Narnia's Christian Liljegren On The Launch Of The Waymaker & Crafting Their Debut Album

Christian Liljegren is a very busy man, but he decided to become busier a while back when he agreed with former DivineFire bandmate and guitarist Jani Stefanovic that they ought to start a new Melodic Metal venture geared towards a 21st century, accessible sound and were joined by vocalist Katja Stefanovic. The result is The Waymaker, and their self-titled debut album is out now.

For those keeping count, the band Narnia, that Liljegren founded with CJ Grimmark, is still active, and though DivineFire may have been retired, as The Waymaker gets underway, Liljegren is also hard at work on a new solo album. Nevertheless he was more than happy to take the time to talk with Tower's PULSE! from his home outside of Stockholm, Sweden.

Hannah Means-Shannon: I applaud people who have managed to make music during this time and the bands who have decided to go ahead and release new music right now. I think people really need it.

Christian Liljegren: I feel the same way. And not even just for Waymaker, but I’ve also been working on my solo album. I wrote most of the stuff between March and now, so now I’m in the middle of recording. My plan is to release it in February when I turn 50 years old, when I will also be celebrating 35 years as a Rock singer and my 14th album.

HMS: Congratulations on all of those! That’s very impressive, it really is.

CL: I’m deeply thankful to God that my health is still go and that I still have passion for music. Music is really something that you can hold onto and rely on in both bad and happy situations.

HMS: With Waymaker, how did you record those songs? Was it before the pandemic?

CL: Me and Jani, the guitar player, had the band DivineFire, and we did five albums together. He was in touch with me two years ago, and he said, “I have some ideas to do something new, something more melodic.” I listened to it and I really liked it, but I was in the middle of producing a new Narnia album, From Darkness to Light. That’s my main band. I am the founder and vocalist of Narnia, I have Waymaker, then I have my solo band. I did some stuff in Swedish as well. I think I am actually one of the most productive Swedish musicians.

HMS: Yes! Three bands.

CL: But then, I picked this stuff up last year. We started before the pandemic and then his wife Katja joined. I’ve always wanted to have a band with different voices and to co-work with female vocals. It’s more interesting to show different dynamics and colors in the song. I think we have quite a unique sound, still with quite heavy riffs and guitar base, but not just keyboard-laden.

We have a heavier approach, a classic Metal approach, but mixing our vocals into it. I come from Rainbow, Dio, that kind of stuff. Jani is more on the heavier side, with Metallica, Pantera. Katja has a more melodic style but she loves harder music as well. We mixed our views in a cool way. We attract a broad range of people, not just Metal people, but people into Pop or Rock with Waymaker.

HMS: I think it’s a very accessible sound.

CL: Thank you. We really want to have a modern, fresh sound for 2020. That’s also because we have Thomas "Plec" Johansson doing the mixing. I know that Jani and Thomas really know the technical details, but also bring a lot of feeling. We also have Alfred Fridhagen on the drums, not just sounding like a drum machine, but bringing an organic sound and good vibes into the song.

HMS: When you said that, it made me think of your video for “Kingdom of Heaven” where Alfred is set up in the little house, and it’s like he’s the king of the band. We know who’s really in charge here.

CL: Yes. We’re starting to get really good reviews back and that feels really great. We are looking forward to a long career for the band. We also have a really good relationship with Sound Pollution where we have a lot of artistic freedom. I also tell the fans, though, you need to support us and spend your money to buy the CD or LP these days. We can’t just get by on digital streaming. It’s happening, though, and I think the fans understand. Of course, we can’t buy everything, and I’m a record collector, too. But I think people are listening to music a lot more right now, during the pandemic, so that could be a positive thing.

HMS: People have the time to listen to whole albums right now, so if you want to do a concept album next, now’s the time!

Has it been helpful for Waymaker that all of you have been in other musical projects before where you have gained followers, so now when you want to tell people about Waymaker, you have that reach?

CL: Yes, exactly. With Narnia, we sold 300,000 or 400,000 albums and have been together since the mid-90s. We were doing this melodic thing in the middle of the Grunge and that was hard. But we were lucky to tour with Ronnie James Dio in 1998 and did 14 shows with him. He’s my absolute favorite vocalist and vocal influence. From that time, we really learned how to establish a good relationship with our fans.

Even with DivineFire, we spent a lot of time on tour with fans. I’m trying as much as I can now to communicate on social media. For me, personally, I am as much a music lover as the fans, and I have my favorite musicians. I have a lot of playlists I share. I’ve seen fans coming back asking for advice about bands to listen to.

HMS: We were talking about how much more melodic Waymaker is, but can you tell us a little bit more about how the sound for Waymaker is different from the sounds you associate with Narnia or DivineFire? When you’re writing songs, what stands out to you as being different?

