Åge Sten Nilsen

I had the good fortune of interviewing the artist formerly known as Glam (who probably would still answer to that name) Åge Sten Nielsen (ex-WigWam) on multiple occasions in the past. At present the often flamboyant but always erstwhile and likable rocker is busy with the 10th anniversary and seemingly “final” performances of his Queen tribute show, has released a largely acoustic solo album (that this interview is primarily about) and has completed work on an upcoming second Ammunition album along with Erik from Eclipse, that’s set to launch in January 2018, so his plate seems rather full… his glass is not empty either, but certain personal tribulations has caused his “seas” to get a little rough… but such is life. Taking the rough and smoothing it out, the one and only Åge Sten Nilsen ladies and gentleman.
Åge Sten Nilsen pic

Hello and congrats on “Smooth Seas”… we liked how smooth, the album was.
Å: G’day. And thanks a lot. Actually I don’t find the album that smooth (ha ha)… but it’s melancholic and perhaps a bit dramatic, but without my usual energetic vocals.
What exactly prompted you to go for this “stripped back” approach with these batch of songs? Was it a specific concept/conscious decision or just writing a lot of softer material that prompted this direction?
Å: To be honest, this album wasn’t meant to happen at all. It was meant to be a Dan Reed & Åge Sten Nilsen album containing the versions of the songs that we did on our “Acoustic Stories” tour. We couldn’t find time to get started together, so I simply got started on my own with Freddy and Atle, the two musicians we toured with. We recorded the tour versions of “Wild Card” and “Where the Good Times Grow”. Then suddenly a lot of stuff from the past seemed to be ready to be processed, and a lot of songs started to pop up when playing piano. So, I decided to record a new one, “Pipe Dreams”, during the session for the tour version of “Wolf & Butterfly”. It worked out so well, that we thought; let's try another new one as well. Then suddenly I had recorded like 10 songs, and it became pretty obvious that this had turned into a quite different and personal solo album. Dan and I still talk about doing an album together once we have time to get together to write some new material. Maybe we’ll even bring in another name in the collaboration.
Can you tell us more about your other partners in crime in this endeavor?
Å: I recorded the album at Kleiva Studio in Halden, Norway, with Freddy Holm as the producer. We’ve been friends for like 25 years and used to do a rock show called “Rock n Roll Adventure” together way back in the early 90s. We also started a band together in the late 90s called “The CarPetz”, just before Wig Wam started to roll. Freddy also produced my first solo album, and is a multi-talented musician, playing all the strings instruments you can imagine. He’s a self-taught fiddle player as well. On the bass I had Atle Rakvåg, who I played with in “Scoop” in the mid 90s. He also played on my previous solo albums and was a part of my touring solo band in 2009. He’s also my bass player in my Queen show “The Show Must Go On”, and has been since the premiere in 2007. I used the great studio drummer Magnus Buer Hansen, who also did my first solo album, and on piano I brought in Ola Aanje from Aunt Mary and my former Queen show keyboardist Tom Rønningsveen.
I remember you mentioning in an interview we did in the past about the possibility of doing some original stuff with either Dan and/or Tony Carey (with whom you did some live Rainbow renditions)… did any writing actually happen and is it included in either of the two albums (“Smooth Seas” or the s/t Ammunition one)?
Å: Dan and I were supposed to team up in Prague last August for some writing. And we had already started to send songs back and forth. We had also started to work on a couple of tunes on the “Acoustic Stories” tour. But both were tied up by tours and other commitments. Same story with Tony Carey. I guess 2018 will be the big songwriting year.
Bizarre title that one, “SSDMGS” and the whole album has quite a few softer, more introspective, even somewhat bittersweet moments and overall feel; was it an antidote to being “Glam” or assuming other roles for all that time? A reflection of sorts?
Å: I truly don’t find the title “Smooth Seas (Don’t Make Good Sailors)” bizarre ha ha It really suits the purpose well. The album is reflecting the down sides and the challenges in my private life. A lot that I haven’t talked about, but rather kept private. Until I revealed some of it through these songs. And it’s true isn’t it, sailing the smooth seas doesn’t teach you shit. You need to hit a storm once in a while to exercise your skills, do the bloody mistakes, and lose your mind. It teaches you a hell of a lot more that the calm seas will teach you in a life time. Guess you can call it an “antidote” of being “Glam” ha ha. Actually there’s just one song reflecting the “Glam time”, and that’s “Living Miracle”. Most of the songs are reflections and depictions of my private life the past 10 years. My divorce, regrets and some lessons learnt throughout the years that I just needed to get out of my system.
