North of the Lake
"I always knew I was going to be a musician," Claes says as he slowly sips his Guinness. "There was no other option in my mind. Music is everything there is, you know?" He seems pleased, and why shouldn't he be? He just signed up with a classic Swedish record label and his dream is coming true. A life long dream that every teenager fantasizes about at least once in their lives. Born in 1977, Claes' teenage years are behind him now, and maybe that's why he is taking his success in a modest way. A grateful way. He knows that there are people to thank, and it doesn't take too long before his family is mentioned, especially his sister and his brother. "My brother played the saxophone, and he knew a few guitar chords too. My sister was a pretty good rhythm guitarist and I will never forget when it was just me and her in the house. She was babysitting me, maybe I was 7 years old. She had put me to bed and a couple of her friends came over. They started to play guitars and clap their hands. It woke me up and I just couldn't believe what I heard. One of the guys was playing the blues. I mean, he could really play. I was blown away. I even ran and got a tape recorder and taped the whole thing. Sadly, the tape is gone by now, but I can still remember the impact it had on me. I decided on the spot that I was going to be a guitarist." As the conversation slowly moves towards influences, his brother is mentioned again. He owned albums by Kiss, Guns N' Roses and Twisted Sister, but also Eric Clapton and The Eagles. Albums that Claes gladly listened to as soon as he got the chance. In the 7th grade Claes wasn't too comfortable with people his own age. He felt like an outsider and often turned to people a little bit older. Maybe because it was safer to be around them. As a result, he started to talk to one of his teachers about music. The teacher made him a tape. "I remember that particular tape very well," Claes reveals. "On the first side it had Black Sabbath's fourth album with "Changes", and the second side had Led Zeppelin's debut album. It was great! I was so excited about it I just went on and on about it. Another teacher told me I shouldn't listen to that crap, and the next day he brought me a tape too. The first song was "Mr Tambourine Man" by Bob Dylan. What else can be said? I loved that too." During this period Claes started to play in different bands, and leaving the little village Säffle in favor of studying music at a college in the bigger city Karlstad seemed like a natural move. Unfortunately, it wasn't the great experience Claes had had in mind. He learned nothing of use and was glad when the three years had passed. Luckily he managed to get a job in a recording studio after graduation. He slowly developed from bringing refills to learning sound engineering and soon he was also a studio musician. "For the first time I was around people who were professional musicians. It was much more rewarding than any school I could imagine," he says as he reaches out for another cigarette. After a while Claes got the chance to play with a country band that had toured both Europe and America, playing in front of thousands of people every night. However, due to a personal conflict between Claes and and the lead singer, he left the band after three tours and nearly one hundred gigs. Now Crooked Smile was formed, including singer Annika Thornquist of the famous Swedish popband Da Buzz, and Claes seriously started to write his own material. He had always written songs, but now with Crooked Smile, and the opportunity to work in a studio of his own, the writing really took off. One of the songs, "Sometimes", is still performed live. Crooked Smile was a rather short-lived group, but it was very important nonetheless. Not only did his songwriting take off, but he also started arranging and producing songs and explored his capacity as a singer, something he previously had only done for fun. "Then I truly discovered the blues," Claes recalls. "I listened to it exclusively for a couple of years. Artists such as Hound Dog Taylor and Chuck Berry, Jimmy Reed and Albert Collins, Eric Clapton and the Fabulous Thunderbirds just knocked me out." Soon he led bands such as Clark the Fox and Crocodile Claes & The Bushwankers, playing blues at the most popular pubs in town in front of ecstatic crowds, where he received great reviews. From the ashes of Crocodile Claes, The Rectifiers was born. It was a band able to match the success of the pure blues bands.. Mixing blues with pop, and country with rock and roll performed acoustically, their music was greatly appreciated by audiences and Claes had turned into an excellent lead singer. Ready to spread his own wings as a solo artist, he has established himself on the local scene as a great entertainer, both musically and because of his excellent showmanship. So it's only natural that the record companies would finally discover his talent. Claes looks quite puzzled, but also pleased and happy when he tells the story. "In a very loose and almost nonchalant way I slipped the manager of Blaze Records a bad looking CD-R featuring three songs. Three days later he called me up and enthusiastically told me he had been listening to the disc non-stop. He just had to sign me." Looking at an empty glass beside the well-used ashtray and a thinking about the future, Claes can't be anything but happy. Things look bright and in March 2004 his debut album will finally be released. Daniel Fjäll March 2004.