Born and raised in Sweden and now living in The United States Of America the world’s greatest land (just kidding), Bjorn Englen is a bassist whose name more people should recognize. He has played with Quiet Riot, Yngwie Malmsteen and Dio Disciples/Dio Returns and helmed his own act Soul Sign among others. However, perhaps owing to his self-proclaimed humbleness, a lack of a publicist until recently or nomadic band memberships Englen has not become a household name in the same manner as many of his contemporaries.
Bjorn called Ali “The Metallian” at Metallian Towers from Los Angeles, California one afternoon and the two spoke about the man, his endeavours, his musical instrument and also took the time to verify and ascertain that the man’s Swedish credentials are in order. – 22.10.2021
“Hi, I am ready,” it’s Bjorn proclaiming that he is ready to proceed with the conversation after a pause. It is best to begin by bouncing the aforementioned impression by the four stringer. What does he think of the perception that he is one of the more active and prolific musicians in hard rock that is not a ‘name’? “You are correct,” believes the man. “The most underrated bassist I would say. I have no explanation, other than that maybe I am not aggressive enough and someone at a certain publication might have something against me. I am not sure.”
It sounds like the man knows something about someone at a certain publication, but is not coming out and saying it. “No, I don’t know about anything specifically. I am just speculating. There has to be a reason because it’s impossible that I could’ve been overlooked playing with all these famous bands.”
Could it be it is because you have been nomadic and not stayed in one band? “The music business can also be very racist and I won’t be going into detail about that,” Bjorn pushes the conversation in another direction. That is an unexpected thought because conventional wisdom does not have Swedes as a typically discriminated against minority. Yet I also realize that statement is prejudiced itself. Bjorn remains cryptic. “Like I said, I won’t go into detail about it, but the guilty ones already know who they are.” One feels that the guilty ones need to be exposed, but I also understand that Bjorn is in the business so it is a risky topic. To which he agrees, “Indeed. I won’t add fuel to the fire. I probably said too much already.”
So let us move on then. The first ‘name band’ Bjorn played with was Quiet Riot. It would be interesting to know how an unknown would be recruited into that band. Surely, there were other bands before. Bjorn relates, “I was tipped off by a friend that Quiet Riot had advertised that they were looking for a bass player in the Los Angeles entertainment guide and that they were reuniting with the Metal Health line-up. I sent in a demo tape with two songs and the singer Kevin DuBrow called me back a week later. They had received about 120 tapes and auditioned about 40 bass players. They asked me immediately after the audition if I would like to join.
“The ironic thing is that Quiet Riot was the only band that I was admitted to where I did not know anyone in the band or had any connection with anyone. That is very rare I came to find out later.
“Prior to Quiet Riot I was in a handful of bands in Sweden, where I grew up. I always got paid from day one so when I played with a band in Los Angeles for nine months without getting paid that was very strange and wasn’t right. I got paid playing with Quiet Riot, but with the preceding bands we were doing the Sunset Strip and all the big clubs in Los Angeles and (not getting paid)…that’s kind of how that goes, but that was still a learning experience in many ways so I am not complaining.
“The previous band names were Small Town Boys, Spirit and Guys & Gal.”
Sticking with Quiet Riot for the moment, your website says you only toured with Quiet Riot. That means you did not play on the Down To The Bone album of 1995. You replaced Chuck Wright …
“I replaced Kenny Hillary,” interjects Englen to correct this interviewer. Rudy Sarzo was not available to do the reunion so that’s how I got the gig. Chuck played on the album, but I helped with pre-production and promotion for it.”
It is all coincidental because, as I put it to the man, his career and Quiet Riot seem somewhat intertwined. Bjorn, elsewhere you also replaced Rudy Sarzo in Dio Returns who was both in Dio Disciples and with Yngwie Malmsteen. He laughs, “Rudy is a great guy and a great bass player. It was just coincidental that I happened to replace him in several bands.”
