27.03.2017Архив интервью | Русская версия
Three years of waiting for a new album from Swedish melodic death metallers Dark Tranquility came to an end in November 2016, when they released “Atoma”, which, as they admit themselves, took a lot of time and efforts to complete - for various reasons. We originally wanted to discuss this with the band in January, shortly before Dark Tranquillity’s Russian tour, but due to a last-minute technical problem with our editor-in-chief’s cell phone a conversation with frontman and lyricist Mikael Stanne never happened. However, we made it happen in the Swedish town of Umeä during the House of Metal festival, which the band headlined. A few hours before the gig we sat together with Mikael in a bar next to the festival venue in order to talk about the new album, an existential crisis, upcoming tour, future plans and the band’s new signature beer.
Have you played this festival before?
Yeah, we did, in 2011. It’s cool to be back. I love these kinds of festivals: indoor, super professional, everything works smoothly, all is fine. It’s as good as it gets with a winter festival.
I can add that this festival gives you this very cosy, private kind of feeling. You know, it’s really tiny and you see everyone…
Yeah, yeah! But that’s what is so cool about it. I go to a couple of festivals like that – in Holland, for instance. Like, where everyone is sitting in the same place. There are two or three stages and you walk in between them, have a couple of drinks, go and buy some records and wherever – just immerse. I really like it, I like these kind of festivals. Not the big ones where you have to walk two hundred miles just to get to the stage.
Yeah not the really tough ones made for surviving!
Yeah, yeah, this is like a grown up version of a proper big festival. You can really enjoy yourself.
Okay so I wanted to ask you, maybe it’s a strange question to begin with, but I really did try to find your beer – all the way here!
Oh. It’s not easy! (laughs)
Yeah I kind of properly looked around in search of it.
You know the Swedish system with the Systembolaget, which is the only place where you can buy a beer from the store. And they are very restrictive when it comes to what they sell and how they sell it – all that stuff. When you make something new – like a new product as we did – it has to pass through… I don’t know, they have to screen it somehow and make sure it fits into their schedule of releasing stuff. So that’s taking some time. I brewed the beer already in September. And now it’s coming out in April. The 3rd of April is gonna be an official release date when you can buy it in a store. But it’s already in some bars around the country. Unfortunately not here. But it’s really good! I had it last night and I cannot wait for it to be released.
Did you actually brew it?
Yeah, yeah! I mean, I don’t know how to brew that kind of quantity but I helped. Me and the brewer from All In Brewing, which is a Gotherburg microbrewery, kind of developed this recipe and then we brewed it together. He knows his stuff and I am just there to help out, but I’ve been brewing by myself for a couple of years. I am looking forward to do more of that. It’s so much fun and it’s really interesting and it’s fun to learn a new craft. At this point in life anyway. (laughs)
I saw on Facebook you had this kind of outing where you were pouring some beers…
Yes! I’ve been doing that just like introducing the beer to different cities.
Yeah, bartending a little bit. You know, just letting people come out and try it before it’s officially released – that kind of thing. It’s cool, there are a lot of band-themed beers now, and we wanted to make sure that ours is gonna be a little bit different. You know, not just the most drinkable conductivity. This is like an Imperial Stout, really heavy, but really good, people who tried it, loved it. It’s just something else to do, something that I am very passionate about. And something that we get to combine with music in a way.
I see. So you are playing a gig tonight. What do you usually feel before going up on stage, how do you prepare for it? Do you have any “rituals”?
Not really rituals, we tend to just hang out and get in a good mood. Work out a little bit, drink some beers, have some good food, just, you know, get to the social mood. And for me I need to kind of interact with the crowd, I need to be there. It’s hard sometimes when you travel so much, it’s a crazy schedule and all of a sudden: oh you’re on stage in one hour or in 15 minutes or whatever. These moments you’re like, “Oh man!” But most of the time you just run on stage, and everything kind of clicks. Of course we normally do warm ups and all that stuff and get ready for the show and just try to feel, get in that perfect mood, having everything work… I think we’ve been doing it for so long we don’t even consider anything a ritual anymore, we just do what we have to do in order to get there.
Yeah, fair enough. I didn’t mean “ritual” as in a proper ritual.
No-no-no, but I know people actually do it. I’ve seen a lot of bands doing that. In our case, we just have our separate things. I kind of walk away and try to find a quiet spot where I can do warm-ups for half an hour or something like that, and then I am ready, and then we mix some drinks sometimes just to get in the mood.
