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Interview / Bjorn Englen talks Dio, Yngwie and the new album from Soul Sign

I always like to describe Bjorn Englen as the busiest bass in Metal. With past tenures with the likes of Quiet Riot, Yngwie Malmsteen, Uli Jon Roth, Tony MacAlpine and Robin McAuley, Bjorn currently plays with Dio Disciples and, as he told MetalTalk, will soon be releasing a new album with his band Soul Sign.

Bjorn moved to The States in the early ’90s. “It was a big move,” he told MetalTalk editor Steve Ritchie. “I was 21. It is easier when you’re a little younger because you haven’t settled in and don’t think about the fear factor. You just kind of do things. If I had waited, then hesitation kicks in, but it was perfect timing. I don’t know if it’s a good idea to move to Los Angeles when you’re so young, there is too much temptation with drugs and things like that. It’s something that I personally stayed away from, and I’m glad I did. But 21 was a good age, and here I am still today.”

Bjorn Englen, Soul Sign
Bjorn Englen. Photo: Steve Ritchie

Travelling home to Sweden during the pandemic was possible, if tricky. “It was interesting because you have to have negative Covid-19 tests, and they never checked the results. I hadn’t been back home for a couple of years, so just catching up with everybody was wonderful.”

Bjorn has still been busy during the enforced break, writing and recording with his band Soul Sign. “We’ve pretty much completed the next album,” the Swede says. “We’re happy with it. We like the songs a lot, and I think everybody did a really good job playing and singing on it. So we’re excited, and we’re looking forward to the world hearing it.”

The current Soul Sign lineup has Englen joined by Mark Boals on vocals, Mike Cancino on drums, and Jan Mengeling on guitar. “It’s been pretty much the same lineup for a long time. Great players and great people.”

Bjorn Englen and Soul Sign
Soul Sign

The lineup has moved on since the album Life In The Dark was released ten years ago. But Bjorn says the new album, set for 2022, will also feature some guest guitar players, although teasingly, we have to wait until the album is due before finding out, “but there are some really, really nice players on the album,” he says.

Does Bjorn think that Soul Sign is a vehicle to express himself as a bass player, or does he see it more as a band where he is allowed to push himself musically?

“It is more about the songs,” he says. “We do have some music where we’re shredding a little bit, and live we do guitar solos, bass solos and drum solos. But it’s not so much a show-off thing as it is just writing good songs and playing good songs. I don’t know if that’s a maturity thing, but that has always been the goal.

“Some of the songs are simple, and some of them have a little bit of progressiveness going on with some shredding. But on this next album, there won’t even be a bass solo.

Listening to the Life In The Dark again awakens the memory of some great tracks. Sign Of The Soul is a great track, and Bjorn gets his bass solo on Between The Lines (N379N3).

N379N3? “I stole that from my probably my biggest hero Billy Sheehan,” Bjorn says. “He called one of his bass solos something like that [NV43345 ] on one of his Talas albums [Sink Your Teeth Into That] a long time ago. When you turn it upside down, it spells Sheehan. So if you turn N379N3 upside down, it says Englen.”

Between The Lines feeds nicely into Out Of Obsession, another great track with that style where the bass is mirroring the guitar in parts. “It’s funny you mention that because it’s probably one of the tracks that holds up the most from that album,” Bjorn says. “We will put that in the live set in the future, but that’s a good track.”

You (Control) stands out also, with its beautifully complex opening riff, while Life In The Dark, the title track, is another cracker as well, with several different segments in the song that lead back to the chorus each time. A track that beautifully shows off the bass.

“That’s one song that when I wrote it, it was very, very simplistic, and it kind of developed,” Bjorn says. “There are a lot of guitar licks and things like that in the melodies. But it came out of simplicity. The simpler some songs are, the more room you leave for good melodies. You can pretty much do anything with it, and that’s kind of a beautiful thing with something really simple like that.”

And Life In The Dark strikes me as something which works really well live. “Yes, it does,” Bjorn agrees. “It’s interesting, some songs until you play them, you don’t really know if they’re going to work live. It’s strange. Some songs we have to speed up the tempo. Some of them we have to slow down to make sense live. It is interesting the life a song will take on its own when you are performing it live, as opposed to on the recording. It’s quite fascinating sometimes.”

Bjorn Englen with Tara Lynch, March 2019
Bjorn Englen with Tara Lynch. London, March 2019. Photo: Steve Ritchie

The last time Bjorn was playing in England was on the Tara Lynch tour supporting UFO. “It was a great tour,” Bjorn remembers, “A great band, great people to travel with. It was really nice, and we saw a lot of good places. When you spend a month in Britain, you play places that you wouldn’t play if you were on a large European tour.”

That was a successful tour with a fantastic four-piece lineup. Joe Lazarus, drum, Kavaini, guitar and Bjorn were perfectly solid, and with Tara shredding away at the front, they turned plenty of heads and received great crowd feedback.

