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- Melodic Death Metal / Sweden
Interview with Mikael Stanne
An opportunity to interview Dark Tranquillity? Count me in, for sure! And so I had the opportunity to chat a bit with the band´s vocalist, the very nice and friendly Mikael Stanne. We discussed about the band´s past, their latest live DVD, and a few other things, as you´ll see below…
DM: How is this new tour, with Insomnium going so far? Are you happy about it?
Mikael Stanne (vocals): Oh yeah absolutely, it´s been really, really good. We´ve been out for a week now, we´ve six more to go, and it´s really, really smooth, really cool. Some shows have been sold out, and we´ve had awesome reactions from the crowds, I think we´ve put together a killer setlist, and the show is, I think, better than ever, so… I think this is shaping up to be probably the best tour ever for us!
DM: OK! Now, about your new album, We Are The Void, what were the reactions of the fans? Were they happy with it? Did you follow a bit the reviews on the internet or magazines?
MS: Hey of course we do, it´s always interesting, you know. I´m generally interested in reading reviews no matter what. But it´s been amazing; we´ve got mixed reviews in a way I haven´t seen before! You know, very strong opinions, and different opinions that I thought was just fascinating. One would read like "Oh, this is groundbreaking, like treading new territory, and it´s such a big development from the last" and then the next review is like "This is just more of the same c**p"… And you go "What? How can people have such totally different views on music?" And I find it fascinating, it´s truly interesting! And I guess the biggest compliment, or the biggest kind of proof that we´ve done something right, is that we can actually play six or nine songs live and people are happy with it, you know. I think that´s the best, because sometimes a lot of bands do play a lot of new songs on the tour and the people are like "hummm..."
DM: Yeah, for promotion...
MS: Yeah, and then they play the old stuff we already knew and loved, that kind of things. But it really works, we´ve been touring for 4 months or something like that this year, and we play tons of new stuff, tons of old obviously as well, but… It shows that these songs really work! We´re very, very proud of it.
DM: Cool! Why didn´t Niklas Sundin do the artwork for the album this time? He used to do it since Projector, if I´m correct...
MS: He felt kind of overworked, he´s been doing so much album covers and stuff on the side… Well, not ´on the side´, but as his business. And then he wrote so much music for this album that he was somewhat like "Let´s have someone else do it", you know. It was kind of a burden so we figured out it would be interesting to have someone else do it, you know. So I started contacting a lot of artists I really liked, and I had kind of a general idea, some sketches and stuff like that. And then I got some answers, and the one that really caught my eye was this artist from Germany who was recommended to me by Century Media, and it was just... I totally got it and… We were sort of thinking about packaging and stuff like that, and it just made total sense. It was cool, it was fun, you know… Even if it´s always frustrating when you work like that. I prefer when Niklas and I talk back and I can be very, very tough to him, if I don´t like something I can be like "Make that perfect!" (laughs) He´s very strong-minded as well, obviously, so it´s… But it´s always fun! I think this was challenging, you know. So who knows what´s gonna happen next time? Niklas does pretty much everything that is visual about the band, he… Also he wanted to focus on what we do live, projections and imagery that we use…
DM: So he´s the one who´s in charge of all lightings and stuff?
MS: Errr, not lighting too much, but we have this projector system set up that displays animations for all the songs, that Niklas has done.
DM: OK, I´ll see that this evening then! Oh, about the last live DVD you recorded… Why did you do it in Italy? Was it a special offer, an opportunity or something?
MS: Well really, pretty much since the first time we´ve played in Italy, we felt it was kind of special there. You know, the audience is amazing, and we always had a special relationship to Italian fans. And we played in this venue four or five times, I think, and we had one of the best shows ever… And we said like "F**k, this is where we should record the DVD", as opposed to the last one recorded in Poland, which was… kind of different. So we figured "Let´s do it here". And then we heard they were about to close that venue down, and we were kinda the last show there, pretty much… So we were "OK… let´s figure a way to actually record that", so… We just wanted to do it, because the audience is amazing, we love the interaction, we love the kind of passion that they have. We have some of the best fans right in Italy.
DM: Sure it´s really different from the first DVD where you put footage from Athens and Paris… It shows how different it is, for sure! I was there in Paris, so I should know!