I see. So I wanted to ask about Martin Henriksson, who left the band during the recording of “Atoma”. Or was that actually before or after?
No, it was earlier. We started writing the album in the second half of 2015, and it was yet the beginning of 2016, like January, when Martin said like, “I have to go, I can’t do this anymore”. But I think he didn’t write anything for the album. He just felt burnt out, you know. He was so focused on being a manager for the band that it was as if he kind of forgot about the writing and the playing. He did not care too much about these anymore. He just wanted to be the manager. Now that’s what he is doing. He books all the shows, takes care of everything, he just doesn’t wanna travel and be on stage, he does not feel it, you know.
Did this influence your recording process anyhow?
Of course. But more than anything it affected the mood, the way that we felt realizing that he’s not there anymore to record with us and to write music. Because he was always such an integral part of it. He was the guy who’s always in charge of everything, who makes all the schedules and all that stuff. And now it’s like… he’s not doing it anymore. That was weird. And also of course we started questioning ourselves, like, if he does not feel the motivation to be on stage anymore, what motivation do I still have? Do I really feel the same way but I just kinda block it out? You know, these kinds of things. So we started questioning a lot of things, and that was frustrating and really sad in the beginning. But after a while I realized that this is something that I… love. More than anything. You know, this is what we’ve been doing for such a long time and it’s still challenging, it’s still interesting and I am still loving to go on tour, I am still loving to go on stage, so it kind of re-enforced my passion for it. In a way it made us overcome this kind of hurdle a little bit faster. It was tough there for a while, and also we questioned ourselves, like, what direction do we take? I mean, Martin is normally the guy who is like, “This is the direction we are going”. He was always like a guiding person. But now we are kind of left on our own. And it took a while to get back to a working process that actually did work. But I think it was all for the better. Now Martin is way happier, he can travel wherever he wants and he can still work and do all that stuff. And we’ve been working with a lot of cool and talented musicians and guitar players to see who fits his spot. We’ve been using different guitar players for many of our shows just to try it out. That’s been tough to do, but at the same time really interesting. We’ve met some amazing people and really-really talented guitar players, so I try to always have a positive outlook, you know (laughs), and see the potential, not a potential downfall. I think it’s gonna be cool.
How is this process happening? Are you trying to find a new permanent person at the moment?
Yeah, but we are not rushing it, we wanna try… We had one guy touring with us in America, another one when we were in Russia a couple of weeks ago and now for the European tour it’s gonna be a different guy.
And does that change a lot of things? Because I know that apart from the new guitarist you also have Andres Iwers who’s also new…
Yes, but Andres is…
…old friend of yours, but still he hasn’t been in Dark Tranquility before.
No. But that’s an amazing thing – to have him in the band. And it’s way overdue, he should have joined us years and years ago I think! (laughs) That’s the most comfortable way. This fits totally right in, and he is an amazing guy and a great bass player. That’s never been an issue. And now we just try to find whoever fits in for a guitar. Because it’s easy with the one you know for over 25 years. But to find someone new who totally fits and also gels with our personalities and all that stuff – that’s really important, so… I think we’re on a good way to finding someone.
But has Martin left the music at all, so he is not going to participate in any creative process at all or he just left the band?
No he’s doing all that I consider to be a boring part. You know, just booking tours, booking flights and all that stuff.
Nah, he was burnt out on it a little bit. I hope he will get into that again, but for now he’s just like, “Meh! Just leave it. I just wanna be the guy who’s tidy and professional and makes sure everything works”. That gives him a lot of pleasure, because he’s that kind of guy. If everything’s sorted out, if the numbers are right, he can sleep well. I prefer more chaos and everything like that (laughs).
Yeah, chaos sounds more fun. And I wanted to ask: you are doing some dates with Amon Amarth. How did this come about and what is interesting for you in this?
Well, a couple of things. Amon Amarth have been friends of ours for a really long time, so they asked us to join the tour and we were like: yeeeeah! Actually, we were going on a headline tour pretty much the same time – that was the plan. And then it was like, “Aaah that would be great!” We always talked about touring together and that it would have been fantastic, they draw a big crowd in Europe and our styles are pretty similar, so people who dig them would get a better package. Also they are doing their second European tour which means different cities from the first one, not a lot of capitals, which means we do like three weeks with them in a lot of places we haven’t been – that’s gonna be cool. And then we do three weeks by ourselves in all the major cities and all that stuff. For us it’s gonna be a bonus to do that. It’s gonna be a long tour, sure, but it’s gonna be a lot of fun. And I really look forward to the Amon Amarth crowd first and foremost, hanging out with them and doing two separate tours in one. At least we’ll make it a little bit… There will be some variation, you know, at least. Not every day is gonna be the same.
