Interviews : Dark Tranquillity
With Mikael Stanne
You know that feeling that you get when you just did something that is so awesome it just blows your mind until you realize it a couple of weeks later? That is what this night was for me. Dark Tranquillity is my favorite band. They are the band that got me into metal. And I got to interview the frontman, Mikael Stanne.
First off was an interview (coming soon, bitches!!) with Per, the keyboard player of Opeth that, subbing in for his sick bandmate Peter Lindgren, went awesome. I'm not going to get into detail here and ruin the suspense, but there are some parts that everyone that reads this will find interesting, to say the least.
Then came a bit of hanging out with DT's roadies, one of which just happened to be Hammer, the drummer from Kult ov Azazel and a diehard Buffalo Sabres fan (Lundqvist >Miller!!!), who, over Chipotle, showed that not all black metal musicians are closed-minded murdering nazi idiots. (+10 points if you can find the irony there!!!)
Then I went into the trailer and waited for Mikael to show. What came after was this:
So the new CD is a hell of a lot harder than Damage Done, were you going for a harder sound or was that just how it turned out?
I think that nothing really changes when we get into the studio, we do all the stuff beforehand. Like, all the production and everything is done before we get into the studio. But we knew we wanted to do a more difficult album, not straightforward. I think Damage Done was pretty straightforward and kinda to the point, so we wanted to do something more complex and different. You know, to keep it interesting to ourselves. But I think itís definitely harder, and itís much more uncommercial in a way.
Now, over your career you guys have gone from being blazingly fast and technical, to a more mid-paced, smoother sound on Projector and Haven, and now youíre back to being blazingly fast and technical. Whatís influenced that?
I guess we just get tired of our own sound, or especially before Projector, we were just so fed up with the whole metal scene. Like in all the magazines people were just trying to take all the bands and just put them together in one giant thing called ďmelodic death metal." It was just so boring itís like ďOh, itís At the Gates, In Flames, and us or whatever, and we were something more than another band, you know? We just needed to get away from it, with all these bands everywhere that play the ďSwedish style" music to hell, even if the bandís from Germany! So we just decided that we were going to do whatever we wanted, to forget about what the others were and to do something different. And thatís what we always do, in fact I guess weíve kinda found our way back to what we really love doing, and weíve learned so much from those different albums, and I think that a lot of different bands and a lot of new people are really open to new music, and itís just something that has to be done. With every album pretty much.
Where are you guys going from here?
We have like 6 or 7 songs for the next album and itís fantastic, but I donít really know what direction itís in because things will change so many times before itís actually recorded. ItísÖ Oh, I love it! I listen to it all the time in the bus and going ďYeah!" You know? Iím writing lyrics for it. I donít know, itís really, really cool. The material is fantastic.
Throughout your existence, the topics of your lyrics have gone from odes to fall and poetic shit, and now itís like scathing social commentary. What influenced that?
I think that when we started out we were so influenced by poetry and English novelists and other bands being really serious, we felt that all the thrash metal, speed metal, death metal were just so clichťd and so silly. Part of our plan to be different was to have totally different lyrics as well. But then I guess it kind of grew harder to be into that kind of lyrics, it didnít really feel right. You know, as you get older, you kind of forget the stuff that you really need to write about. I had to get the stuff that is really real, that makes me want to scream, the stuff that really frustrates me. I mean Iím going to be singing these songs for years and years, it has to be something that really, really matters, that you just feel right screaming about it. Stuff that I stay up all night thinking about; itís all about personal relationships and people, and ignorance, and just things that I see that I would just change. Because I canít do something about it, I feel totally helpless, so it forces me to write about it and scream about it, it makes me feel a little bit better.
But thereís no directed rage towards like any particular part of society, like Christianity?
