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KEE OF HEARTS – Rolling The Dice
Anthony Morgan
October 2017

Kee Of Hearts (l-r): Ken Sandin, Kee Marcello, Tommy Heart and Marco Di Salvia

The brainchild of Frontiers Music Srl founder Serafino Perugino, the existence of melodic rock project Kee Of Hearts was disclosed on May 19th, 2017. Kee Of Hearts pairs former Europe guitarist Kee Marcello with Fair Warning vocalist Tommy Heart, hence its moniker. Efforts on a debut full-length studio album began in late 2016.

“That was his idea, to come up with a project where me and Tommy Heart of Fair Warning would do something together,” Kee continues. “I never had that thought in my head before he mentioned it, but once he got me started, I was thinking ‘That could really work.’ My melodic guitar playing and his amazing voice, I thought that that could really work, and it sure did. It was really effortless; it felt like we were meant to do this. Pretty easy, actually, like a walk in the park.”

Prior to the creation of Kee Of Hearts, the axeman and Tommy were not personally acquainted. “No, not at all,” he confirms. “Obviously, I had known of his work. I had always respected him as a singer, because he’s an amazing singer. We had never even met before this though, so it was a new friendship getting started, and a great new working relationship. We both love it. It’s great.”

Rounding out Kee Of Hearts’ line-up are keyboardist Alessandro Del Vecchio, drummer Marco Di Salvia, and bassist Ken Sandin. “Alessandrio Del Vecchio, he’s obviously been a house writer and producer for Frontiers for many years,” Kee references. “Then there’s Marco the drummer. I think me and Marco played on the same album, because I played on two albums with Pino Scotto who he normally plays with. I don’t know if you have heard of Pino Scotto, but he’s sort of the Italian Ozzy Osbourne if you will. He recently had his own TV show which aired three times a week, which is basically talking between rock videos. I played on two of Pino’s albums though, and Marco has been his drummer for the longest time. He was previously involved with Frontiers.

“I brought Ken Sandin into the mix. I had worked with Ken for so many years, since the turn of the millennium, so I really feel so much safer with Ken in the rhythm section. He can glue anything together; the riffs I make with Ken are a marriage made in heaven.”

The formation of a given assortment naturally leads to the adoption of a moniker, Kee Of Hearts borrowing its name from its two central personnel of course. “We got a fair bit of criticism about the name,” the axe-slinger reflects. “A lot of people think it’s lame, but the thing is that every time we were in the process of getting a name for the band, there were several different suggestions flying around. Somebody suggested Skylander, which doesn’t even start to make sense (laughs). There were a lot of names flying around, though. Finally, someone was talking about a deck of cards and the gambling process and all that, and at the same time it was something that could capture both of our brand names in one name. That’s where it came from, hence Kee Of Hearts.”

Kee Of Hearts is arguably a fitting moniker, representing the pairing of the two melodic rockers. “It’s very product descriptive,” Kee agrees. “It’s almost like Ikea furniture; you know immediately what it is from the name (laughs). It doesn’t make sense to you guys, but in Sweden, with all of the furniture in Ikea, the names actually mean what they are.”

Kee Marcello

Songwriting sessions for the resultant self-titled affair differed to past works to have included the performer’s involvement. “This project was kind of unusual for me, kind of a first experience, really,” he muses. “I haven’t written anything, really. Alessandro Del Vecchio wrote most of the music, but there are some outside writers. Tommy’s been writing some lyrics, but neither me or Tommy wanted to go into this as songwriters for one simple reason. Alessandro had so many strong songs to present to us, so when he came into the project, he had a lot of great songs on the table so to speak. We just started recording, because it felt like this was where we wanted to go. In the future of course, we wanted to be writing for the project also, but this first album was a very good opportunity to kick-start this new project – to have all of these great songs and this start to dig into it.”

When a songwriter harbours such a prolific nature as Alessandro, the danger of compositions being too musically similar can be an overriding concern. “Of course, that was a concern for us, but when I heard the songs, I could hear the end results,” Kee clarifies. “It’s also the mix of it all. I know what my guitars can add and so forth. I think it really sounds different from a lot of the other Frontiers productions, and that’s of course due to the fact that Tommy sings and I play. It’s always a risk when a producer gets a lot of gigs; it was pretty much the same thing back in the days when Bob Rock was producing every band, or Robert ‘Mutt’ Lange. They all had some of the same timbre, so there were the same sounding albums over and over again. It’s always a danger when somebody gets too successful.”