MS: It´s always amazing in Paris, I love playing here. Some of the best shows we´ve ever had, I think in either the Loco [the Locomotive - a great, now closed, venue, which was just next to the famous Moulin Rouge] or the Elysée-Montmartre…
DM: Hopefully we´ll live up to the expectations, this evening… Also about the DVD, how did you decide to tell the band´s whole story?
MS: We wanted to celebrate 20 years of being a band, and we wanted to do something different, you know. I´m a big fan of music DVDs, and you want content. Whenever I buy a DVD I like, I want tons of information…
DM: Yeah, not only the show, but…
MS: Exact! I just want the whole stuff, you know. I love watching that! So, I thought about what I wanted to see, what would be interesting, so we figured if we wanna do a documentary about the band, we can´t just do something generic. That would be too shallow… So we decided to focus on the early years, on how we started and the whole thing, because it´s not that often that we talk about that, you know. I don´t know, maybe people don´t care, but we thought it would be interested to… to go back to the roots of the band and the reasons why we do this, you know? Well, it was fun too, you know, to call and pick members, Fredrik who played guitar until 1999… We hadn´t really seen each other in a long time, and it was awesome, you know. And some other friends, that we kind of revisited some old memories, you know…
DM: Wasn´t it difficult to put on the DVD the first live footage, or showing your grandparents´ house, for example?
MS: Of course it was… It´s a kind of material that we haven´t even watched ourselves for some times because you go like "holy s**t! It´s too embarrassing!" and even more so for the two new members like Martin B. and Daniel, they haven´t even seen it at the time! They hadn´t seen it before and Martin has been in the band for ten years… He still has to see some of that old stuff, because we´re so embarrassed of it… But we figured "F**k it! It´s been 20 years." That´s just getting everything out there, you know.
DM: Isn´t it difficult for the new members to be in a band with four members that know each other since school? You must be pretty close-knit…
MS: You know, it has actually worked well. Martin we knew for at least, I don´t know, five or six years before he joined the band, so he was always an old friend of ours. So it wasn´t that difficult, and the same goes with Daniel. I mean, we´ve known him since we started the band, pretty much. He knows the band, he´s a part of the metal scene in Gothenburg, and we toured together before, we always kept in contact, went to shows together, so…
DM: He´s not a complete stranger!… (smiles)
MS: I think that would be very difficult… I mean, I don´t know, but hard, anyway…
DM: You spoke of the change in your sound and in your music before. But why did you change at first? I mean, you take Skydancer, then The Gallery, The Mind´s Eye, etc. They are all very different… Why did you change? Did you want to experiment, or were you searching for your sound, actually? A bit of both, maybe?
MS: I guess so! I mean, it´s all about writing whatever feels fine at the moment, you know? If we feel frustrated with whatever we do, or… We just want to make songs that feel fresh to us, you know, that feel new and experimental, and important to us. Something we can be proud of. And of course it gets harder with every year and every album to come up with something that is new and not just re-treading old ways, rehashing what´s been done before… It takes a lot of effort! And it took us a long time to really get started with this album, because we were kind of out of ideas, we didn´t know where to go! What should we do? But, I think that once it got started, everything got really flowing, like the dynamic songwriting. Because Martin and Niklas write different stuff… So when they come together, and they have to, like if Martin writes something then Niklas would like change it so that it becomes something more interesting… I think it was really evident on this album, and it´s fascinating for all of us just to see how an idea becomes something totally crazy... And the albums get really different, you know.
DM: Where do you draw the limit of what you accept as experimentations in your sound?
MS: Oh, that changes all the time, I guess! For instance, a song like "Iridium", from the new album… Right?
MS: That was written… Niklas wrote that in 1996, or something like that.
MS: Yeah! He just bought, like, a new portable to work in the studio, I think. And that was the first thing he recorded on it. And I loved it, and the others were like "Oh nonononono, this is very different from the others, more keyboards sounds", it was very electronic at the time. And I had this idea for the vocals, but it just didn´t really fit on The Mind´s I at the time, it didn´t fit on… Well it was always there, you know. We didn´t really forget about it, it was like on of those songs that don´t make it… And then when Martin B. joined in 1999, he started working on it a little bit, and adding some changes. But we didn´t record it either. Now finally, I think for us it´s very, very out there and experimental...
