Petter Heinemann of Dictator Ship Says We're Long Overdue For a Revolution

Petter Heinemann of Swedish Rockers Dictator Ship joined Whitney Moore for our Tower Live show. The band's first full album is out now, with Your Favorites.

Heinemann was seated outside on a summer’s day to talk to us, in Sweden, a country with no quarantine currently. The whole world is affected, he agreed, but he just tends to do what authorities recommend. Almost 5000 people who have died in Sweden due to COVID. Compared to other countries in Scandinavian, it’s a fairly large number, though.

It hasn’t affected their album that much, except that it does keep them from doing shows. They’ve had good reviews, so it hasn’t worried them too much. “You have to stay calm.”, he recommended.

They’ve never toured internationally for Dictator Ship, though they have done many shows in Sweden. They’d love to go and tour in Spain, he confirmed. Which seemed to be a Swedish preference given the other bands we’ve spoken to! The reason for that is that they have a great Rock n Roll scene in Spain, Heinemann said.

They’ve never done a tour for this band, though they’ve done shows here and there, he said. They are planning to do a new tour soon. They aren’t in a position plan yet when it comes to playing live, though. They’ll wait until borders are open.

Swedish people are being restricted from traveling to other European countries because they haven’t had much lock down. It’s a “new situation” and everyone needs to “adjust”. There’s a lot of lack of knowledge. Everyone just has to “ride it out”, Heinemann recommended.

It was very bright outside for late evening during Heinemann’s show, and he reminded that there’s “The Midnight Sun never Sets”, a song about the Swedish sun, by Quincy Jones from when he visited Sweden. Heinemann hasn’t seen the Midsommar film yet, though.

The band recorded the new album on an old console from the 1970s, Moore commented, and Heinemann said it was surprisingly “uncomplicated” to do so. They recorded all the instruments live and added the vocals afterwards. They rehearsed a lot before recording and they were well-prepared for what they wanted to do when they “hit the red button” in the studio.

John Sijbren Leonard, who did the recording and producing had a clear idea of how to set things up. Heinemann just played the guitar, he laughed.

They tried to make an album that “sounded like us” and it happened to sound very retro. They wanted to record the songs the way they were written and rehearsed. In a previous interview, John said that it’s very hard, actually, to capture your sound without producers.

Fans can really hear a live sound from the album, which is nice since it can take the place of touring for a while. Playing this music the way they do, they allow a lot of “improv” without a lot of things being “super arranged” in terms of guitar solos and the like. But the arrangements themselves are set up carefully.

“It’s a hassle” be a musician, Heinemann laughed. How does his songwriting process go, exactly? He says that he writes the song, takes it to rehearsal spaces, plays it for the other musicians, and then he leaves it to them to develop it, since he “knows and trusts” them. They all then have an “idea of how they are going to play it.” Then he makes some suggestions about changes, and Viktor Henriksson, the drummer, may say, “I don’t want to do that.” And he’s usually right.

What are some of the themes or ideas on the new album? “There is something going on in this world right now, all over, not just in the USA” with protests, Heinemann says. It’s happening in Sweden, too, which Heinemann thinks is great. The album is the first “step” or “chapter” of something that will become a “great almighty work of working class hymns”, he declared.

He said that the current “tension” in the world is good. Any form of “protest” against a “corrupt society” is essentially good, Heinemann feels. The peaceful protests are the ones that will make things happen, but without the burning and looting, the “powerful” messages, the non-violent kind will never “rise above”, he feels.

“Pick your poison. Do it your own way.”, Heinemann said when it comes to listening to the new album. If you don’t like it, throw it away. If you do like it, keep it. It’s all fine with him!

Viktor Henriksson the drummer joined us, as well as some of the other band members, and family members, in the outdoor setting of a park. Are there songs that didn’t end up on the album, Moore asked? How did they decide on the order.

It’s fairly random in terms of order, Heinemann said, and it’s presented in the order of  their actual live performance in the studio. When Moore approvingly commented on Heinemann’s “chill” attitude, he said that he does get stressed out, like everyone else.

Their music video for “Savage”, released in March, has a “vintage” feel, Moore observed. They are planning on doing something “next” that might be video related, Heinemann teased. A friend of theirs helped with the video, and also the layout and design for their album cover. He’s from the band called Obnoxious Youth. To make the video for “Savage”, they had a green screen, which they used to make it look like they were on “Top of the Pops”.

The band is practicing and working on new stuff, though there’s “not much to tell” about it right now. Some of it’s good, some of it “needs work”, he laughed. Viktor Henriksson revealed that they have 7 songs, almost enough for another album.

Are current events affecting the songs coming up? What is currently happening has been happening for a long time, Heinemann commented. But regarding Black Lives Matter, that’s a current event but it’s been going on for hundreds of years. “Someone forgot to put Black Lives on the All Lives Matter list, and that’s a big problem.”, Heinemann said. And it’s also the same for indigenous people all over the world, he added. Racists, capitalist structures all over the world are “bringing people to their knees”, he explained. Things repeat themselves in history and reading books can also shed light on this situation, Heinemann recommended.

When it comes to song writing, it has to be “personal opinions and personal views” but it’s all about “class and economic equality” for him, Heinemann said. He thinks theses problems in the world are “all about money” and have an “economic solution”. Current problems “are not current”, he concluded.

Doctor Cornel West is a big inspiration to Heinemann and he listens to him every week, so there are a lot of people with the right message in the USA, both Heinemann and Moore agreed. West likes to use musical references in his lectures and speeches, like referencing B.B. King. Almost every time he lectures, West mentions King and also John Coltrane, Heinemann said.

Soul musicians are a big inspiration for Heinemann, and he thinks that the Black Power movement that came before the Soul movement was very important because it showed “unity”. Then with Soul music, harmonies and Gospel aspects came in, and growth. There’s a connection to Sweden, he said, since they had their own progressive labor movement in the 1970s, by the people, for the people. That will never become “outdated”.

Heinemann thinks that there’s a battle that we fight “within ourselves” and that’s what we are experiencing, as humans, now. It’s time to fight racism, greed, and more. It’s not anyone else’s problem to solve but our own, Moore agreed.

Are these themes in Dictator Ship’s music? Heinemann feels that’s true for him, though he’s not sure if other people can see it in their work. Whether the band sings about love, getting drunk, or being hung over, there’s always a bigger motive behind that.

The 2020s are now a time of “revolution”, Heinemann said, and “It’s long overdue.”

Asked about our Tower motto, No Music, No Life, Heinemann explained that he heard someone say that without music, life would be a “mistake”. And that sums it up for him. Music is the same as love for him, something that even old people love. Maybe even Trump and other world leaders might love music, probably bad music, but still. It’s like food and oxygen to human beings. 

Heinemann’s message to fans is “Stay safe, wash your hands, do your thing, don’t panic. And if you are in quarantine, use the time for reflection. Read and listen to music, which are both good things to do.?

Who should we listen to? The whole band got involved making recommendations while sitting in the park. Some of the names they called out were: Chuck Berry, Ray Charles, AC/DC, Skip James, Big Mama Thornton, The Supremes, Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, Simon Day, Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin, Tina Turner, and Sly and the Family Stone.

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