Although mostly authored by Alessandro et al, Kee and Tommy helped shape the resultant tracks. “I was on tour all of the time,” the musician remembers. “Tommy was more involved in the song process, so to speak. I was sent songs and had my opinions, and then when we agreed on a bunch, we went for it. Most of the stuff he sent I really liked, but it’s not only Alessandro – some of the songs were written by outside writers. It was actually a Swedish songwriting team who contributed a couple of songs, but the thing was from day one, we treated it like it was our badge so to speak. We were never step-parents to the songs on this album. We were parents from day one, so we just started working on them and tweaked them the way we liked. When I get demos for projects like this, I normally change stuff. When I put my guitars on, maybe I get an idea to change bass lines or other parts. It’s like an ongoing negotiation once you start recording, because sometimes I have really good ideas (laughs).”

The musical flavour generated by the collaboration is perhaps not what one would expect. “That’s kind of interesting,” Kee reckons. “I would’ve thought it was sort of like a mixture of Europe and Fair Warning and sometimes it does, but I get a bit of a Journey vibe as well. I guess that’s Alessandro, but it’s really cool. I like that kind of… It’s definitely AOR, but I like the way it came out. I’m happy that it didn’t come out like a perfect mix of Europe and Fair Warning, because that would’ve been pathetic. I think it leads a life of its own, so to speak.”

When the time arrives for the guitarist to pen material for the project, a musical deviation will likely not transpire. “I think it would probably sound in this vein,” he ponders. “To me, it came out like a proper style straight away; it feels like we have a musical style and a musical direction. I already have some ideas in the same vein, so it will be interesting to see how they sound.”

The lyrical fare complimenting the self-titled outing happens to be straightforward in nature. “It’s actually very straight from the heart type of lyrics, like person to person relations, which I think is the only way of doing it with this kind of music,” Kee analyses. “You can’t go Franz Kafka on people’s asses with this kind of melodic music – it’s got to be relatable. For example, ‘Twist Of Fate’ is a classic theme for a song. We’re all struck by fate once in a while, whatever fate is. Nobody knows. Sometimes it’s luck, but sometimes it’s bad luck. Something happens maybe for a reason, or maybe not for a reason. That’s a really interesting topic for a song, I think. That worked out great there. My favourite ‘Mama Don’t Cry’ is really interesting; it’s got this sort of very sort of bittersweet verse, with interesting things going on there, and then it runs into a rather positive, major chorus. I like the contrast. It shouldn’t work, but it really works for some reason. That’s a great song.”

As is the case with many international projects, each member largely cut their parts separately. “Like so often nowadays, you get to do it in your own studio,” the axeman discloses. “Even though me and Ken live in the same city, we didn’t do the stuff together, mainly because I’m so busy. Ken did come over here; we had one-hour meetings twice just to go through all of the stuff. He recorded most of the bass in his own studio, in his house, and I recorded in my studio. I’ve got two studios; one about a seven-minute car ride from where I live, and a line studio in the house. Between the two of those, I recorded all of my guitars. Sometimes when I really want to blast out those Marshalls, I can’t do it in the house out of respect for the neighbours (laughs), so I go to the soundproofed studio I’ve got.

“Alessandro sent demos, and it was Tommy’s scratch vocals and a demo guitar. What I always do when I get material is I listen to the songs, I learn the passages, and then I just take away everything except drums, bass, and vocals and go from there. It’s a building process; rock ’n’ roll is built upon riffs, not chords. It’s got to make sense, because there are lines working together, and you have to build everything from the riffs. Then I bring in the keyboards, backgrounds. I work that way, just to see where it needs beefing up. Then it’s really easy for me to make the arrangements.”

