Ex-THUNDERMOTHER Members Find New Life With THE GEMS: 'Nobody Wanted To Stay In That Toxic Environment'
February 6, 2024
By David E. Gehlke
THUNDERMOTHER founding member and guitarist Filippa Nässil unilaterally fired lead vocalist Guernica Mancini in early 2023. It was a questionable move given the Swedish rockers' gradual uptick in popularity and perhaps most consequential of all, Mancini's capabilities as a frontwoman and vocalist. (Read: Evidence suggests she's currently one of the best in rock.) Nässil misread the room, though, when Emlee Johansson (drums) and Mona Lindgren (bass) objected to the decision and decided to leave THUNDERMOTHER with Mancini. An Internet bruhaha ensued, but ultimately, the rock world received a reformatted THUNDERMOTHER and a new band from Mancini, Johansson and Lindgren (now on guitar),THE GEMS.
"Phoenix" is the name of THE GEMS' debut studio album, an appropriate title considering what all three experienced during their time with THUNDERMOTHER. There are still some hard feelings and healing to be done on the part of THE GEMS, who, when collectively speaking to BLABBERMOUTH.NET, did not hide their disdain for Nässil and her ways of running a band. However, all three women recognize the opportunity in front of them with THE GEMS to re-write their story, which begins with "Phoenix" and a slate of live dates scheduled throughout 2024.
Blabbermouth: Filippa commented that "friendship" was not a requirement for a band. Would you like to offer your view on what that means to you within the context of THE GEMS?
Guernica: "If you get to have a friendship with your bandmates, it's amazing. I think it's a rare thing. I think everyone hopes and wishes to be friends with their bandmates, but you can easily have a band without being friends, run it as a business and have respectful co-workers. In THUNDERMOTHER, I can honestly say it was bullshit. We were really good at making it seem like we were good friends. Behind the scenes, we would all go and hide in our rooms and play with our phones. I'm an extroverted person. I became the most introverted person ever in that band. It was such a toxic environment. There was no room to be yourself and be the friend you are. Whereas we three now are friends. We actually have fun together. We also work very well together. That's why it's so important to hold onto what we have. It is so hard to find and we know this because we've been in several bands. What we've found is unique. I'm very grateful that I have both friends and bandmates in Emlee and Mona."
Mona: "What we have is mutual respect. We can listen to what other people are feeling so we can communicate. We fight a lot. All bands fight. You fight with your partner in your relationship, but that doesn't mean you don't love them. You need to have mutual respect for each other and be able to discuss things. Of course, in a band, you don't need to be friends. It's a job. You will not be the best friends at your daily workplace. Another thing is why Filippa was never friends with anyone. Why did she fire six lineups? Why is it so impossible for her to hold a band together? I'm just asking. [Laughs]"
Blabbermouth: Filippa appears to be the common denominator here, which led to the three of you putting a new band together.
Guernica: "I want to add that the previous lineups — it's been the same thing, where she wants to fire one or two people in the band, then everyone leaves. Nobody wanted to stay in that toxic environment. It's not worth the energy that it takes from you."
Emlee: "I think both of you said very good things. I want to add that, yes, we are really good friends, and we are in a safe environment now, and we do everything together. It has been a process for us to realize that even though we have trusted each other from the start, we have done everything all over again. We'd gone to the studio again and had to experience it again, but we also had to teach ourselves that nothing bad was going to happen this time. You are safe now. It's been a process. Now everything is perfect, but it's like learning to do stuff again and experience it again, but realizing that everything is just safe and happy and good now. That has been really nice."
Mona: "It's also safe in the way that if you'd question our former colleague in the previous band, you'd probably get fired. But if Emlee and Guernica question me or my behavior, I will not fire them. We will discuss it and we will come up with something better than before. [Laughs]"
Blabbermouth: Take me back to the first days of THE GEMS. What were they like when you decided to do this together?
Emlee: "Have you seen the meme where there's a dog in the room full of fire? The dog is like, 'Everything is fine.' [Laughs] It was kind of like that. We were panicking, but at the same time, we were fully focused on, 'Okay. This is happening. All right. We're doing this. Let's start right away.' That's what we did. We booked a writing session in the studio with a guy who ended up being the producer of the album [Johan Randén]. We started to brainstorm band names. We wanted to make use of that momentum immediately. Yeah, we were shocked, but the meme is the best way to explain it."
Guernica: "It was a tough time. The rug was pulled from under our feet, and we had to very quickly regroup and continue making music because that's what we wanted, but we also felt it was important to take advantage of the momentum that we had been part of gaining with THUNDERMOTHER. That's one of the reasons we felt it was important not to give it a second but to hit the ground running and go for it. We did it for ourselves and every person before us that has been burned in the same way. We're friends with most of the people who have been fired or been in the same situation as us. [Laughs] Some of them weren't able to pick up an instrument in years. Some of them are still not playing because they were so burned out. We're doing it for our own mental health, but we're also doing it for them because we don't want more people to be taken advantage of and used and abused and thrown away. We're doing it for everyone."