CL: Comparing Waymaker to DivineFire, it is more dynamic. With DivineFire, we had a lot of fast songs, but here there is more space. We still have parts that are heavy and powerful, though. The use of different voices here also makes it different. We don’t like to repeat ourselves, but it’s me and Jani together, so sometimes you’ll hear elements that are like DivineFire, but with Waymaker I think I have the opportunity to use my voice differently. In Narnia, I’m the lead vocalist, but in Waymaker, I can sometimes push harder because Katja takes over, especially in a live situation, since we want to take this band on tour.

With Narnia, we also have more elements from the 70s and the 80s, even in a fresh production style. And with my solo album that’s coming, you can hear my influence from the 70s very clearly, with bands like Queen, Rainbow, Uriah Heep, that kind of vibe. For me, it’s very important that the bands and the sounds are different. Of course, some fans want the old sounds again, but most of the people are cool with it.

HMS: Well, you’ve had ten years since DivineFire to develop your approach to music and take in more influences.

CL: Yes, exactly. Jani has really developed his guitar playing a lot. He was a great guitarist in DivineFire but on those albums, he didn’t play as much solo. On this album, he plays all the solos except the Stryper song where CJ Grimmark from Narnia is guesting on the solo parts. It seems that CJ will also be part of the live set up, which will make Narnia fans happy. We need them both in a live situation to back each other up.

I’m very pleased with my own vocal performances on this album, too. I’ll be 50 years old soon but my voice is in great shape. I work very hard to keep it going and develop it into the lower and higher ranges.

HMS: Have you ever felt concerned that you were overdoing things, given all the bands and projects?

CL: The hard part is planning a tour so that things work night after night. I know that my voice is good two nights in a row, then it’s good to have a night off. I can do three nights in a row, but I can feel it at the end of the third night that I need a rest. It’s muscles. It’s like sports, you need rest.

HMS: Your first video for the single “The Waymaker” feels like it’s introducing the band to the world since people haven’t seen you together as this band yet. Especially without touring right now, that’s a great idea. When was that video put together?

CL: We started to film that just before the lockdown period. What we were trying to say is that everyone needs a Waymaker. We all need to be Waymakers for our friends and families. In this band, we are all Christians and we see Jesus as the most important Waymaker. We wanted to express that everyone needs someone who can help you. That’s our vision. We want to do really good music that takes up tough subjects sometimes, good and bad, but express that we believe we have a Waymaker. Even if people aren’t believers, we hope that they have someone in their lives who can be a Waymaker for them.

HMS: I did catch that idea in the lyrics and the video, and I also got the sense that there’s a challenge for audiences. Because we are often looking to other people in our lives to help us, and that’s good, and we should accept help, but hey, are we doing that for other people? Are we passing that on? We should also be helping others.

CL: Our album and the songs seem really to apply these days.

HMS: I don’t really need to ask why you like Stryper, because they are Stryper. But what made you choose “Soliders Under Command” for your cover on this album?

CL: When I was growing up, I was in a Christian family, and it was around the time when there was a lot of talk about “the Devil’s Music” in terms of Rock ‘n Roll. We had a Christian school group after school, and the Youth Pastor had a cassette of “Soldiers Under Command”. I was around 14 years old, and when I heard that song by Stryper, I was really blown away. It really made me feel like I wanted to do this kind of music with a heavenly message. That song really started a spark in me.

I’ve done two tours with Stryper, one in 2010, and one last year. I got a chance to tell Michael [Sweet] and the guys how much they inspired me. They were also really happy to have Narnia on the tour. I told them that they were the reason I was standing there doing Metal music, and I told him about this song. I asked him if I could do a new version of the song, and it’s been amazing. Michael Sweet shared it and people have been sharing it. They really liked the vibe, with our identity but classic elements.

Actually, me and Jani already did a demo version of “Soldiers Under Command” for DivineFire, but it only got to the demo stage. It’s something that we came back to in order to make a final version, adding Katja’s voice and Jani’s voice. That song is really special to me because it really started things for me.

I’ll never forget the first time I saw Stryper, on June 2nd, 1987, in Stockholm, on the ‘To Hell With The Devil’ Tour. In the video, you’ll see me, at age 16, going to the concert with the ‘To Hell with the Devil’ shirt. I remember the guards were telling me to calm down and stop standing on the chairs because I was quite short at that age.

HMS: I love it! That’s amazing.

Our motto for Tower Records is “No Music, No Life”, also written “Know Music, Know Life”. Which do you prefer and how does it apply in your life?

CL: For me, knowing new music and new songs has been an amazing journey through life. I can go back to songs and understand later on in life how these songs affect me. For example, in my case, with Stryper, those songs had so much impact on who I am today, not only as a Rock musician, but as a human being. So really, it’s also a challenge for me to make new music so that continues.

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