CyHra, the new project featuring vocalist Jake E (ex Amaranthe) and former In Flames members Jesper Strömblad (guitar) and Peter Iwers (bass) alongside drummer Alex Landenburg (Rhapsody) will release their debut album Letters to Myself on October 20th via Spinefarm Records. We already enjoyed the new song, “Karma,” and recently had the opportunity to speak with Jake E and Jesper for an in-depth conversation about the lyrics, their previous projects, battling with addiction, and all things, CyHra. Letters to Myself is available to pre-order here.
My first question is for Jake. What was it that led you to leave Amaranthe?
Jake E: A band is like a family, and sometimes family doesn’t really get along. We were drawn apart in different directions. As in every band on earth, there’s no secret that there are always things happening within that, but I could take that more or less for quite some time. But in the end, the whole direction of the music started to go towards a path that I really didn’t feet comfortable with. I also felt that everything got more and more centered around one person. We were three singers, and I just felt, it was my band. I started it, I created it. I felt that I was losing the grip on the whole situation, and I also felt that I was someone standing in the background just backing up. I just felt that I could do more with my career and my talent than to just do that, so that was what led me to finally make the decision. I could have been an asshole and tell everyone else to do something else and continue the way I wanted it to be, but I didn’t want to do it that way. I felt it was better if I was the one that didn’t really think like the others, that my thought was that the fairest thing to do was to leave instead of the opposite.
So it was more about creative differences. Was CyHra in the works while you were still in Amaranthe?
Yeah, at one point it wasn’t really CyHra, because I had a break from the band. I had been gone for so long, and I had a kid back home and decided it had nothing to do with my departure, but I decided to stay out for one US tour and one European tour. I wanted to be home focusing on my family. I was also the one who managed the bookings, so I was not just home on vacation, but instead, I was home doing the desk job thing while the band was touring. During that time, Jesper and I started to sit down to write some songs together, but at that time, we didn’t really know what we were going to use them for because we hadn’t decided back then. We started in January. I decided to leave the band in March 2015, and I did the last show with Amaranthe in September or October 2016, and then I had this vacation from the band, more or less, and then I left in March 2016. For two, three months, we were doing some stuff before I officially left the band.
Now that we have that out of our system, let’s discuss the music video for “Karma.” I noticed it has a “to be continued” storyline.
Jake: Video scripts like that are so hard to predict because we always come up with new ideas, new ideas all the time. I think the next video would fit in to be a continuation of where the current video took off because the current video itself stands out in a way that there’s a lot of playing scenes where we just stand there and play. There’s a short introduction to a story, so what I really want us to do in the next video, if we all agree on it, is to have a little more open story line where the story has a more central point in the video than just the playing. I’ve always wanted to do that with other bands I was in, and I want to continue that because I love acting. For me, it’s a way to do something else, but still at my day job.
Jesper: When it comes to videos, there are so many events to debate on, but to be continued is certainly going to be another video, that’s for sure. What the concept’s going to be, we haven’t really put it out yet.
I noticed ‘Letters to Myself’ is lyrically a very dark album.
Jake: Did you read the lyrics?
I felt the lyrics.
Jake: You felt them. That’s fantastic. I want to thank you, and that sounds weird, but it’s probably the first time ever someone got, as you say, you felt it. For me, that means a lot, because that means the way I sung it was in a good way, the way we wrote it was in a good way, that the way we composed it was in a good way because that was exactly what we wanted it to be.
I go beyond the vocals, the guitar, drums etc. and listen as a whole, and if it speaks to me as an emotion or story, that’s good writing all around. It’s a really good album, and I hope fans and everybody will think the same way. For example, the title track ‘Letters to Myself,’ is something that I can relate to. I understand the struggle with addiction and wanted to ask Jesper, what was it like resurfacing old wounds while writing this album?
Jesper: Yes, it’s about addiction, and it’s based on my own addiction. Basically, I wrote down not mumbo-jumbo, but I wrote down my feelings, how it feels to be in that black hole that it is to be an alcoholic, to be dependent, so dependent that you can’t live a day without drinking from morning to night. If you don’t get all the alcohol, you take whatever you can. It’s so filthy and destructive, and it affects so many people around you, like your family and your friends, and also yourself of course, because I should be dead seven times over with the cocktails I had in my body. I was basically just explaining how it feels, and then we adapted it lyrically. It’s also, some of the songs I think is about destructive relationships, but it can be destructive relationships to a woman or a man or a goat, or to drugs or alcohol.
