Music For The Criminally Insane.... Ronnie Undresses His Madness and Speaks Out
Pretty Maids have to be the premier metal band from Denmark, the band that pretty much put the Danish metal scene on the Heavy Metal map. Formed back in 81 by vocalist Ronnie Atkins and long time guitarist and friend Ken Hammer.
Having search for members to form the band it wasn't long before they found the line up that would record the bands debut EP which was released 83 through UK label 'Bullet', a great and impressive EP that brought the attention to major label CBS for their 1st full length album 'Red Hot & Heavy' in 84. With this album been the bands cult classic they band went from strength to strength with more successful album.
The band are at the strongest point in their career right now, and the timing was right for them to release their 2nd live DVD, this time 'Maid in Japan', which recently has been released. I managed to have a skype interview with front man Ronnie to find out more about what the band have been up too since the last interview and to talk about the new DVD. So sit back crack open a beer or two and read on.
Hi Ronnie, how are you? It's been a while since we last met which was at 'Head Bangers Open Air' in Germany in 2018. So how have you been since we met considering you have health issues sadly with cancer. How are you coping?
"Yes that is right we met there, a small festival with a great atmosphere. Sadly we had technical difficulties with our sound. With regards to my health it's really well so far with me having lung cancer and I'm life my life in stages right now and I'm still having treatment for that. I am also having scans every so many months to see how my health is and if there are any changes. I am worried about it as it's a natural thing with cancer or any serious illness.
So I am taking it day by day at the moment, every day I wake up is a blessing. It is something I have to live with and adapt too. I have had radio therapy and chemo therapy as well. This virus shit doesn't make it any easier either. (Laughing) I am not ready to go yet so I will just carry on. I have suffered damage with my nerves and my back since having treatment.
Jason I hear you have had a heart operation, how is you health? (Ed: I'm doing ok thanks for asking Ronnie, I am getting there and walking 5 miles when I can a day).
Ok so now we have talked about your health and I wish you well, let's now talk about the band, it's been a while since we last did an interview so I'm going to start by asking you about the 'Kingmaker' album. So from that album which songs are your favourite ones and why?
"Well that's a tough question, there are a lot of good songs from that album. I like the title track 'Kingmaker', 'Last beauty on Earth', which has a really good vibe to it, I also like 'Face the World', I think I pretty much like all of them. We are one of those band that will not release an album if we don't like all the songs. We write until we have the amount of songs we need, we don't more and then decide which are the best. We had one extra song that was never released all the way back to the 'Jump the Gun' album, we only had a demo version of it."
I see Jacob Hansen has been working with you for some time now, mixer and master guy for the band. Is he you're permanent 6th member of the band?
"Well we have done everything with him since January of 2010 and it was Michael Poulsen from 'Volbeat' who introduced us to him and he is like 10yrs younger than me. He grew up on albums like 'Future World' and he had listened too everything we had done.
It was a great experience working with him as he introduced us to the de-tuning of the guitars to our albums. It was like a breath of fresh air and new blood into the band and it's been a pleasure working with him ever since then.
What do you think of his old band, the Thrash/ Death Metal band 'Invocator', did he ever play you his material prior to him working with you?
"To be honest, I met this short haired guy and I really never hear his music, I had heard of them. I was never really into the hardcore heavy Thrash Metal, for me I like the more melodic bands . In Denmark there a cult metal band from the early 90's like Artillery. I know they did a reunion tour and album not so long ago. He then did a Progressive metal band called 'Pyramaze', he joined them for a while. He is a really nice guy and easy to work with and a great chemistry between us."
So how successful was the 'Kingmaker' album for the band?
"Well to be honest I don't know the exact figures and you reach a certain level and our label Frontiers with albums like 'Motherland', 'Pandemonium' , 'Louder than Ever', 'Kingmaker' and 'Undress your Madness' they have all been doing really well. Since we have established ourselves we have younger fans that come along to our shows with their parents which is great to see. I feel we have wrote better albums and better songs throughout our career."
You must be happy with Frontier Records, as you have been with them for so long now.
"Yes we are happy, we have been with them for like 10 yrs now, there is no other label that really releases this kind of music and everything is cool. We go out and live live and promote our albums, whereas the bigger labels really don't help their bands too much these days from what I hear and from what I see. "
I know you did a lot of tour for the 'Kingmaker' album, just how long did the tour last?
"We toured for that album in late 2016 until 2018 , so it was a great successful album and tour. We did one tour with Gotthard, and in 2019 we did a couple of festivals which was also part of the 'Kingmaker tour you know, and 'Undress your Madness' pretty much came after that tour. Then the shit with my health happened and we never played a single song from that album live which is totally surreal."
Moving on let's talk about the new album 'Undress your Madness', who came up with the title for this album?
"Well if I am right Ken our guitarist came up with the title for the album. I think we all came up with titles for the album, but I think Ken's was the best that we all decided on. I wrote the lyrics for this album from that title."
Who did the artwork for the album? Has he worked with you guys before?
"Yes he had worked with us before, his name is Kai Brockschmidt who has done all our covers since 'Pandemonium'. He is a great artist and it's like working with Jacob two great guys. We give Kai the title and the music to listen too and he comes up with ideas and sends them to us. We then tell him we like them or not and he improvises and works around that."
I have a question I keep meaning to ask you, what does the symbol or triad mean to the band?
"I have no fucking clue Jason, you would have to ask Ken about that (laughing). We thought it looked cool so we have been using it ever since the late or early 90's."
