Shortly before their gig in Hannover, we had the chance to talk to Niklas Sundin (guitar) and Mikael Stanne (vocals). The interview will be part of Bleeding for Metal TV 2 and available for download as video soon. |
The audio track can be downloaded as well:
Good evening, thanks for being here.
Mikael: Thank you.
Niklas: Thank you.
I'll go in deep at once...
...about a year ago there was a real major-major label being interested in you, I heard. Did you hear that, too?
Niklas: The thing is that we have a management and they sort of take care of everything. We don't really want to know exactly all the details about all the different - I heard we got tons of offers from all kind of record labels from really small to really huge! But I can't remember exactly who the different players were. We just get the information that is relevant to us and whenever we need to make a choice. It's pretty simple and we can just focus on the music and not just the business aspect of it. We get a lot of really flaming offers, but we decided that Century Media is perfect for us. We were so happy before and they are doing an even better job now.
At the end of March you will accompany KREATOR to a South America tour...
Niklas: Ah, no. I'm not sure, we only get the information we need to know from the management, but I think that got cancelled from...
Mikael: ...a long, long time ago, but people still think that we are coming. You know, people send me emails and stuff like "oh, it's great to see you!"
Niklas: We got emails from people long before we heard a single word about us playing in South America...
Mikael: It's always like that with some weird promoters; they will put up the show, they will advertise the name, before it's confirmed - it's not good. Check our homepage, that's where all the real information is.
Some news travel really fast and others get stuck...
Dark Tranquillity: Yeah, they are too fast.
You are in the business now for more than 15 years. What do you think or feel has changed in the scene of Death Metal or Metal at all since then?
Mikael: A lot of things have changed obviously. This tiny little Death Metal scene where we started out, all fanzines and all tape trading and underground and now it's more accepted and I think that is the major difference. All the crap bands have stopped playing and all the good ones have kept on. It was really interesting and I really loved it back then when we started out, because it felt like you were in on a secret, you know. Nobody knew about this weird music, where it was all about screaming and really brutal. Now it's become more acceptable. I could never have imagined this. I thought that it was just something that happened in the underground, but now it's getting so much bigger and I think it's cool. The bands are getting better, the quality of bands is getting great. - Obviously there is a lot of crap out there, too, but a lot of great stuff as well. I think it's getting better, I really like it, I like the way that it's been constantly getting better for us in the scene like every year, it has never been like ups and downs, it's constantly upwards.
You have been kind of a leader, a foundation of the Melodic Death Metal scene, the Gotheburg sound from the beginning.
Niklas: Well... *laugh* We never really think about that. When we started out, people were kind of afraid, like "What the f... what are you doing putting melodies into Death Metal?! That's weird." Nobody got it and thought we were crazy or just wimpy, but we said, well, people will come around eventually and we just kept on doing what we loved to do. Simple. And duks - 15 years later we're here.
Then you got even more 'wimpy' with for example "Haven", where you had a lot of synthies and keys and so on.
Mikael: Yeah, but we like those songs. We love to incorporate all kinds of stuff into our music. We love really emotional music and really aggressive music, you know. Whatever feels good at the time.
Niklas: It's also to keep ourselves interested as well. You sort of have to change the perspective every now and then, you have to keep on writing every album from a different perspective in order to make it interesting for us. We would probably grow tired and just quit the band if we were supposed to do the same album over and over again. So it's something we'll always be doing, slightly different angle for every album.
With "Character" you are coming a little bit back to the initial raw, heavy sound. Do you think there will be different experiments like on "Haven" in the future?
Niklas: Errrr, not sure, if it will be "Haven"-like, but I'm sure the next album will be very different from "Character", but whether it will be harder or softer - it's still a bit early to say. We're not really making plans either or grand schemes, we just play and write the music we feel that is good for the moment and then that will be the album.
Mikael: See what comes out, you know. Whatever feels right at that moment that's what ends up on the album. Simple.
Do you think there might come the point where you don't feel it has sense to keep going and stop doing the band then at all?
Mikael: Of course it could happen. But right now it feels better than ever, I think. The stupid thing you can do is continue when you don't mean it or your heart is not there, you know. Then the music will suffer immensely and that makes no sense. As long as it is fun, as long as we have a great time and we are satisfied with all the songs we make that's how long we will play. That could be 15 more years or - whatever. Who knows? *laughing*
Let's get to the new album. Lyrically "Character" in fact deals with human characteristics, right?
Dark Tranquillity: Yeah.
What are you talking about or trying to say?
Mikael: I guess just the worst side of being mad. What drives us to do anything, what makes us do anything in this world? What are the reasons for it? And it's about identity and a sense of direction and about behavior patterns, you know. So all the songs are written about different kinds of people and how they will react in certain situations. At least that was the starting point when I started writing it and then it kind of turned into something else along the way. It's about how people can be really, really stupid sometimes for all the wrong reasons. I am certainly like that, too, and I really hate myself for it. So to me it is good to project it onto someone else and scream about it, makes me feel better.