I related it to a substance.
Jesper: Yeah, that’s basically the theme, I think, more or less on the album. It’s dark, but it’s not affecting me, like affecting me personally. It’s not like I feel bad playing the songs or hearing the lyrics. It’s behind me.
Jake E: I’ve been there myself, some kind of addiction, but it’s not drugs, some things, but that it felt good for you to lift it to the surface and write it down on a piece of paper.
Jesper: Yeah, it was awesome, because I never … For some reason, it’s easier to talk, to explain your feelings, but to write it on paper for me has been impossible. It’s just been a blank paper until we started to work together, and he encouraged me. One day I was just writing and writing and writing. You got a long text from me, it was not writing song lyrics or anything.
Jake E: It was feelings and thoughts. We also weren’t writing songs, but originally we had a cup of coffee and we had friendly therapy sessions when we wrote things, and I picked up a lot of the things that Jesper said and listened to what I had to say. He got them out as words that I could not understand my own feelings. When Jesper told them back, he interpreted my own feelings in a way, and I think that I interpreted his as well. We helped each other out to get those feelings on the table a little bit.
Because of great teamwork.
Jake E: Exactly.
Jesper: It was great teamwork.
Jake E: I never worked with anyone this good as with him.
Jesper: If something bothers us, we will talk about it.
Jake E: I want to dig deep, deep down a little bit more, more into these lyrics, because as I said before, I’m really, really happy that you got the whole thing, and I hope more people do that, but as you might understand as well, it’s that this is exactly what, at least I wanted key point in the lyrics is if you had an addiction problem, you will identify yourself, you will understand that it’s about addiction. At the same time, if you have problems in your relationship or at your work, you could feel directly that this lyric is about relationship issues or how you feel in general, because I tried to read it to never use words like, ‘I put a needle in my arm’ or, ‘I drink too much,’ I try to be metaphoric in a way that everyone could relate to it in their own way. And if someone were to relate about, like, it’s a bird playing with Legos, they could do that as well, I’m just happy.
Jesper: There’s a lot of types of addiction.
Jake E: Yeah, exactly. It could be an addiction in your relationship as well for love or sadness or something that you lost.
Or addicted to music, there are so many things.
Jesper: What’s good is because for me, I never, ever denied my addiction that so many people have. I think that also to listen to this album and maybe having followed in my career in the past and Jake’s can make people think that if he can do it, I can do it because music has power.
Jake E: We’re also role models for other people. There’s one line on the album that I really, really like, and it’s actually from, “Karma”. It goes, ‘Blood brothers lost along the ride, forever crucified.’ It could be ‘blood brothers,’ like people, but it could also be your girlfriend or boyfriend or the drug. I mean, something you are so close to that you have to let go, and you could never reattach again. That’s what I mean by this, metaphorically speaking.
Jesper: It’s as hard as burying your best friend, as to stop drinking, stop doing drugs. It’s like burying your best friend. It’s exactly the same process of grief, actually.
There’s a lot of diversity on the album, and I wanted to know, what made you guys make “Closure” sound more like a ballad track?
Jake E: The “Closure” track, I don’t really see it as a ballad, I see it as a semi-ballad.
Jesper: Yes. It’s like a more low-pace song. I don’t know what it was, complete details of the songs, but this one part of the song, it’s before you start singing. There is a guitar that goes in the background, and that’s been in my head for years. That’s the one I added.
Jake E: Yeah, and it’s fantastic. The beginning of the song is actually a sample, Street Things from New York, when we were here recording vocals. To answer your question, I always wanted ballads. I mean, I was the main writer behind one of Amaranthe songs ‘Amaranthine,’ which is one of the significant songs for Amaranthe, for example. Also a lot of the slower songs in Amaranthe. I’ve always loved to write ballad songs, but I don’t see ‘Closure’ as a ballad. I see ‘Closure’ as a semi, mid-tempo song. It clips up at the end, but both of us, we love that song. It’s one of the best songs on the album. We also have ‘Inside the Lullaby,’ that’s more of a ballad. There’s a lyric in that song (‘Closure’) that I’m very proud of, and it’s, “I was a child from the stars that got lost in the dark and between heaven and hell, I’m forced to live on.” That’s the feeling that both of us had, on ‘Closure.’ You’re fighting with yourself. You’re coming to a point where you have everything, but still nothing.