Ok moving then Ronnie, what songs from 'Undress your Madness', are your favourites and why?
"Well I do like the songs 'Serpentine', 'Undress your Madness', 'Strength of a Rose', and even 'Black Thunder' which actually started out as a joke. We had this every 80's idea and we rented an apartment so we could start writing for the new album in January of last year in our home town. The song 'Black Thunder' was one for the last songs we wrote, and we were like 'This is too fucking 80's', so we liked it as it was a catchy song, so I turned around to Ken and said what the fuck am I suppose to write about? (laughing). It's actually one of the favourite songs we play live and the fans love it.
I am a big fan of the 80's, (Ed: Yeah me too love it), yes you can't beat the 80's can you? You would go to parties and really enjoy them because the music made up for them. I grew up with the 80's New Wave and and I'm a big fan of Sabbath, Deep Purple, Zepplin, Lizzy and bands like that."
As we are talking about the 80's, what do you think of Arch Enemy covering 'Back to Back' from the 'Red hot & Heavy' album ?
"Well I take it as a compliment that other bands want to do covers of our songs. To me that means we have done something right and I didn't realize it was a female singer, sounds like a man so it shocked me. I'm not into the growling side of the vocals, but like I said I take it as a compliment. (Ed: If you were playing the same festival as Arch Enemy on the same day and they asked if you wanted to sing it with them would you do it?) . (Laughing) I don't know, but we did that with Hammerfall in Copenhagen a couple of years ago, as you were there Jason. I don't know the guys in Arch Enemy so I really don't know if I would do it with them."
Just how many promo videos have you done for the current album 'Undress the Madness'?
"Well we did 2 promo videos, the 1st one was for the song 'Serpentine' & 'Will you still kiss me (If I see you in Heaven)", this is also one of my favourite songs from the album. Wer didn't do a great deal for the album due to my health issues."
How long did it take to record this album?
"I think it took about a month. We recorded in February then took a break and I think it was mixed at the end of March I think. (Ed: I like the way you do heavy songs, then a couple of ballads or lighter songs on each album, is this something you will always do?). Well I am a fan of good music as long as it's a good song I don't care, I guess it depends on what mood you're in."
Would you say the band have gone with the times or have you stayed true to yourself musically?
"Well even thought we try to update our sounds it will always sound like Pretty Maids, and that is one of the things that I said about Jacob we tried to de-tune our guitars to give it that edge. I really don't listen too new stuff to be honest."
Before we talk about the 'Maid in Japan' live CD/ DVD I'd like to ask you how the cronovirus is effecting the band with the lock down? Are you writing new songs?
"Well it's a pain in the arse for everybody as you know, it puts things on hold so you really can't do much as this band are spread all over the place."
OK so let's talk now about the DVD, who came up with the title? Also why did you decide to do the 'Future World' album in its full glory when you could of done 'Red Hot & Heavy' in its full glory?
"Well this DVD was suppose to of been released before 'Undress Your Madness' LP. With the virus we have not been able to promote both the last album or this DVD, I guess we won't be doing anything until 2021. We talk on the phone but nothing is set in stone as of yet. We have not toured for the latest album, so when lock down allows us to tour we will promote that album 1st.
The title for the DVD came from Deep Purple (laughing), but we all know that this record is a classic album from the 70's as we are all Deep Purple fans. So it kind of made sense to have that title, it was a good idea for the band. Well the whole idea for the DVD started when we did the xmas shows here in Copenhagen, the show you were at Jason. So in 2017 we wanted to do something slightly different so we deiced to play the 'Future World' in its full entity and then add some more songs to it just to give people something different.
So we took the show to Sweden, Germany and Japan and we wanted to put out a live album so that is why we decided to do it as a whole live CD and DVD. We did a 25th anniversary show in 2010 which was the whole 'Red Hot & Heavy' album and that was just a one off thing we did."
Was it a difficult decision to pick the extra songs for the DVD?
"Well we played 2 shows down there and we recorded the one show in Japan and we tried to add songs from 'Motherland' & 'Kingmaker' and we did a live album called 'It comes Alive', and we didn't want to have the same songs on the 'Maid in Japan' DVD."
Do you think you will record another DVD in the future for yet another successful album in its entity?
"I don't know, we have no plans the main concern is to get out and play some live gigs."
Were you happy with the turn out for that show where you recorded the DVD? Doesn't look like a big venue that you usually play or use to play.
"Well it was a 1500 to 1600 seated venue and it was packed. Nobody plays the big venues in Japan these days and we played there in the 90's at big venues and it was sit down venues at theaters. (Ed: Who supported you that night for the DVD?) There were no support acts, in some smaller clubs we might have the odd support band."
Why haven't you ever been asked to play Bloodstock? I find it hard to believe that such a great band has not been asked.
"Well we did perform there with Avantasia in 2013 I think, but we never had an offer to play it. We don't have a big following in the UK, we did play a few gigs over there after the Saxon tour in 85. We played in London at the 'Underground' were you also where there Jason. We would love to play the UK."
Well Ronnie it was a pleasure speaking to you again, I wish you all the best with you're health and the future of the band. Do you have anything to say to your fans?
"Well thank you Jason for the interview, I wish you well also with your recovery and I hope to meet you again on the road at some point. Thank you to our fans for their support and we hope to see you in 2021. Be safe and take care.
Thank you to Ronnie Atkins and also Gary @ Red Sands for setting the interview up.