Guitar parts laid down for demo purposes tend to be quite basic. “99.9% of all demo guitars are pure shit,” Kee laments. “It’s the diametrical opposite to my guitar playing, just playing those basic chords, and I hate it so much. It always makes me sick. I take them away, so they can be organic, pumping riffs, and cool grooves and stuff happening. I hate demo guitars, even my own, but I rarely do them. I try to capture a riff already in the songwriting phase.”

A musician wouldn’t be so inclined to add their own individual should the demo guitar parts happen to be up to standard. “Right, exactly,” the axe-slinger concurs. “That helps doing it. Respectfully, sometimes somebody has a great idea, and then you have to reproduce that idea and do it as good as you can. Normally though, when you’re talking about songwriters, they don’t worry so much about guitar arrangements. They don’t need you to hear the whole picture, so that’s how I work. Often, there are examples of the opposite as well (laughs).

“I remember I played on Eric Carr’s posthumous release a couple of years ago (Unfinished Business, November 2011); somebody collected all of his demos and stuff and then released a posthumous album, and I played on one of the songs. It was a couple of years ago, but I remember I did some really inspired guitar riffs on that song – a signature Kee Marcello solo, so to speak. I was really happy with it, and the verses included acoustic guitars, which really worked as well. Then some years passed, and they released this album. When I got it, I got it from Eric Carr’s sister, actually. I put it on the stereo if you will, and they only kept the acoustic guitars (laughs). That was just horrible, because I hated the rhythms and I hated the solo on there. I still had to live with my guitars being on the same track, and that was agony to me.

“One part of me wanted to say ‘Come on, Kee. You’re doing this for Eric.’ I met Eric when he was in really bad shape, before he passed away and all that. Of course, I wanted to do that for him and his family, but at the same time, I couldn’t let go of the thought that these motherfuckers took away my guitar riffs and my solo, and traded it for pure shit. I did do a demo with my guitars, but I don’t think I have it any more. It would have been interesting to compare. The song was called ‘The Elephant Man’, and that’s exactly how I think it turned out; as beautiful as the Elephant Man (laughs).”

Cover artwork responsibilities were handled by Anders Fästader. “Anders Fästader is really good,” Kee enthuses. “His name is Anders Fästader, but everybody calls him Nippe. He’s a really good designer; he actually did Scaling Up for me (October 2016), and actually several different covers for me through the years. The thing is, me and Anders both love Hipgnosis, a designing team who did all of the cool album covers in the 70s and 80s. They did Peter Gabriel, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd. They were just the best, and we’re fans of them. They always had double and triple meanings behind their covers.

“What happened was, with Kee Of Hearts, the obvious relation was playing cards, a casino, and all that. He’s added a roulette wheel obviously, and he’s throwing these playing cards. You can see he’s got a little brooch on his jacket and that’s like the Illuminati and the all-seeing eye, so he’s covering one of his eyes. There’s all stuff like that going on – you know, the Illuminati, like the Freemasons. You don’t want to make it too obvious, of course. The vinyl is really cool, because when you open it up and take out the inner sleeve, you can actually see the guy’s face. It’s kind of like a scary eye. It’s very influenced by Hipgnosis; they did some really cool covers with Peter Gabriel, as well, the 70s Peter Gabriel stuff.”

Music videos filmed to promote the jaunt were recorded in Italy. “We shot them while I was in Italy, performing at the Frontiers festival with the Kee Marcello band,” the entertainer tells. “It was in March. Me and Ken stayed for an extra couple of days, and so we recorded those two videos in a recording studio. One was basically done in a white room, which I think really works in the context of the video. ‘The Storm’, you have nothing except the band – just white. I like that kind of look. I think the guys did a good job on this one.”

Kee met Tommy for the first occasion shortly prior to the aforementioned clips being filmed. “I met him a couple of days earlier,” he discloses. “That would have been awkward, because doing a rock video is almost like making out (laughs). It would be like meeting someone for the first time. No, we were hanging for several days before that. He was there for the same reasons, so we were just talking about music, hanging, and all that. I think it’s impossible to just walk into a room and try to shoot a video with somebody you haven’t met previously.”