Is that harder or easier or the same?
Do you mean the support act versus the main act?
Well, altogether. The sequence is one thing, but I was rather referring to the fact that these are two bands that should be combined somehow. I guess you have to interact a lot during the whole thing and stuff.
You always kind of look forward to touring with bands that are cool and you hang out together with, because there’s so much downtime. I mean, the show is three hours every day, but other than that you are just hanging out. Having people you like and having fun – that’s awesome! Especially at our point, where everything is pretty much taken care of and what we have is free time. So you might as well just spend it with the people you like, you know. For me that’s what I am looking forward to the most. I don’t foresee any problems, I like that kind of stuff.
Okay cool. And do you know what’s happening after the tour dates?
The last show is the beginning of May, and then the festival season starts. We’ll be on festivals until early August, then we're gonna head back to the States and we’ll do another month. We’ll do South America as well. And then we’re gonna do some one-off shows I think in winter. We’re going to Israel and Turkey and places that we’re not normally including in the European tours. And maybe another European tour in the end of the year or around Christmas.
(laughs) It’s good! It’s gonna be cool! You can feel the momentum! The American tour that we started out just as the album just came out was amazing. And a short tour we did in Russia just a couple of weeks ago was awesome. It feels like we are just getting started. It’s just crazy. But yeah it’s gonna be a full year! That’s for sure.
How was the Russian tour by the way?
It was cool. It was really crazy. Amazing crowds and a lot of fun. Probably my favorite… Oh, without a doubt my favorite Russian tour we’ve been to. Really-really nice.
Oh nice to hear that. You don’t do anything creative while on the road?
No, I mean, you tend to formulate ideas maybe, and you get a lot of inspiration, sure, but there’s not enough time to actually sit down and write something or compose something; that’s for when you get home and get away from it a little bit. Then the inspiration will come to you, I think.
I’ve read a few times you were saying that writing usually helps to get rid of negative feelings. Was it the same case with “Atoma” too?
It definitely was! The last two years were pretty crazy in Europe and Sweden and basically everywhere I’ve been to. A lot of things have happened and that directly affected us. I am quite fascinated to see how far people will go to defend their world view. Or what people would do when their world view is kind of challenged. Or when they feel threatened, when this fear of changes starts setting in, how far people fundamentally change their attitude. And it’s kind of scary. It’s given rise to a lot of opportunistic people who take advantage of that to gain power. Which is very-very scary to me – seeing that it affects Sweden as well, which is not normally the case. You know, Sweden is very far away from everything, we’re a neutral country that no one cares about. But we see this change in Sweden as well. Just from reading magazines and watching the news I go like: how do I figure this out?! And the only way I know how to do it is to write about it. So I sit there and watch news channels (laughs) and write down what I feel about it, what makes me…
So you basically sit there and absorb all the negative things…
Yeah, yeah! What makes me angry, what makes me sad and frustrated and all that. I’m just trying to… maybe not to make sense of it, but at least to get it out of my system in a way. To write about it in a way that makes me feel easier about it. And there is no lack of inspiration, to put it mildly. It’s crazy! And maybe this year is gonna be even worse, you know.
Well, you know, it can always be worse!
It can always be worse, yes. (laughs) It’s good positive thinking!
It helps actually, it really helps! Now, I wanted to ask about the two bonus tracks on the limited edition of “Atoma”. Since they sound very different, I was wondering what you think about experimenting and changing genres.