And, with Bjorn sharing dual nationality, he is now a tour managers dream bass player. “I’m kind of spoiled in that sense,” he says. “It helps, you know. One less guy to worry about getting work visas for and things like that. Sweden is part of the European Union. I’m not so sure if it’s good for Sweden, but it’s good for me, not having to worry about getting a work visa.”

Bjorn with Yngwie Malmsteen in Detroit 2008. Photo: Scott Strelecki
Bjorn/Yngwie Malmsteen. Detroit 2008. Photo: Scott Strelecki

Bjorn has played in illustrious company throughout his career, and tours of The States, Europe, Japan, Israel and Russia with Yngwie Malmsteen must have been rather cool to do. “Yeah, it was very cool, you know, and something I always wanted to do,” Bjorn says. “I felt like I would like to work with him one day, and I did, and it was great. I had a good time working with him. The whole experience musically, personally, travelling, everything was nice.

“I got to see a lot of the world. That’s one of the advantages of being a musician. You get paid to travel. Not that you always have that much time to see things, but you know, I’m kind of easy to please. If I take a walk around the town or I see a little bit of it, I’m happy. I don’t have to be there for a week, so it’s quite nice to see different places.”

Bjorn also played with Uli Jon Roth and Tony MacAlpine. “In 2011, I was playing with Tony, Uli and Yngwie at the same time,” he says. “There were a lot of songs to brush up on and prepare, but I’m very grateful for it because when you get that kind of mileage, as far as playing, you are pushing yourself.

“Tony is, especially on his later albums, very progressive, and there’s a lot of odd meters. Yngwie’s has his own style, and Uli has his own style. All of them are phenomenal guitar players, but they’re very different as far as how they operate. It’s quite fascinating, and it kind of makes it fun.”

Speaking of fun, it looked like Bjorn had plenty of fun with Plenty Heavy and Greg Marra. You can see Bjorn on the video for Swift Kick arguing with his own onscreen girlfriend.

“Yeah, that was fun.,” Bjorn says. “That was actually Greg’s idea. It was a fun shoot we did, and we had a good time—Greg’s great.”

Bjorn has also been a member of Dio disciples since 2012. “I had known Craig Goldy since I moved to L.A. He was teaching a music business class at Musicians Institute when I was a student there, I got to know him, and we kept in touch. He was always very supportive of me. I left Yngwie’s band, and Ripper, who is one of the singers in Dio Disciples, had also left Yngwie’s band.

“One day, I sent him a text saying when you next come to L.A., let’s have a beer. He said I’ll be there tomorrow. I have rehearsals with Dio Disciples. He invited me down to the rehearsal studio, and one thing led to another. Having a little bit of history with some of the guys in the band obviously helped.”

Bjorn Englen and Craig Goldy
Bjorn Englen and Craig Goldy, Dio Returns. December 2017 Photo: Steve Ritchie

“It’s very rare that anybody gets a gig without knowing anybody in a band,” Bjorn says, “although that happened when I first started playing with Quiet Riot many years ago.” Bjorn believes that Dio Returns shows next year is a strong possibility.

The unveiling of the hologram at Wacken in 2016 must have been a pretty special moment. “It was very special. There was pressure on us because everything had to work. Technically as well as us playing and making sure that we are in sync. But yeah, it worked out well.

“We closed out the Wacken festival. It was around 2:30 in the morning when we played. It was very cold outside. It was nice when the pyros finally started because it got a little warmer on stage. When you’re having a good time on stage, if it’s 100° or if it’s 40°, it doesn’t really matter.”

Does Bjorn remember the first time he saw the hologram in rehearsal? Was that an emotional experience for people?

“Because I didn’t really know Ronnie, it was more personal for the other guys. They were very close to him. It might be a good thing to have one person in the band that’s kind of like emotionally removed a little bit from the whole thing, perhaps. But obviously, it was emotional even for me. He was a special guy, and he was a wonderful singer.

“The fact that the vocals are from live performances gives that whole live feel too. It’s almost like, if you close your eyes, he’s on stage singing with us. So it’s pretty cool.”

While everyone is not a fan of the hologram, personally, I think it’s quite okay to do. Possibly with today’s big 4K TVs and multi-million-pound film special effects on science fiction films, there might be a mismatch between people’s expectations and what they see, but I’m a fan.

“Some people like it, some people don’t like it,” Bjorn says. “The real thing is the real thing, so I don’t even compare it. It is nice for the fans that they can experience the music with Ronnie like that, and I think it’s a nice thing.”

When MetalTalk covered the Dio Returns show in 2017, Wendy said after the show, it was done with love, and it does follow that it keeps his memory alive.

Dio Returns.
Dio Returns. December 2017. Photo: Steve Ritchie

With the Heavy Metal world trying to resume normal service, Bjorn believes that spring or summer are his best chances of treading the boards again. “I’m not holding my breath. I don’t like to have high expectations when it comes to things like this. We’ll see what happens.”

But we do have the new Soul Sign record to look forward to. “I think a lot of people are going to like the new album. I think it’s a much stronger album than the first one.

“I’ll see everybody next year sometime. Next year I think things will be up and running again.”

And we do always look forward to seeing Bjorn on the road again.

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