Kee Of Hearts (l-r): Kee Marcello and Tommy Heart

Having cut an entire full-length prior to a face-to-face conversation, one potential concern might’ve been actually developing a dislike for his new musical sparring partner. “That would be a nightmare, wouldn’t it?,” the musician laughs. “The funny thing is, I’ve done a lot of different projects, and most people are friendly. If you want to engage in a project and submit to do something like that, you’ve gotta be willing to play the game so to speak. You wouldn’t see Yngwie part of a project like this (laughs). You couldn’t afford a hangar big enough for his head, so that would be impossible.”

Such comments suggest Kee isn’t a fan of Yngwie. “He is who he is,” he reasons. “I know him, so maybe that’s worse (laughs). I know how he is.”

The guitarist’s reply strengthens that notion. “We are friends, in a funny way,” he shares. “He is what he is. He is an asshole, but he’s kind of a funny asshole. There are different kinds of assholes, I think. Funny assholes have a pass (laughs). I think they can make themselves funny in the right situations.”

Further videos may be in the pipeline. “I’m quite sure there will be,” Kee feels. “I haven’t talked to the label, but I’m voting for ‘Mama Don’t Cry’. I think that could be a really cool video, so I’m hoping for that. There are definitely gonna be more videos. I decided that right now, that there are gonna be more videos (laughs).”

Perhaps it would be best to liaise with Serafino prior to spending his cash, it is jested. “If he doesn’t want to spend his money, I’ll fucking pay for them,” the axeman chuckles. “We need a video for ‘Mama Don’t Cry’, because it’s such a good song. I believe it’s actually a hit; it could be a big hit, and I’m not alone. A friend of mine, a manager guy, he feels the same way. He listens to it like ten times a day, and he’s convinced that this is going somewhere. So yeah, I’ve got to act on that notion, definitely. The good thing with this project is that it is actually selling pretty good in territories we expected, like south-east Asia. Both Europe and Fair Warning were huge in Japan and South America, but in America as well, so we’re going forward. Pretty cool.”

Kee Of Hearts may potentially become a touring concern. “I think there’s a pretty good chance of it probably becoming a touring band,” Kee judges. “That’s the plan, anyway. We just signed a trial contract, if you will, with management to see where we can go with this, because we have a good feeling about it. We have a good feeling about the material and the band itself, and what we can make happen with it in the future, so we’ll give it a shot. We’re already planning to do some festivals in 2018. Nothing is booked so far, but we’re working on different scenarios. As you probably know, both me and Tommy are super-busy as well. First of all, we have to try to find a place in our calendars to do this, but I’m thinking we can do some festivals in the summer and possibly some gigs.”

And as well, a second full-length is likely. “I spoke to Tommy about that,” the axe-slinger informs. “We said about getting ready for recording a second record pretty fast. Why not, while we’re going and things are going pretty well? So, the start of 2018. Until then, both me and Tommy are super-busy. I think I’ve got every date covered until Christmas, but yeah, 2018… That’s the next time I’m free. We’re gonna get together and start planning it, and possibly have it ready for the autumn of 2018.”

Solo-wise, Kee is in the process of crafting a follow-up to October 2016 outing Scaling Up. “Oh, definitely,” he states. “I’m actually writing songs for that right now, but I don’t know when we’re gonna be able to record it. I have to speak to the record company about that, and that’s the thing. My solo career and Kee Of Hearts are both on the same label, so we need to have a meeting about that. I think I might come down to Naples and speak to Serafino and Mario about how to make this not collide, because we need to do both things in parallel so to speak. Definitely though, I’m in the writing process right now. I’ve got at least three or four songs. I’ve got two demos already, so it’s taking shape.

“It’s going to be a follow-up to Scaling Up, and in the same vein. Songwriting wise, I would describe it as sort of 70s-80s riff-influenced music, which is pretty much just what I’ve always done. If you think about it, I grew up in the 70s listening to all of these bands, and then I started my career in the 80s for real. That’s when I produced some of the bigger stuff, so that’s what it sounds like. I do riffs that make you think about the 70s, but they sound more like from an 80s guy in the now because the sound is different, and the guitar tone is different from what it was back then. I would guess melodic, 70s-80s music, but now. That’s what I think it is (laughs).”

Kee Of Hearts was released on September 15th, 2017 via Frontiers Music Srl.

Interview published in October 2017. All promotional photographs by Johnny Pixel.

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