Jesper: With ‘Inside the Lullaby,’ we were discussing, is this too much of a ballad, but we said fuck it, let’s go. Do something that could be on a Disney movie or something. We don’t really care what people think. I think it’s a really beautiful song. Maybe sticks out a bit, always going to be such a guilty pleasure.
That’s another thing, you guys probably have to be prepared for hearing a lot of fans saying, ‘oh, this sounds like In Flames’, or, ‘this sounds like Amaranthe.’ What would you say to those fans who compare it to your previous projects?
Jake E: I think at this point in our career, we are rookies. This is our first album, we have one single out. We’re fortunate to have a fan base, and they only know about our past. They could only relate to me as the singer in Amaranthe, and Jesper as the guitar player from In Flames. Hopefully, in a year or a couple of months, people from the outside, that doesn’t even know what we’ve done before, can find CyHra on Spotify and just say, ‘oh, this is good.’ For now, people will compare CyHra’s big choruses and catchy hooks with Amaranthe, and all the catchy melodies and the way the riffs are and the set-ups of the songs to In Flames. I would not say that we’re a copycat of either of them. Of course, we were main writers in both our bands. We have our significant way of writing songs.
Jesper: We will be very exciting in melody. It’ll be exciting to drop the album, but it’s almost scary. I mean, I was so nervous when we dropped the single because we had no idea what people would think. Is this going to be a shit storm, because they saw us playing in Amaranthe and In Flames. You know how people are, not everyone, I mean, 99 percent of the music business there, which is this is cool stuff or it’s not. Then they have those, has to comment. There was, I was so surprised that it was almost 99, very, very positive response. It was of course, yeah, I should be proud. I mean, I am not stuck in 1999. This has nothing to do with In Flames. I just happened to play with In Flames seven years ago.
It can be a little bit frustrating when they always compare, they’re already comparing to how In Flames sound, how In Flames is, things like that. We are an independent band. We try to distance ourselves from our other bands. The longer the writing process went and the longer the recording process went, I could hear that yeah, this is a new sound. This is our band, this is our sound. That’s what we wanted to achieve, but I didn’t think, to be honest, that we would achieve it. I’m super happy with it.
Jake E: If you take it further, you will hear Def Leppard and Black Sabbath and Deep Purple in it as well. If you go back, because we’re using everything that they’ve ever done, and every band is doing it that’s what melody is. One thing that amazes me with people and music and dancing really is in the way that if you have a boyfriend or a girlfriend and you split ways seven years ago, and let’s say your boyfriend now then, he was dark haired, and seven years later, you come to your friends and you’re like hey, this is my new boyfriend. They wouldn’t tell you, yeah, but your old boyfriend, he was black-haired. Your new boyfriend is blonde. No one would criticize you for that, but in music, it’s completely okay to refer to that thing that happened seven years ago, which I think is a little bit funny.
Jesper: I think it’s natural, and metal especially, are very, very dedicated. They have a strong opinion. It’s very hard to please, you know, but I say, we don’t try to please them.
Is there any news that you guys can reveal about future touring plans?
Jake E: We’re working our asses off right now. We’re in a little bit of a catch-22 phase because we have great band material. We have great management, great bookers, we have everything like that, but we want to find a right tour. We have to be really choosy with picking one.
Jesper: And realistic. We’re not going to be like, ‘we’re not doing anything until we get Metallica,’ but we can’t start from the van tours again, it’s impossible.
Jake E: To answer your question, we’re working on it, and we have a lot of things happening. We have actually a lot of shows coming up and festivals are coming up already for next summer, and hopefully, we’ll come over here in the beginning of next year.
Jesper: I’m pretty sure that something will be announced in the next couple of months. We’re going to be here, but when it’s going to be announced, we don’t know.
Jake E: What’s your impression of the album, as a whole?
It takes me a while to listen to any album, but listening to it first I did notice the catchy and fun style from Amaranthe, and then I heard the melodic guitar movements similar to In Flames. Then I stopped myself and said, ‘wait a minute, this doesn’t sound like Amaranthe nor In Flames. This has its own identity.’ Then I noticed the dark lyrics and motion, and it overpowered me, because I related to the lyrics, especially in the title track, “Letters to Myself,” it’s just, something that I would personally do. I also looked at the album artwork and everything connects so well together.
