If Bruce Dickinson had raised a child with Animal from The Muppets, and fed it the Top Gun soundtrack, it would have been Kenny Leckremo. Bare chested and gesticulating, in bright red shorts and leather jacket, Leckremo drove this point home at Alice Cooper’s Monsters Of Rock cruise back in February. Surrounded by bandmates who have been “like brothers” since their teens (they’re now in their thirties), it was an intense experience.
“It was completely crazy,” the H.e.a.t singer enthuses, a megawatt smile spreading across his face. “It was incredible in every way, full of emotions, chaotic, just pure happiness and joy to be back on stage with the guys. Maybe I was a little overwhelmed. I remember that feeling from when I started, you know? When I was really young.”
His reaction playing the MOR cruise was understandable. Up until then, Leckremo hadn’t been on stage with H.e.a.t in 12 years. H.e.a.t had of course been on plenty of stages in that time. With peroxide Swedish Idol winner Erik Grönwall on vocals, the melodic rock quintet from Upplands Väsby (the same icy suburb as Europe) cultivated a resplendent catalogue of blistering headbangers, forging a reputation as 21st-century guardians of the most fun bits of the 80s: giant synths, gleaming riffs, Kenny Loggins, The Final Countdown… all of it carried forward with fresh bite.
By the time their sixth album H.e.a.t II came out in February 2020 they seemed unstoppable. Then it was announced that Grönwall was leaving. The split was amicable, but suddenly H.e.a.t were without their fireball frontman (he’s now the singer in Skid Row).
“We were like: ‘Should we keep going?’” keyboard player Jona Tee told us at the time. “Because it’s a huge loss without Erik. The only option we all wanted to even try was to talk to Kenny again.”
Hench, polite and alert and wearing an Iron Maiden T-shirt, Kenny Leckremo has the bright-eyed freshness of a personal trainer or primary school teacher, with a healthy glow that reflects his years living in Spain.
Since leaving the band he’s also had a son, and emerged on the other side of a long-term heart condition (Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome) that was central to his departure. For Leckremo, who met his bandmates in music college, it had dampened an otherwise joyous time working on construction sites by day, jamming and tearing up dives across Sweden (and further afield) by night after H.e.a.t formed in 2006.
“In the middle of a set my heart would just start racing,” he explains. “And I mean racing. Absolutely crazy. Sometimes in the beginning of H.e.a.t I would rush off stage to lie down and just wait for this fucking thing to finish. The guys would improvise, soloing, and then I’d come back on and continue.”
The condition worsened until he had it medically fixed, but by then the damage to his mental and physical health was done. In hindsight, he suggests, he could have handled it better: “I don’t think I was mature enough to bounce back properly. When you’re that young you’re just so iron-willed, you don’t want to accept that you’re vulnerable in that way. Or mortal.
It all came to an end one day in 2010, at Stansted Airport in the UK, when Leckremo and his bandmates had the final conversation. He was out. A low period followed, during which he moved to England with his then girlfriend and tried to figure out his next steps.
For the first couple of years he “didn’t want to know anything” about H.e.a.t, who flew from one success to another. In time, though, he became a fan. “I started writing music again with Dave [Dalone, guitar]. I reconnected with the guys. Every once in a while we’d hang out and talk.”
By 2017 he had completed a solo album, Spectra: “kinda like a therapy session, out in public”. The following year, an offer to sing for a production company that put on Queen tribute shows led him to Spain, and back on to stages. He began to live a healthier lifestyle. He ran and lifted weights. Without realising it, he was preparing himself to return to H.e.a.t.
He’s been transforming himself into a rock’n’roll god, basically,” Jona Tee told us, “so we asked him in the summer [of 2020] and he was like: ‘I’m ready for this!’”
Today Leckremo is philosophical about the journey he’s ended up taking: “It was shit having to jump the band, but they had Erik for this amazing time, and they got to grow into a completely different thing. And I had time to mature and become the person I ultimately felt like I should have been.”
He’s still partially based in Stockholm, where the rest of H.e.a.t live and where they made new album Force Majeure – a soaring, infectiously theatrical splash of all they do best, with Leckremo’s cries flying over the top like fireworks.
“We got back together and it didn’t take long,” he tells us. “We didn’t discuss how the album would be like, or what name it would have. It was just all happening automatically. And with these past couple of years, we wanted to get the album out with a sense of urgency.”
For Leckremo, this urgency has to do with more than just the pandemic. Growing up in a troubled area south of Stockholm, he threw himself passionately into ice hockey and boxing. Gang fights and drugs were never far away.
“Lots of my friends have passed away from drug abuse and all kinds of other things that come with that, unfortunately,” he says. “And I was so desperate to get out of that.”
Music became his escape. His young parents played 80s fail-safes such as Michael Jackson, Foreigner and Journey in the house. But it was Iron Maiden’s debut, discovered in a friend’s dad’s LP collection, that changed everything. Overnight, Leckremo became a disciple of rock.
“That was my music,” he recalls. “I discovered that, I came across it. My mind just went [makes explosion noise] and that was it.”
As a drummer in music college, Leckremo would wail as he thrashed away. Eventually it was suggested that he cut to the chase and sing.
“I’m a band guy,” he says. “My band is H.e.a.t and there was never really anything else. I had a few cool offers over the years [he won’t tell us what], but nothing ever felt right. I always had this romantic idea that I’d be able to out-do my own shadow in what I was supposed to do.”
The smile spreads again. The steep swerves of the past 12 years seem to bubble to the surface, cresting with Force Majeure and a diary full of gigs. This is where he wanted to be. “And here I am!”