences whatsoever, that can bother me sometimes. but even the haters help spread the word I guess.

Other than your drumming Walle, can you tell us anything about yourself?

That’s a very though question. I can tell you some facts about me. I was born in 1985, I know how to juggle, used to work extra as a life drawing model between gigs, gotten arrested, child of divorce AND my favorite movie is American Psycho. (This sounds like one of those ads in the paper… hahah). That’s all for now about me.

OMFG, now I have this terrible image in my head of you sitting naked playing the drums
 no please make it STOP! 😼

Looking back on the two AoM albums you’ve played on, what would be your favourite three tracks, and why?

Hahaha!! Sorry…

The Black Forest – I think this is AoM’s strongest song. The melody is great and everyone plays with alot of verve. The song is interesting throughout the whole 11 minutes, it feels like a three minute song almost…

Between Sun and Moon – love the groove we’ve got going, Roine sings it beautifully, and the vibe is really hopefull and strong I think.

Citadel – Cool duet with Roine and Nad on vocals. I like and enjoy the middle section that is, for me, a mix of Coltrane and Mahavishnu. We had alot of fun recording that song as well. Everyone just rocked-out. Here’s a vid with just drums from the recording (unfortunately you can’t hear the other instruments but get the feel of the vibe we had in the studio perhaps… 🙂

That a very cool video, thanks, well except that you’re half-naked (again!!), actually nice to see you playing solo for once. You’re a great drummer man, I’m not sure AoM doesn’t really showcases that… 🙁

Thanks David. No? I disagree, I think I get some room on the new one though, and when we play live I get alot of space actually 🙂

If you wanna hear more chops from yours truly check out Weaveworld-Infinity of worlds.

Yeah, I need to take some more time with it, for some reason the album hasn’t opened up to me yet, I personally loved the whimsical feel of the first two albums. Time will tell… I have both Weaveworld CD’s, I shall dig into those too!

If you could assemble your own band from any musicians, dead or alive & not including the AoM boys, who would it be and what three songs would you cover?

AHHH There are too many!! It’s too much fun so I’ll give you three variations that would be completly mind-blowing for me and also pretty ridicolus in a band setting togehter 🙂

Phil Anselmo, Jimi Hendrix (lead), Gustav hielm and Dimebag Darell: We would cover War Pigs by Black Sabbath.

Tom Waits, John Scofield, Jaco Pastorious, Joey Defrancesco, Biggie Smalls and the Staples Singers: we would cover Superbad by James Brown.

Steve Earle, Union Station (Dan Tyminski, Ron Block, Jerry Douglas, Barry Bales), Dr John (Mac Rebennack): we would cover The Night they Drove Ol Dixie Down by The band.

You remember that night we did the crazy interview back-stage in Verviers and then the driver couldn’t find the hotel, and then the hotel was locked, so we stood outside for an hour at 2AM in the morning? Well, any other fun stories from the tours?

Yeah I remember…

There’s always something happening on the road. When we toured with District 97 in the states there where some fun incidents actually. Lalle needed to get a transformer for his big stage piano, so the first day in Chicago we spent around 8 hours and visited every Radio Shack in the city hoping to find one. If you ever need to find a Radio Shack in Chicago ask the AoM crew. We had a gig that night in Millwaukee so time was running out. As we ran out of options Roine ended up calling one of his conections upstate for him to send a monster transformer to the hotel in Chicago by Fedex for us to pick up in the morning. PHEW!!! Quite a ride.

During the same tour on the second gig I managed to break Jonathan Shang’s basdrum. What a great start for a relationship! And then the kit fell apart on me during the song Peace United in Cleveland on the third gig hahah… “Listen, I’m sorry about the basdrum here’s a new head, btw I broke the rest of the kit tonight but I’ll see you tomorow :-)” hahah..

We had super fun on that tour, part from being a stellar band, good players and having a rocking front figure in Leslie Hunt, D97 are also very humble and fun to hang out with.

So what’s next for AoM?

I can’t tell you everything, but we will promote the black forest best we can and play at Progfest in Stockholm on November 26th and do some selected shows next year as well. The Black Forest has gotten some good reviews so far, and that’s great, so we just hope that it will reach out to people cause everyone needs to hear this disc i think:-)

Given Roine’s history with drummers you appear to be lasting quite well 🙂 Any chance you could get the Flower Kings gig too?

Yeah, Well I hope I last a while longer hahah… We have a good chemistry both live and in the studio and I get along with Roine on a personal level aswell so I don’t see any reson why we wouldn’t continue our work togheter in AOM.

About the Flower Kings, no idea.

Well that all sounds very promising. Here’s hoping things continue in the good way, and for many more fine albums in the future!

Thanks for taking the time to speak to DPRP Walle.

Thanks for those words.

No problem, wishing everyone a happy new year to come and don’t forget to expose yourself to new music, new situations and don’t be affraid to make mistakes in life.

Thanks for reading:-)