You redid 3 songs, with different instrumentation/style, what prompted that?
Å: The “Acoustic Stories” tour with Dan Reed indeed. Actually, “Wild Card” is more or less recorded like my first demo of the song, before I brought it to Erik Mårtensson and “Ammunitionized” it.
You are a busy man… ie you got Ammunition going on (with Erik from Eclipse) and actually releasing an album with them in January? What can you tell us about that? Other than it’s out on Frontiers and you got two singles out.
Å: Being busy means I’m still able to be self-employed, which is a damn good thing being a musician (ha ha); Erik and I formed Ammunition way back in 2013, when Wig Wam was breaking up. Our first album, “Shanghaied”, was released late 2014 in Norway and in January 2015 in the rest of the world. It’s been a real joyride to be a part of a band again. After all, Wig Wam was quite dysfunctional for a number of years until we called it quits. So, to finally have some brothers in arms to write, record and tour with was awesome. Our second album, the self-titled "Ammunition", will be released on January 26th, 2018, worldwide through Frontiers Music. And I really think this album stands out. I still can’t find one weak song on it, and I tell you, I have listened to it over and over again. No wonder, I’m extremely proud of it. And can’t wait for it to be launched!!
Is there anything you can tell us about Nordic Beast? Last album you insisted that it was gonna be a proper band with original material and no covers, but apart from some “cover based” gigs, there hasn’t been an update on that front…
Å: Nordic Beast has been put on ice for quite some time now. It was a very exciting band project to be involved with. Especially since I was missing being a part of a rock band at the time. And there I was, rocking out with some of the best musicians around. What really surprised me was how much closer I felt to these guys after just a short period of time than after a decade with my former band. There was an instant respect and admiration between the band members that I had been missing for many, many years. But there was never a doubt; this was just going to be a “hobby band”. Mickey had a pretty hectic schedule with Motörhead, and Mic and John were both constantly touring with Europe. Hal and I were on the verge of jumping our mothers ships. Wig Wam broke up and Hal quit King Diamond. Mickey soon joined Thin Lizzy then Scorpions after Lemmy died, and Europe, enjoying some major success with the new version of Europe. Mickey and I have talked about maybe trying to get the band together again for some dates when it’s possible though. So who knows? We did start to talk about trying to write some original material. I know both Mic and John wanted to do something more edgy stuff, and now they seem to be able to let that steam out through Europe. I’m really happy for them. It seems like they’re in a happy place again.
So far you’ve been in Wig Wam, done solo stuff, Ammunition, the Queen Show and you seem to pop-up quite often on Norwegian TV, I guess… looking back what makes you the proudest?
Å: My proudest moments are the moments a song is born and becomes everything I hoped it would be. The moments I crawl off stage, knowing I moved people or rocked the venue big time. And I must confess that it makes me pretty proud to have kept myself busy, self-employed and creatively successful all these years, doing what I love to do. Right now I’m of course most proud of my latest solo album, the new Queen show that I’ve produced and the upcoming Ammunition album. Hopefully I will continue to be proud of my work for many, many years more.
I wanted to ask if you still happen upon the ex-WigWam guys and how do you feel about that time nowadays? I still think it played a pretty big role in making you well-known and together you produced quite a lot of hits… do you reminisce at times? Or just feel happy living in the now?
Å: I really appreciate what we managed to achieve with Wig Wam. We worked our asses off from day one. Quite often I would sit until 5 in the morning sending out promotion letters, hunting down promoters and collaborators etc. And at the end it paid off. And we were a great team the first 4-5 years. I’m also aware of the fact that it’s because of Wig Wam I have managed to create a career. I had already given up my own career before Wig Wam. So I started to produce music shows. I used to reminisce once in a while, but there are still so many open wounds left from those times that still feels painful, still today, that I rather enjoy these moments of honesty, collaboration, brotherhood and most of all; mutual respect.