Itís all there, of course, but itís there with myself. Itís all the different stuff that I do, the idiotic things that I get into, and the pointless existence that I tend to lead. What I see in my friends and the people that I hang out with and how easy it is to take a stand on something and turn it into something totally insane and stupid, itís not hard to understand why there are wars. I mean just like, communicate. Thatís what really fucks with me.
How much has the inclusion of Martin BrandstrŲm influenced the songwriting process since his assimilation before Haven?
Well he just brought a whole thing, where he doesnít write that much music, and heíll always change little things in each script and each bar, just a kind of repetition or whatever. I know he just brings so many different sounds, sometimes the rest of the guys will write stuff for him to play, and then he will put a spin on that, and then make it different the guitars change and everything else changes as well, so itís totally integrated into the whole process of writing and putting things together.
Why the lack of clean vocals on the last 2 albums?
Just the music was so intense, and so aggressive that it didnít really fit. Plus everybody else is doing them and that just takes the fun out of it. (huge grin) I donít really see any need for it. Itís really melodic music and really passionate and intense music, and we donít really need it. Who knows, but it didnít feel right at all. With just such a limited range and you still have to make it sound bigger than it is in order to get it across with feeling and to do something with the lyrics, but itís tough. Itís a challenge and I love it.
See, thatís what I thought you did awesome on Damage Done. It was more of a low, deeper growl, and then youíd go to a rasp, and then back to a growl, and you could tell that there was the actual passion and the actual emotion instead of the usual ďUgh, I want to dieÖ" Itís just like ďDude. No you donít! Iím not even convinced!"
No, exactly. Thatís exactly what a band needs to do well, is that if something doesnít feel right or honest, or with heart, you can listen to the lyrics a few times, do a few guitar solos, and then fuck it! Itís gotta be stuff that matters, in all music, no matter what genre it is.
Besides Character, what do you think was the best album of last year and why?
Ooh! Last yearÖ there are so fucking many. I think, in terms of death metal or thrash metal, Naglfar from Swedenís new CD, Pariah, is fucking fantastic. I love it. Man, what else? Opeth released Ghost Reveries last year, thatís still one of my favorites. Other than that, hell. Kreatorís new album is fantastic. It was a pretty good year, a lot of great songs, a lot of great Swedish stuff, like the new Candlemass album. Itís good. It was good for us too, because we were touring all the time and you really have the time to listen to new music, just burn all the new CDís every night, and go through all the crap.
Were you irritated for getting passed over for the Swedish awards or Grammys?
No. Not at all. I mean, we donít really get those things anyway, you know?
You did for Projector.
Well, we didnít get it, but we were nominated. But yeah, still. Thereís like 3 or 4 people in the jury, and the fans are what matter. We know that we have them, and theyíre very cool, even over hereÖ
You played your hometown twice in the past year. Which gig did you like better?
Oh! I think that the last one was better, though the first one was good, because itíd been such a long time since weíd played at home, but in the second one, we were just so pumped by the response that we received, I was in tears by the end of the show. I couldnít even sing, I was really just so overwhelmed to get the reception that we did. Itís probably getting better in Sweden for metal and we were playing Gothenburg, and itís so fantastic. People were lining up at 8 in the morning and waiting until 9 at night, to get into the show. It was unbelievable.
You think that you guys could sell out a huge venue, like In Flames did with Iron Maiden last summer?
(laughing)No way, noÖ only Iron Maiden sells out an arena in Sweden. But no, not like thatÖ
Youíve been around for so long, spanning every definition of the genre of melodic death. Youíve won numerous awards. Whatís left for you to do?
Tour all the other countries that I havenít been to! And all the cities that we havenít been to.. And make better music and record better songs! Thatís what we always go for. We can do better and more. Every year since we started, weíve gotten better and more interesting. We must keep getting better, to see where this will lead us.
What is the thought process when you go into the studio to record a new album?