Any memories on Quiet Riot drummer Frankie Banali who died in 2020? ”I didn’t see or talk to Frankie for a very long time after I left the band… until 2012 when we reconnected and worked together and jammed at the Rock ‘N’ Roll Fantasy Camp, which was a few years ago. That was great and we were both really happy about that.”
So switching bands we steer the conversation from Quiet Riot to Yngwie Malmsteen. I ask Bjorn whether, in his estimation, he has much of an ego. Bjorn, do you have a big ego? “Not really. I wish I had a bigger ego. That would have helped my career a lot. I always believed in being humble and nice to people. Why not?”
That question was really to ask how Bjorn – or anyone for that matter – could work with Yngwie Malmsteen. The guitarist’s talent is obvious, but surely that guy’s ego overflows any room all on its own. One cannot imagine fitting another ego in a room on top of Malmsteen’s. Bjorn is one of three things: a good liar, a diplomat or an episode of ‘myth busters’ all unto himself. He insists,”I have no reason to lie. I had a great time working with him and we got along great. He never once picked on me or told me how to play. Even when I thought I had the worst night ever Yngwie’s reply was ‘that was a pretty good show.’
“I had a much bigger issue playing with some Yngwie wanna-bes in my life. People that felt like they had to pick on me to make themselves feel better and felt like I was a threat because they knew I was going places and they weren’t.
To make it clear. I had no issues playing with Yngwie at all. I am very grateful for my time with him. It was wonderful. I can’t speak for other people or other people’s experiences. I can only speak for myself. And I have no reason to lie.”
That may be the first print instance of Yngwie Malmsteen’s kindness. With that said, Bjorn certainly doesn’t make it easy for himself, does he? Yngwie Malmsteen, Uli Jon Roth, Tony MacAlpine, et cetra. Bjorn must cherish the challenge. ”I was playing with all three in 2011! So that was many songs to learn and practice. But they are all wonderful players and great people. Tony and I are close friends and I see him quite often.”
Do you ever feel you need a break and want to play in a Duran Duran cover band or something? Bjorn laughs at the joke, “In fact, I have played every style you can imagine. Especially in the ‘90s I was all over the place and now very grateful for that because it made me a much stronger and more solid bass player. There are many styles that are a blast to play for bass like Latin, reggae, funk, et cetra.”
We should come to the present time, but while on the topic of bass guitars one cannot resist bouncing names off Bjorn and getting his reaction, but first, “my biggest heroes and influences ever are Billy Sheehan, Steve Harris and John Paul Jones. I know Billy quite well and he’s a great friend and a role model is so many ways. Both Steve and John seem like wonderful people as well. I can’t say bad things about any bass player out there because they’re the hardest working people in any band and a very important component to any band. Steve is also an influence as far as song writing and as a band leader and business person. I do think it’s sad though that since the ‘90s there are very few bass players that stretch out and play bass the way it should be played like, for instance, John Entwistle, John Paul Jones, Billy Sheehan and all those cats that really showed the world how rock bass really should be approached.”
Coincidentally, Steve Harris was one of the three names on my list. Bjorn has a theory regarding the coincidence. ”I am in fact a bit psychic, not to freak you out. A friend of mine who is one of the most known psychics in America thinks I’m psychic so it must be true. My psychic friend is Crystal’s Vision Rocks Inc. Their Instagram is Crystal Topaz.”
That may be a dedicated conversations right there. Still, here is what Bjorn says about Geddy Lee, second name on my list, first, “He is an awesome bass player, but I was never a big Rush fan so therefore he was not a huge influence. I do really appreciate his playing.”
And Roger Waters, “Great supportive bass player and very solid playing and supporting the song wonderfully. He is also a great songwriter.”
Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Bjorn. Sticking with today, let’s talk about Dio Returns. “Dio Returns is the same band and the same material as Dio Disciples. Most of us played for 20 years in Dio. The only difference with Dio Returns is that we have a few songs with Ronnie as a hologram or video.”