Actually your Ammunition “Eurovision” preliminary entry with “Wrecking Crew” earlier this year, felt quite like a “deja vu”… but you didn’t quite manage to place first. I just wanted to ask, if it felt different to going through the same with Wig Wam – back then you were relatively unknown, despite some members past in some bands, but now you’re a household name at least in Norway…
Å: No deja vu at all (ha ha). It was a total different experience. Back then we were like the underdogs with nothing to lose. We knew we had a strong song, but our main goal was to get our band promoted. We never thought we would win, but of course we were all hoping for a victory. With Ammunition we participated, knowing we wouldn’t have had time to win. I was busy producing my Queen show, two of the guys were about to release an album and head out on tour. Our highest goal was to make the gold final to promote the band as much as we could, knowing our album wouldn’t be released before a year after, and not being able tour. And hey, we ended up on second place, just a few votes from the #1. It was more or less a pre-promotion mission on what’s to come in 2018. And in that sense we really made it man. Another aspect is of course the fact that both me and the Ammunition boys were more experienced and used to doing big productions in this phase of our careers. With Wig Wam it was a bit scary and new.
You seem to be a bit of a superstar, but not as highly regarded outside Scandinavia – at least in terms of popularity; are you unhappy about that – or just can’t be phased?
Å: Of course I would like to achieve more success outside of Norway. But hey, I’m not dead yet (ha ha). I ain't complaining. I have colleagues that are a lot more successful in the rest of the world that hardly can get gigs in Norway. Some of them still have to keep their daytime jobs, because the fees aren’t that good in Europe for example. In Norway I get the same fee, alone, doing 15 minutes on stage at a corporation gig that some of those bands are being paid to travel for days, play a full concert, and still they have to share the fee with the band members and crew. So, who am I to complain. But I’m really looking forward to being more available for live gigs outside of Norway, now that my Queen show will be put to rest.
Other than some fests and odd gigs you’ve again done relatively little outside Scandinavia, I suppose you did that “Queen tribute” that sort of has hit a milestone this year, celebrating an anniversary, but are there any plans for more shows – especially in the rest of Europe, either solo or Ammunition ones? So What does the future hold for Å: ge Sten Nielsen?
Å: My Queen show celebrates 10 years this year, and that’s damn fine opportunity to call it quits. We’ve sold more than a half million tickets, and we’re on our farewell tour these days, which will last until April 7th. After that I will focus a 100% on getting Ammunition on the road, both in Norway but also where ever they will have us. I’m also gearing up for some acoustic tours on my own. Just me and my guitar and piano. Doing my solo stuff, telling the stories behind the songs you know. A sort of intimate experience. I’ll of course do some gigs with Tony Carey in between, going to Russia in late January to play the Crocus City Hall in Moscow with Don Airey (Deep Purple) and Doogie White (former Rainbow singer). We have already written 6 brand new Ammunition songs for our third album, so we’ll continue that process whenever there is time in-between tours. I’ve written about 20 new solo songs to be recorded during the Spring of 2018, and a boxed solo set will be released in June 2018, containing the albums “Wolf & Butterfly” and “GLAMunition” + a couple of new tunes and some old rarities. We’re in the middle of producing a documentary about the 10 years with the Queen show, and Dan Reed and I have talked about going out on a duo tour sometime next Fall. On top of that, there are some TV plans and I’ve also started to write some songs in Norwegian language. Even though my main priorities will contain original music, I'm still planning on doing some Queen related gigs outside of Norway. It's become such a big part of my career that I would love to take my Queen band to Europe to rock out the old classics on smaller venues, without the big production we do in Norway.
It’s time for our “Weird Questions”!!! If you could live in the past or the future, what choice would you make and why?
Å: The future is always more appealing to me!
If You could change something in the modern music scene what would that be?
Å: I would change Spotify totally. You’d pay the monthly fee to have free access to all the music in the world... to discover new music. You could play a song maximum 3 times, and then if you want to listen to it more you’d have to buy it.
Which record you wish you had written?
Å: “Night at the Opera”!!!
If you could live out a myth – which one would it be?
Å: I’d be Jesus, to see what really happened.
Do you have another talent – that people are not aware of?
Å: Actually I’m good at acting. And I would love to do that more. I also think I have a good eye for motives, and with a little training I think I can become a good photographer.
If your wife or gf sold your albums or guitars to buy something expensive for her how would you react?
Å: If I had a girlfriend that would do such a thing without asking first, I’d say I would hate myself for my own bad judgment and get rid of her asap!!! If we were in such a poor shape financially, that in order to buy my girlfriend something expensive she really, really, really wanted, that would make her the happiest girl in the world, I would have to give up my albums or a guitar to make her dreams come true, I would be happy to do so. I’ve had my own dreams come true, so it would only feel gratifying to make someone precious have her dreams fulfilled.
Salute the Greek fans and readers of Grande Rock worldwide… Thx for the music!
Å: Hope to see you in Greece in 2018 either with Ammunition or solo man. Take care y’all!