Usually like I said, everything is done in the rehearsal before, so when we go in itís just a matter of filming, and just making sure we have thought of everything beforehand. This time around it will be different, we havenít really decided yet. (The rest of the band seemed unaware of this, but Niklas Sundin, the guitar player, said with a smile that maybe Mikael had a ďmaster plan"-Adam L) Weíre gonna do it differently, like nothing weíve done before, so weíll see.
So you mean more melodic-type music?
No, just totally different. (laughing) Weíre going to use a producer for the first time ever, and either that or we record it totally ourselvesÖ
Why didnít Fredrik Johansson stay through today as the guitarist?
He was more interested in hanging out with his girlfriend, and he didnít want to tour, and he had a really cool job that he didnĎt want to leave that much. And we didnít really get along all the time either. Though heís a great guy, and great guitar player, but it was just that he had other priorities. We just couldnít work together anymore, it was really sad. I miss him, you know? I mean he had to go, and it was all good, but still sad.
Whatís your opinion of the melodic death scene now?
Itís a lot of great stuff, obviously! At least like 2 years ago, it seemed a bit silly because there were so many bands , everybody ďclaimed" to do it, but now, theyíve faded out, or gotten betterÖ
The cream has risen?
Yeah! Yeah, itís cool that we know all the younger, cooler, more prominent bands, and itís a lot of good stuffÖ
Whatís it like to be named as an influence?
Weird and really hard to grasp. I donít really do much other than ďWhoa! Thanks!" But other than that, it doesnít make any difference, but of course itís cool to be named as an influence, but I donít know how to behave around people that do that other than ďLook cool!"
Do you prefer to play the newer or older stuff on the road?
Usually the new, but then again we pick up the old stuff that we havenít played in such a long time that itís ďnewer" than the new songs. But I donít know, everything. Whateverís interesting for us and to the audience. As long as itís the good stuffÖ
What are some of the ďbad" songs?
(laughing) No! We donít have any!
No! of course not! (laughing) Now Iím going to recycle some questions from the interview with Anders from In Flames. What do you think the bands would be like today if you left for In Flames and Anders Friden stayed?
I have no idea. Itís tough for me to say, very different for sure. I think that Dark Tranquillity really would be pretty much the same and In Flames would have been much, much different. But I donít know. Thatís probably more interesting for other people to speculate on. I donít think that it would work, to be honest. I mean for the reasons that we parted ways with Anders, just because it didnít work, so it would have never workedÖ
You guys are just great friends, but the music doesnít work?
Yeah, kinda like that. Yeah, it was pretty early in our careers, we were just into different stuff, it was really different. But In Flames started and I was just here as the session vocalist, I was just helping out, it was just like fun writing the melodic music that Jesper was into which was a good thing for them as well. I did the album and I did a few shows, and I was ooh! Glad to be here, but I want to be with Dark Tranquillity, thatís what I do.
Now the latest question Iím asking bands from GothenburgÖ There have been a myriad of extremely talented performers that were created in the soil of Gothenburg, you guys, In Flames, Arch Enemy, At the Gates, The latest is Henrik LundqvistÖ
Huh? Whatís that?
The goalie of the New York Rangers..
Huh? (makes flying over head motion)
Not a hockey fan?
Nah, Iíve been to a couple of hockey games in my life, thatís it. Iíve never been into sports at all, really, I probably had some traumatic thing in my youth where I got injured. I know a couple of names, but not that one. Is he from Gothenburg?
Yeah! He played with FrŲlunda for like 4 years and he led the SEL in save percentage and goals against last year, plays for the Rangers nowÖ
How big is the NHL in Sweden?
The NHL is not big at all. The European hockey leagues I know a bit of because of the Swedish players, but other than that, I donít knowÖ
...and it still wasn't over. I got the photo pass and went back to the band's trailer and hung out with Niklas Sundin and Martin Henriksson before the show started. We hung out and talked for quite a bit, and I even taught Niklas a karate move. It was indeed an awesome night. And the rest of the story will continue with the forthcoming interview with Per from Opeth...