DM: On a personal note, I think "Inside The Particle Storm" sounds somehow much more different than the usual DT sound than "Iridium"… Maybe it´s just me?
MS: That one is very different too, sure. That´s a very different vibe, different kind of… tone to it, and…
DM: Really darker…
MS: Oh yeah!
DM: Also, you´ve done a few songs with female vocalists. Do you plan to do others? Why did you do it? Do you plan to expand on it, or was it enough? What´s your take on it?
MS: My take on it is that if it really suits the song, if it really adds to it and adds… If it´s important for the song, definitely I´m open for it! But if it´s just done in order to have a melody hook or whatever, to make it easier for, I don´t know, casual fans to get into, then I don´t see this. I don´t like that at all. But I think that when we started doing it on our first album, no one really… It wasn´t done that much before, perhaps by bands like The Gathering and stuff. It was very different so people were like "What the f**k?", you know. We loved it just because it was different, a stark contrast, back then, to the death metal. But now it´s not different anymore at all, everybody´s doing it, it´s all out there… So, whenever we feel like it´s just appropriate and it really works, it´s OK.
DM: So, I suppose it´s the same for your clean vocals, you put them when you feel like it?
MS: Yeah. It´s not that we do, you know, clean choruses so just that we…
MS: It´s not like that. I mean, I feel the same about, you know, some pop songs, then it suddenly breaks up… It means 80% of the song is c**p! I really don´t like that. Death metal is death metal, thrash is thrash, whatever… So much I like experimentations and everything, it should be done for the right reasons, and not just about… (pffff)
DM: And still about your clean vocals, do you add them after the music is written, or do you say "hum, I want this line with clean vocals, you guys must write the music around it"?
MS: No, it´s always done after the music, as with everything that I write. So we do a song and then if I feel like "oh, this is perfect, this is something I need to do clean singing on it", that´s why I do it, you know? My lyrics always comes after everything, but usually when we work on a song, it´s like "This verse is awesome, right? I´ll keep it for this length…"
DM: And about Projector, I suppose it was done more purposefully, as there are much more clean vocals on this one?
MS: This is because we wanted to kinda break away from the standard, normal sound of Gothenburg death metal at the time, you know, we were kind of tired of the confines of the genre and we weren´t feeling comfortable with being just another band from Gothenburg and… To us it seemed like everybody had this idea, all these bands just sounded the same and it was all… All we ever wanted to do was being original and create something that no one else has done… And all of a sudden we were kinda lumped together with all these other bands, we were like "Why?" Well of course we were all inspired by each other but… You know, we thought we were something more, and then we decided to kinda prove to ourselves that… So some of the songs on Projector are really, really soft, very mellow… We changed, and kind of progressed… It´s very different, and at that time it was so interesting, we knew that we would hear "We hate it! F**k it!"
DM: Many hate it indeed…
MS: Yeah, but it was just totally right and I love the album, I love every single song on it. You know, we were very, very scared of it and of all the "boo, they´re getting away from the death metal sound" and whatever. But to us…
DM: The kind of "they´re doing commercial crap" and stuff…
MS: Yeah, and still I mean I think it´s not Kiss or stuff like that at all! It… It just felt right. It was a big challenge to do it, you know.
DM: Now, speaking about Gothenburg, did you ever think of doing a Gothenburg superband, with members of At The Gates, In Flames and such…? Some kind of one-time project…
MS: Yeah… (smiles)
DM: Will you do it?
MS: No… No… I don´t think we… I don´t know, I don´t think it´s a good idea, I don´t think anyone is really interested in that. I guess, and I´m not speaking for everyone, I would imagine if someone would start another band, it would be something very different, and not with other musicians of the same kind, you know what I mean? It would be very challenging. But… We have, I did, we had a band, me, Bjorn and Jesper from In Flames, and Niklas, we had a band together once…
DM: (puzzled) Hammerfall?
MS: No!... We had another band, but it´s never been released. And it´s awesome. We did one demo.
DM: What´s the name?
MS: I can´t tell you! (smiles)
DM: It´s a total secret!?
MS: No, I mean, sometimes we talk about it, you know, drinking …. Would be f*****g funny… But I don´t see it happening.