Blabbermouth: Clearly, you're going for the hook-based approach to rock with "Phoenix". Do you recall what the thought process was when you started songwriting?
Mona: "It's important to have strong melodies. It's also very important to have a good groove — either your hips must start moving, or your fist must go up in the air. We wanted to remove everything unnecessary. The lyrics are very important to us, too. We put a lot of effort and energy into the lyrics. It's important to actually have something to say and not just play around with empty words. I hope that when people listen to the album, they will notice that we put the songs in a specific order. We're taking you through an emotional journey. It starts with an uplifting song, then comes all the stages of grief and sadness to ease your pain, then the rebuilding in the end."
Emlee: "We also felt like this album was important to prove ourselves. We all know what we can do, but it feels like…we did a lot of work in our previous band. We were a big part of the songwriting. We also hope that with this album, people will notice how much of an impact we actually had on the sound in our previous band."
Blabbermouth: Mona mentioned trying to say something with the lyrics. "Queens" sounds like it's about trying to lift one another up, correct?
Guernica: "We have played in an all-female band. Unfortunately, there are a lot of stereotypes about women, but men do the same exact thing. There is so much drama in 'men' bands. [Laughs] When it actually happens for us, it's just like, 'This has nothing to do with our gender.' We were unlucky to have one bad apple, and that messed things up a lot. We still believe it's important to work well together. I love working with women. I think it's important to have more bands out there with women so we can have a more equal music business. I don't see why gender has anything to do with music. It's so dated and weird. That's why it's also important to have a song like 'Queens' that is empowering. It's kind of genderless, but 'Queens' is the name of the song. But in our minds, we were adamant not to say 'she.' So that's something we had in mind for it to be for everyone. Yeah, it's an important message to remember who paved the way so we can be here. We want to continue doing that so it's better for the future. One bad woman or whatever, it's just one. It's a small percentage that it won't ruin all of it for us."
Blabbermouth: You are correct: When a guy fires his band, it's often "He's driven!" but when women do it, it's "There's a lot of drama there."
Guernica: "It's also the reason I've been vocal about being fired. I'm actually proud of this firing. [Laughs] In my case, there's a history. That in itself is also, if you take the time to read or look into what happened, it doesn't make me seem like I'm less than or I'm a bad singer, or I did a bad job, or I'm a bad person. It's a weird situation working with a weird person. That's why me being fired is something I take with pride. I want that to be clear."
Blabbermouth: You've owned it.
Guernica: "That's exactly it."
Blabbermouth: And Emlee and Mona, you could have stayed in the band, but you chose to go with Guernica.
Mona: "We had a SCORPIONS tour coming up in Europe, but it was a no-brainer for Emlee and me to step aside and continue with something new with Guernica. It was impossible to work in such an environment."
Blabbermouth: I don't think it's a reach to say that Guernica, you are one of the better female voices in rock at the time. For Mona and Emlee, how did that help shape the songwriting, knowing you have her in the band?
Emlee: "We had to be in a box and sound a specific way in our previous band. We had to fight really hard to take in new influences. Guernica was always pushed to sing hard [mimics voice]. On this album, we could really use her whole range. Of course, our main thing for leaving our previous band to join Guernica in something new was because we enjoyed working with her and we love her, but also, she has one of the best voices. That's important for the sound. It makes me very comfortable that we have a bright future."
Guernica: "I have to add that I'm so happy you all feel that way, but both Emlee and Mona are great musicians. They have really good singing voices. They've done amazing choirs. Mona sings on her own as well. I feel that we can elevate it together. Everyone is really strong in each position. These two ladies are multi-instrumentalists and singers as well. I'm happy that the little thing I can do of singing can at least be special enough. [Laughs]"
Blabbermouth: What are THE GEMS doing in terms of safeguarding yourself in the music industry? There have to be some lessons from your old band, right?
Mona: "We choose our business partners with care. We're so happy and proud of everyone we're working with. We are super-happy with Napalm Records. It was a long process to choose the right record label to work with. It felt so good with them. We have our bookers for live shows, Heart Of Music. We feel really safe with them. They really believe in us. They chose us because they believe in what us three individuals can do instead of going with a big name."
Guernica: "February is going to be our business-heavy month. There's always business, but we're trying to get an LLC set up. We want to try to take all the right steps to build a strong, amazing future for ourselves. Maybe if someone wants to have children in the future, they can take time off. We have a business happening now. We just want to build something properly. On top of that, throughout the years, I started to listen more and more to my intuition. It's been very telling that as soon as I get a weird vibe or feeling, I tell the girls and I'm like, 'I don't think that person is here for the right reason.' We all respect each other. It is so important to work with people where you can feel that they are for the right reasons. The reason I can believe in my intuition is because I was right so many times. You don't believe it when it happens, but I'm not making that mistake again. We're very careful about who we work with."
Mona: "We are self-managed and planning to stay that way. We decided that the band would always be the three of us. That's why we have decided to have a live bass player, not a full member of the band. We don't want to interrupt that mix. We've been through too much."
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