I recently had the chance to catch up with guitarist, songwriter and back-up vocalist Jonas Blomqvist who just returned from a tour with Bhavana Reddy in India earlier this year. The song ‘Smells Like Rain,’ which Blomqvist co-wrote with Bhavana and Dennis Benny Nilsson, was nominated for the 2014 International Songwriting Competition and made it to the top one percent out of 19,000 submissions, a beyond impressive accomplishment considering it was their first collaboration as songwriters.
Although our interview mostly focuses on Blomqvist’s work on Bhavana Reddy’s solo project, it is important to note that his talents and band affiliations extend far beyond the one band. Blomqvist is currently the guitarist for Superfix, an LA-based heavy rock band led by Kalen Chase from KoЯn, Rachelle & The Rising, the classic rock cover band Reckless and Suns of Defiance.
PLM: Where are you from and what was it like growing up there?
JB: I was born and raised in Stockholm, Sweden. Growing up there was great – I had everything a kid could ask for. I may not have realized it back then but I see now, having travelled to many different places around the world, that I was actually very well of. My parents played music for me while I was still in my mother’s belly by putting headphones on it! I believe this was important for my interest in music!
PLM: How and when did you get into music?
JB: My dad is a classical piano player and influenced my interest in music greatly. Both my parents were always very supportive. My musical journey started with the trombone when I was 9 and from there I went on playing the piano and the drums until I discovered the guitar at 14. Music is one and the same to me and I just found the guitar to be a suitable instrument for me to express my music on.
PLM: How many instruments do you play and how long have you been playing each?
JB: I mainly play the guitar and sing backup vocals but I can also play electric bass and some basic drumbeats. I have been playing the guitar for 14 years now.
PLM: How did you start working with Bhavana Reddy?
JB: It started in the latter part of 2011 when I met Bhavana at Musicians Institute in Hollywood, CA where we became friends. One day she said to me that she had some lyrics that she wanted to explore. We started writing her biggest song ‘Smells Like Rain’.
PLM: How many people are in the band with you and what do they play?
JB: The basic band consists of 5 members (Drums, Bass, Guitar, Keyboard and Bhavana on vocals). Sometimes she has additional instruments, like Violin or Indian classical percussion instruments.
PLM: What songs have you and Bhavana co-written?
JB: We wrote her biggest song ‘Smells Like Rain’ together. We also wrote a song called ‘Why Do We love’ together
PLM: Have you written any of them on your own? If so, can you tell me about your inspiration for those songs?
JB: I have not written any of Bhavana’s songs entirely on my own. Bhavana has a very clear vision of what she wants in a song and that is what makes her music so great. She is involved in everything, like she should be.
PLM: How does the fact that you are both from different cultures affect the overall sound of the music?
JB: She grew up in India in the 90’s and is very influenced by blues, rock and grunge. I grew up in Sweden and I’m influenced by the same things. That makes this an interesting blend of Indian concept of melodies blended with western harmonies held together by a string of poetry.
PLM: You also play with Superfix and several other heavy rock bands– was it awkward or challenging going from the bands you normally play with to Bhavana’s more feminine rock vibe?
JB: I recognize good music when I hear it. If it’s good it doesn’t matter to me what genre it is. The feminine rock vibe is great! I love Bhavana’s voice and combined with her vision it makes this a really great band.
PLM: What albums have you been a part of with Bhavana? Can you tell me about the vibe and journey the album takes audiences on?
JB: Her career has only started. It started with an epic album and I am very happy and proud to be a part of it and more to come. She takes the listener on an exotic neo-psychedelic journey. Her live performances are visually in sync with theatrical/story telling of the lyrics through the Indian classical art form of Kuchipudi dance. As a whole, Bhavana’s music plays with the essence of rich Indian heritage in a language known to you.
PLM: How much influence did you have on the album?
JB: I co-wrote the most successful song on it. The fact of the matter is that this is a solo project and I don’t believe in a solo project that is driven too much by somebody else than the solo artist so I did not want to be too involved. I think my involvement ‘Smells Like Rain’ speaks for itself and I am very happy and proud to work with such an amazing talent as Bhavana. She has what it takes to go really far!
PLM: You guys recently finished a tour in India isn’t that right? How was it?
JB: The tour in India was a huge success! We did 10 dates across the country – 7 shows and 3 songwriting clinics during January and February of 2015. The first 2 shows were divided into music/dance performances. Bhavana is the daughter of renowned Kuchipudi duo Raja and Radha Reddy who are extremely well known and well respected in India. We did 3 songwriting workshops for about 1000 high school kids where we had some fun and talked about our songwriting progress. Both shows and clinics were very well received by the fans!
We did 2 combined music/dance performances in big auditoriums in 2 different cities in India. The crowd was around 300 each time. The last 5 shows we did was Bhavana Reddy’s album launch tour in India with her album ‘Tangled in Emotions’, featuring a song I wrote with Bhavana Reddy and Dennis Nilsson called ‘Smells Like Rain’. On this part of the tour we played 5 Indian Hard Rock Cafes in 5 different cities in 6 days.
PLM: Which show was your favorite of the tour and why?
JB: My personal favorite was Hard Rock Cafe Mumbai. The crowd was amazing, we played great and the press commotion was crazy. A very nice feeling!
PLM: What was it like performing in India?
JB: It’s very humbling. Their level of respect for this type of western/Indian music is immense. India truly gave us the rock star treatment and I know I’m going to go back there and play again and I know I will love it.
PLM: Do you have any memories from the story that standout in your mind?
JB: I was signing autographs for a 3-year-old who could spell his name. I don’t think I could do that when I was 3!
PLM: Why are you passionate about playing music?
JB: Because I remember what it felt like falling in love with music for real as a young teenager and I have always kept that child inside of me and will never forget him for as long as I live.
PLM: How do you feel when you’re playing on stage? Was it something you had to get used to, or were you immediately comfortable in front of the crowd?
JB: It is one of my favorite things to do! Especially if it’s with people I like both as friends and musicians. There are few things better in life than a really successful show with a great band and a great audience. I always liked playing on stage but it took some time initially getting comfortable enough not to screw up on stage in front of people.
PLM: Who are some of your music influences, and how have they influenced you?
JB: I grew up listening to lots of classical music but also the greatest hits at that time (1990’s). Then came my first real musical love, which was Metallica and this evolved into more complex rock like Dream Theater and The Aristocrats. I also really enjoy any good commercial hit song, whatever the genre. My biggest influences on the guitar are Guthrie Govan, John Petrucci, Paul Gilbert and Marty Friedman. I will always have rock closest to heart but I like any music as long as it’s interesting. If it’s not interesting to me I respect it because it is all from one and same source.