DM: OK. And I remember the "Archetype" song out of Enter Suicidal Angels, do you plan on doing some other strange stuff like this, or was it just one of a kind?
MS: I think it was ´one of a kind´. I mean we´ve been into that kind of experimentation, but at the time it was just something to… I think we were kind of fascinated with new digital recording techniques and stuff like that; and it was actually do solely by Fredrik, our previous guitar player, and Fredrik Nordstrom, the studio engineer. But they put it together like late one night, so they took samples from the album, put them together... Yeah that was very weird, people hated it.
DM: Sure it´s weird! (laughs)
MS: Honestly I don´t really like it that much either, but at the time, you know, it was just something that was cool to do: "F**k it! Hope we can get away with it!"
DM: Hum… Now it´s a bit more personal question, but do you know if Martin Henriksson doesn´t miss playing the bass sometimes, because it´s been ten years that he´s on guitars now...?
MS: I don´t think he misses it at all. He worked when Daniel joined, he kinda went back and re-visited some of the bass lines to teach to Daniel, and show him… But hum no, he loves his guitars, so I don´t think he misses it at all!
DM: And now, one last, more general question. There´s the problem of illegal downloading, and the whole spreading of music on the internet. What´s your take about it?
MS: Hum, I guess, I mean it really is destroying the record industry, and a lot of musicians are suffering because of it, because all of a sudden people have no respect for music anymore. They respect the music but they don´t respect the media it´s being delivered on. And it is really sad, because they kinda cheapen the experience, you know. I´m an old-school guy, I love vinyl, I love CDs, and I love to buy´em, I love to own them, and… It´s an attitude change, like an attitude that is just "hey, musicians make music anyway, why should I pay for a CD when I can download it for free?" That mentality is what really destroys it, you know. Like our record company, for instance, has been forced to shut down some of the offices in some countries... Sure, obviously metal fans are more loyal I think than most of the genres because… Because how can you be a metal guy if you don´t have a huge record collection to show to your friends? (laughs) I mean it, that´s what it is like!
DM: (laughs) Some of my friends are like that!
MS: Yeah! I mean, otherwise, what are you? Hey, you can have an I-pod that´s full of music but that´s nothing compared to good f*****g massive metal collection at home! So… It´s really sad, it hurts us like crazy, you know, and of course the argument is sometimes like "Then the bands can tour and make all the money at that time!" That´s not really true either because all the bands need to tour, which makes it very hard for fans as well, to go to all these concerts that are coming to your city!
DM: Yeah, especially when you live far away from the big cities!
MS: Yes. I mean, we don´t get that many shows in Gothenburg, but some months it´s insane, you have like two shows every week-end, whatever, and even though you want to, you can´t go, buy T-shirts and all that, it just becomes too much! And what´s gonna happen then? If I find an album that´s very hard to find in physical form, and…
DM: If it´s unavailable in physical form, as you said, I don´t think it really is a problem… Especially if you find it on e-bay for 100$ or stuff…
MS: Yeah, yeah, when it´s like that, really hard… I like collecting progressive rock from the sixties and well sometimes I do it… It´s really sad and disrespectful and dishonest. Especially disrespectful to musicians because obviously, recording albums takes a whole lot of work. And you record it, you have an expensive that costs f*****g thousands of euros, and… It just makes no sense. And I think people need to understand what goes in to work on an album. The younger generation kind of don´t understand I think; "Hey, I can record all I want! There´s this software Pro-tool, I can download it for free on my mac and I can record whatever and it sounds great!" And it´s true, I mean, you can do this!
DM: And what do you think about bands like Marillion or Radiohead who let their music to be downloaded for free, or the fan pays what they want for the music online?
MS: I think it´s a totally cool idea, Marillion being one of my favourite bands, because these guy have kind of a unique fanbase to do that. Not every band can do that, I mean Radiohead can do it, and maybe Marillion even moreso because they have their fans all over the world. Because they had their break and are huge now, they have the perfect fanbase and I love that. And they just do it for the fans and I love buying their live shows sometimes and it´s amazing. And I think that it´s really really cool for certain kinds of…
DM: I know I would buy the one of tonight, if you released it!
MS: I… I don´t know. I kinda like that, like the idea, but I don´t think it really worked for In Rainbows, I don´t think they got enough money to recoup that…
MetalStorm (Darkside Momo)