Our inspiration has always kind of been more than just average melodic death metal band stuff. Even on the first album, “Skydancer” (1993), we did a ballad, and that was considered very strange and odd, but it was fun! We just felt like, “Oh, maybe we could do this too!” You know, if it still has the same kind of vibe, the same kind of melody, the same kind of atmosphere or attitude, then maybe it will fit with all the other stuff that we’re doing. And then we did some bonus tracks that were a little bit different as well… Some of them were on limited editions. So these experiments have always been something that you kind of look forward to a little bit, just because they can get you outside of your comfort zone. The most straightforward songs are the easiest. You just go, ‘Ah, it’s gonna be fine!’ You can tweak it and work on it for months, but it still is kind of the basics of what you can do. But when starting something different, all of a sudden it goes like, ‘Woohoo!’, and creativity starts flowing, and it becomes even more interesting. What I like about this is that you can write about different topics. You know, it’s one thing to have a really intense fast death metal track – it requires a certain mood. Whereas if you have something mellower, more laid back or more emotional then you can write about other stuff, and often that’s something I’ve been trying to write about but it hasn’t really fit with any music that we’ve been writing. So I really like these moments. And I know that Anders (Jivarp) loves to do different kind of drumming, and Martin (Brandstrom) uses his keyboards and electronics in a different way. Sometimes we put things like these into the songs and sometimes it’s like in the latter case: we decided that these two are very different songs and we should make them as far away from the album as possible in terms of their arrangements and musicality. And we had a blast doing it just because after spending – how long was it? – three months in a studio just going over the same 12 songs, it was such a relief to work on something totally different. You kind of need it. It’s something that we do for ourselves, just to challenge ourselves and see if we can pull it off. And in this case it also kind of felt, ”Ah, this is a little gift to the fans who want something different and who are always looking for a little bit more of this or that”. It was a fun experiment. Now it’s finally coming out on the vinyl, and it’s gonna be cool – in two weeks or three weeks or something like that. Can’t wait to see that! A lot of people are asking if this is the direction we gonna go or if we gonna do an album like that or something. And we honestly don’t know! It was an experiment we didn’t really know the outcome of, but it turned out great and we are really happy with it, so who knows! Maybe we’ll do something similar in the future.
So, I’m at my last question. I actually ask this recently everyone because I just hear very different points of view and I am interested to compare the opinions of different people. As long as you mentioned a vinyl release, do you think the vinyl will survive everything?
Even the nuclear war? I don’t know!
Well it would not survive a fall from this table, that’s for sure.
I mean, I don’t think another physical format will replace it. Or at least I can’t see that happening. Because now there is no need for physical formats anymore. Everything is digital, everything is streaming. So there is no need for anything… But of course people of my age and who grew up on vinyl hold on to that thing. We try to make it as perfect as possible and hold on to those feelings we had when we started buying records, when we heard our favorite bands for the first time – that kind of thing. But also it’s a great medium, it looks fantastic and it sounds great. I think the whole thing is that people want to own a physical product again. And there is nothing better than a big vinyl record, because the cover looks fantastic and it feels like you actually own something. I think that’s what is missing, when everything is streaming or digital. Otherwise you kind of lose the connection to the music. I think that’s what the people want back. And now the vinyls are starting to sell like crazy again.
How about younger generations? Will the children grow up and go to buy the vinyl as well?
I think so. At least they will know about it. I have a 12-year old and she really likes it and thinks it’s cool even though she streams all the music she likes but sometimes we buy vinyls of some of her favorite albums and she’s like, “Oh it’s actually fun to put it on!”, and it sounds better through my speakers than it does on her earphones. She’s like, “Hehe, it’s not so bad”. And she likes the artwork and all that stuff, and I show her all my old albums, you know. She loves it. It’s a tangible feeling of being able to hold it… She has never bought CDs and I have thousands of them, but I don’t bring them out anymore.
Well, they are obsolete, they are not coming back.
No. There are certain formats, for example, I like high end super audio CDs and dolby digital versions of albums that I buy though – I buy these all the time on CDs or DVDs or Blu-Ray rather, but other than that, the regular CD format – you can use that in your car, that’s it.
What a way right. I remember audio tapes and you had to put the pencil in the tape in order to rewind if the player did not work for some reason.
Of course! Of course! Most of my albums were like that, you know. Before my own records! (laughs) That format is not coming back though! (laughs)
No, it doesn’t! Although I actually saw some people releasing their music on tapes nowadays.
A lot of people do. And that’s a pure nostalgia factor. Which is fine, but yeah. I went to the show last night and all three bands sold cassettes. And I was like: ?!
Ouch, I thought it’s rarer.
For a short period of time I think it’s gonna be cool, but it’s not gonna be long. It wasn’t even good to begin with.
Dark Tranquillity on the Internet: http://www.darktranquillity.com
Special thanks to Petra Edstrom (House Of Metal Festival) and Jorge Pina for arranging this interview
March 4, 2017