The cover artwork has been done by you, Niklas. It somehow reflects those really complex and weird characteristics.
Niklas: Yeah, it is as usual, I want the front cover to reflect the music and the lyrics to 100%. The thing was finding a good metaphor for the contents. As Mikael said "Character" is not really a concept album, but the general direction, the general theme is the one of a person looking inwards like a mind journey or whatever. I used the metaphor of a city to reflect this. I made this huge city scape with a huge brain in the background. All the different buildings can be seen as different characters, different songs within "Character". It's also a play on the contrast in the lyrics, a play on the impact of the music itself, just a way to provide a good visual framework for everything and not make it too obvious. We like to give people clues, give them some map to navigate, but we don't want to tell the whole story like that - same with the lyrics. People can read the lyrics or view the cover artwork and then make up their own connections, sort of apply their own realities to the lyrics and the artwork.
Also quite complex at times and on a high technical level are your musical compositions. What does composing and playing music mean to you, is it kind of a challenge as well?
Niklas: It has to be, I think. If it wasn't a challenge there wouldn't be any point in doing it. If you feel too comfortable or if you feel that things are going too easy or just becoming a second nature, then you are not really pushing yourself. It has to be difficult. We spend so much time just writing riffs, writing songs and then throw it away, because it doesn't really feel 100% great to us. It has to be hard...
Mikael: If it's save, it's boring, you know. It's stale and it will go nowhere. So constantly challenge yourself and go a little bit further. Otherwise there is no point - just progress.
At some point you challenged yourself a lot by taking over the vocals, from rhythm guitar going to vocals. Did you ever regret that?
Mikael: Oh no, no, no. I was a crap guitar player and it was great. I wanted to sing from the start and I always sang even when I played guitar and I didn't like playing guitar that much. I love to sing, so... Never look back!
Are you still taking vocal lessons?
Mikael: Never have!
Oh... The song 'One Thought' was written very early in the process for the new album and also played live. There are already several bootleg MP3s out there. What do you think about the MP3 scene and so on?
Niklas: Ehh, it's quite cool. I mean, we are comfortable with it. We download music all the time ourselves. It would be very hypocritical of us to chritisize. It has good and bad sides; it is good promotion. At the same time it's not really flattering to the whole record releasing structure, but I don't know.
Mikael: Especially a live song, that's only good promotion, nothing else. I mean, we played it before we even recorded it, before we even had a contract, so hey, people can do whatever they want with the live stuff, I don't care. The record company cares sometimes, but that's their thing.
For recorded tracks - what do you think about copy protection on albums?
Niklas: Not good.
Mikael: There has to be another solution.
Niklas: Yeah, because you are only punishing the people you should praise, the one that buys the album. If they find out that they can't play the album on the computer without installing some programm or they can't play the album in the car stereo they will be pissed off. And then you have made an enemy out of the person that you really should be supporting, that's your record buyer. And the album will be on the internet anyway, so there is no point at all for a copy protection.
Mikael: There's always ways around everything. It just takes an extra hour or two.
That's true. In the past you already did several cover songs of other metal bands. Are those covers signs of admiration for you idols or something?
Mikael: Of course. Especially the first ones, when we did KREATOR and SACRED REICH. Those were some of our favourite songs from when we started the band and built our rehearsal room and then got together for the first time. And then sometimes in the past we got asked to do a tribute album, we got asked many times, but only if it's something good then we are going to do it, something that we really love. That's what covers are all about unless you are in a stupid cover band.
Now you are on tour with one of those idols, with KREATOR. You did a cover of them and are maybe going to perform the song together with them?
Niklas: No, no, we haven't played it for seven or eight years, so it wouldn't be good... *laughs*
Mikael: They never play it either, so it doesn't make sense. But it's really cool to play with KREATOR, because I always loved them since I started getting into extreme music. It's amazing, I could never have imagined this in '88 or whenever.
And besides KREATOR or extreme music, extreme metal, what are your personal musical tastes?
Niklas: Everything. I think all the members in the band have really wide, really diverse tastes. We can appreciate everything from extreme soft music to really extreme grind core, black metal, whatever. As long as it has quality and some sort of dedication it can be just about anything.
Mikael: I listen to every kind of music, I guess. Just has to be something that speaks to you, something personal, something real. Fake music I don't care about, but whatever, real music, that's what I love.
Okay, I think we have to release you to the gig tonight now.
Dark Tranquillity: Yeah, yeah.
I hope you have fun...
Dark Tranquillity: Oh yes, we will!
...and we will have fun, too. So thanks for the interview.
Dark Tranquillity: Yeah, thanks!