Jake E: Awesome, that’s awesome. Thank you, that’s great to hear. It’s in one way, I’m sorry that it hit you that way, but I’m also happy that it hit you that way because some of the songs are disguised as happy songs. But they are not at all.
Jesper: If a song hit you like that. a song that we made, that’s amazing then we have something to be proud of with what we accomplished.
To me, there’s more to it than the instrumentation, it’s always about the emotion, the feeling, and the message and that’s what this album gave me, which makes it a great album.
Jake E: Good, I think it was described as we should. That was also one of the reasons because we went over to New York and we spent three weeks recording the vocals here because we needed to have the right vibe. I couldn’t do this nine to five, being in the studio, then come home around my family. That would mean that when I’m singing the songs, I would have another feeling in my body. I would have a happy feeling that soon I’m home with my kids, and you know, I did not want to have that feeling. I want to have a severe feeling about the lyrics.
Jesper: NY is perfect because we both had this. It’s like a home away from home now, and I would say that the samples in the beginning of ‘Closure’ is a reference that it’s here, but it’s important.
Jake E: Yeah, exactly. We have …
Jesper: I’m pretty sure it’s not the last time we do it. We came at a good place earlier before we started recording, and we’re just, I don’t know how to explain it. There’s magic in this town. I didn’t want to come home. Where are the sirens? Just to take your headphones on and walk and just watching people. I could do this all day long.
Jake E: Gothenburg was not, we couldn’t do that, Jakob Herrmann, one of the producers in Gothenburg, not an option, our other producer Jacob Hansen in Denmark, he has a top modern studio, and it’s a great studio. When you open the door, there are cows. There are fields, there’s nothing to do, which gives you no inspiration unless you want to make sounds about milk.
Or cow tipping.
Jake E: I told Jesper that I want to go somewhere. We were discussing going places in the world where we could go, and discussing going to some sunny place. Then New York came up, and we rented an apartment, rented our own studio and we brought the producer with us to record vocals. The good thing with New York is like, as I told you about the lyrics and you also understood that the lyrics are dark, but New York is a city of hope. You can go out and you can feel the possibilities that you can do, you can be whatever you want to be in the city, more or less, because if you want to work at one of these places that sell hot dogs around the corner, there are tons of them. You could go ask them if you could work there. If you want to work somewhere else, do something else, you could do that as well. There are so many opportunities.
You can always recreate yourself.
Jake E: You can recreate, exactly. New York is a great place for recreation. Good word there. What was good with the apartment that we rented is some days we went out at eight o’clock, started singing, sang a song, and then we went out, had dinner, and went to sleep. Other days we did not feel that this was the right time to sing. We spent the whole day in the city, did something. Went to Brooklyn, looked at the Statue of Liberty, went to Little Italy, had a pizza, went somewhere else and had two hours in Central Park and came home at 10 and then started to record. We had all these things, impact coming in while you’ve also been thinking about things the whole day. It was really good too. Some place you started at eight, took six hours off in the afternoon, and then continued in the afternoon. It was a really good way of working because as I said before if I would have sang in Gothenburg, I would have had to think about my family. At five o’clock, I would have had to go home. I would have to go to daycare to pick my daughter up or whatever. If we would have been in Denmark, a producer would have had to work until five and then take care of his family. We were in a place where none of us had any other obligations than to do the best album ever.
Jake E: No distractions, exactly. I think that’s part of why this album came out so good, in my own opinion, because we could totally centralize our thoughts into this is what we’re doing now. I miss my family the whole time outside of, this is my job and I had to make the best out of it.
It’s a really good album, and I really hope people think the same thing.
Jake E: Me too, me too. It’s always hard now when you’re a brand new band, you can’t just expect everything to explode. It’s hard work, it felt to us, but in the end, we wrote the album for ourselves, and of course we wanted to succeed, but there’s hundreds and hundreds of albums released these days. The competition is bigger than ever. Then you just hope that your album sticks out just a little bit.
It definitely does, this one stood out and spoke to me emotionally.
Jake E: Thank you, thank you for saying that.