Obviously Bjorn is in Dio Returns and it would be difficult to imagine his being critical, but there are many who object to Dio being presented as a hologram. Bjorn takes it in stride, “Everyone has the right to their opinion. That’s all I can say about that. We have a great time with it and we feel like it’s a wonderful celebration of Ronnie to include him in the show like that. It’s also wonderful of (Dio’s former wife) Wendy to put a lot of time and money into the whole thing. All I can say for the people who think that she’s trying to ‘cash in’ is that the reality is the opposite: she has spent so so much money on this whole thing just to celebrate Dio and his memory.”
OK so percentage-wise how sure are you that Dio would approve of the show with himself as a hologram? “I would say pretty much 100%,” deadpans Bjorn, “because Wendy knew him extremely well and she wouldn’t do anything that he wouldn’t be proud over. There was already a hologram type things included in shows over the years like, for instance, during the Sacred Heart tour.”
As for whether the hologram has been retired, “I will let Wendy answer that. Things are being worked out right now. That’s why I think she would be the person to answer that and I am sure she will come out to media and say things pretty soon as soon as she knows.
“There are no plans with Dio Returns (right now), but most likely a tour in 2022 starting in either Europe or US.”
Another band that is in the present again is Soul Sign. It too has a 2022 plan. “We have the best line-up ever and a new album in 2022, which is much better than the first one. The band chemistry is great. The album is almost in the bag. We have two more songs to finish recording and half of it is mixed. The album title is most likely Desert Fire.
“Mark Boals is on vocals, Rob Math is on guitar, I am on bass and Mike Cancino is on drums.”
Englen has even more on his plate though. “Yes, there is an album with Of Gods & Monsters coming out in 2022 as well,” the bassist reminds us. ”Great band and great guys. No label determined yet. The style is melodic metal. (it is) very good.”
With music addressed there are only two matters left to discuss. Englen is a Swedish expatriate living in Los Angeles, California. At the same time, Sweden’s Riksdag Parliament has established four criteria for Swedishness. Englen has already passed one criterion, which is as a Swede he has to be in multiple bands simultaneously. How does he fare with the other three? Will he pass the test?
Bjorn Englen, are you either wearing or do you have Bjorn Borg underwear in your drawer? “Yup, several.” Easy answer and point for Englen.
So far 2 out of 2 for a total of 2 out of 4. Third: Do you own any IKEA furniture and have you visited the IKEA museum? “Yes, I do unfortunately (laughs). Sorry, it’s great stuff, but heavenly over-priced sometimes. And the fact that you have to put it together yourself – sometimes it’s a drag. No, I have not been to the museum, but the very first IKEA was opened only 35 minutes from where I grew up and that’s where the founder was born and raised. He was an incredible entrepreneur.”
An informative answer and trivia, Bjorn, but unfortunately the answer counts as half a point only so you are at 2.5 out of 4 so far. “Oh damn!!” Englen is not happy with his missed half point. Last test according to the Parliament: Do you cook and enjoy Swedish meatballs? “I rarely cook them, but I do love them and last time I looked I do own a pair. That must count as 1.5 points!”
Having consulted the Riksdag statute and rule book, it does count as 1.5 points, which gives the bassist a four out of four complete mark. Congratulations, you are a Swede, Bjorn!
That takes us to the final question for our conversation. Everyone everywhere knows that Metallian is the best website there is. Why do you also obviously agree? Seems Bjorn is going to be difficult at first, “I don’t. It’s a shitty site (laughs). No seriously I really appreciate your work and all sites like yours. it’s very important to the artist and the fans.”
Bjorn was a friendly and open interview partner. So thanks for your time, Bjorn. “You’re very welcome! My pleasure!”
And with that he is off to do whatever it is bassists do on an afternoon before the weekend.
Bjorn can be found at his website http://www.bjornenglen.com