Interviews : Meshuggah

Meshuggah : Sit down with the 8-string King
With Marten Hagstrum
Interviewed by

Upon arriving to the venue in Pontiac, Michigan the first thing noticed was the preacher out front telling all they were going to hell becuse they were attending the Meshuggah concert. This was brought to a halt when bottles and spit was flung at the bible thumping almost militant man. Oh, he didn't leave he just moved across the street and began to yell louder.

Following the success of their latest release Nothing, Meshuggah has kicked off their first headlining U.S. tour. When the tour came through Pontiac, MI at Clutch Cargo's with Strapping Young Lad, I was able to sit down with Marten Hagstrom (guitar) just before Meshuggah took the stage.

How has this headlining tour in the States been going so far?

We're happy with it, its been going good. We wanted to do 18-20 shows, got booked on 25, and alot of them the way we feel were out of our markets. Not this one or the one after but we did two shows in Oklahoma, stuff like that. We thought that would fuck the tour up, but apparently it didnt, it was awesome. The Oklahoma city show, that sucked for the simple fact that the tornado hit that night. So the first night and the day before, the tornado hit and wiped out parts of it. The day we played, a tornado hit and just missed us by a mile the night of the show so not many people were willing to get out of the house to go see a show. I'm suprised we actually followed through. So the tour in general has been awesome.

What was the creative process going into the new album, Nothing? What other avenues did you explore to capture the overall aggressive sound?

Its tough to say but every record we start writing for we start out with a little embryo of something and roll with it, so, it's hard to pinpoint anything that we would have done different. The most difference in writing the songs were the 8-string guitars. It totally changed our approach on building the riffs. That is what significantly changed our writing process.

Who did you bring in to work on the new album?

We didn't bring in much people at all. The thing was on the drum recording we used danne Bergstrand that we usually use for our recordings and the rest we recorded in our own studio.

What advantages do you think were gained by undertaking the entire production process?

To be totally honest its been a long time since we've had a producer. We had one on None but we co-produced that one so we really dont know what its like to work with a bigtime producer that runs the show, and we really never want to if we can help it.

The thing is we have a studio of our own now, and we know how to work our gear and we got the advantage of being able to produce our own sound and it seems there's no reason to go anywhere else. If you know what you want to sound like and you can do something with it, i think its going to be more unique. The disadvantage is a lot of record labels like to have a producer's name to boost the credibility of the record.

Nuclear Blast hasn't really been into that.

No they haven't. That is one of the things that we are really happy with, they understood and granted us permission to do our own thing. The thing is too I dont see is why anyone would actually want to sign us and apply a producer to Meshuggah. It's like taking a band when you sign them and rebuilding it. It's always been us doing our own thing and adding to it would be a dumb thing.

Listening to Nothing, I found it to be a more straightforward, in-your-face record. Was this the sound you had hoped to achieve?

Not really more straightfoward, it's slower and easier to get because of the structuring of it. It's clearer where Chaosphere is more of an explosion. Was it conscious? No, but we didn't want to do Chaosphere 2.

On the new album you incorporated the new 8-string guitars. Was this a natural transition from the 7-strings and were you worried that the end result may have been less desirable than anticipated, such as that it might turn out too muddy with that much low-end in the final mix.

No, this album was more clearer than anything we ever had because of the simple fact that it's more single string stuff most of the time and most of the other records is power chord riffing which is much more muddy than single string ever will be. So, we weren't worried about that fact. The thing that worried us the most collectively, how were we going to utilize the guitars live. It's one thing sitting down with a prototype, recording an album, just sitting down and saying, "Well, we have to adjust this to make this work" but it's another thing standing on-stage with a 29 1/2 inch scale and trying to do something with it, and it is a transition. It was pretty easy to do writing the stuff but a little harder to do with the live show but it works out, its not a problem but it takes a little more of an adjustment.

Pretty girthy neck isn't it? [laughs]

[laughs] Yea, its wide.

What was the main reason for switching over to the 8-string guitars? How did that idea come about?

It was a natural thing that happened. Frederik was talking about doing an all bass thing and that never happened. We got introduced to a guy that builds guitars and he showed us some guitars. I dont know how the idea came up but he mentioned he had a prototype for an 8-string and we thought it was a great idea and what would that sound like and then Frederik got one and it sounded awesome so that kind of set the mode for what we wanted to do.

What tuning do you guys use on those?

It's like Bb standard on a 7-string. The whole 8-string thing is a little bit fucked up because its been talked about but the real 8-strings haven't been around that long. We just got ours about two weeks before the tour, so we hadn't actually seen an 8-string guitar up until now. He was building them and stuff got fucked up so we couldn't use them for the recording process, so we used 7-string Nevborn guitars that we stringed as an 8-string. We had to do that. Then we were supposed to get the guitars for Ozzfest, didn't get them. We were supposed to have them for the Tool tour, didn't get them, so now we have them.

So, what were some of the challenges and problems you guys had with the prototype?

There were a bunch. For instance, on recording the 7-strings were a bitch because they wouldn't stay in tune. We would record until it went out of tune basically so it was like we'd record one part, "Okay, that's done," and then stop, retune. Sometimes we'd have to redo alot of things because we'd sit and play guitar and we'd nail the part pretty much but after the part it would be out of tune so it was a real fucking hassle. If we would have had these, it would have been a lot simpler.

You never had any really technically challenging problems with the 8-strings directly?

No, it was just the way they'd perform.

Even with some 12-string electric, they had problems with the truss, they had to do a dual truss.

Yea, you pretty much would have to have that.

They ran into problems where if you would tweak one truss, you would have to actually do the opposite to the other. Do you guys have a dual truss system?

No, because it doesn't work. The thing is that these guitars are the first prototypes and we're bringing them on the tour basically to evaluate them and what has to be done with them. We love the guitars in some aspects, and there are some aspects we really aren't happy with.

Are they fixable?

We would have to send them back. It feels like, since it was a prototype, they were sent out here in a hurry, just to get them out here so we could get them back after the tour. Some of the things are not as thought thorough as they should have been but on the other hand, two have been built for us and an additional one is being built for us. So, what's wrong with these will be fixed and the additional one will be better than these ones. Another good thing is that Ibanez is also building us an 8-string.

How did you guys hook up with Ibanez? I remember I did a product review on the 7421 model and they said that was it.

Well, the thing was that when we got endorsed by Ibanez they were like, "Ya know, we'll give you guys a couple guitars," so they apparently they got a lot of positive feedback.And we had to renegotiate the deal because it ran out and they asked us if we wanted to do that,and they stated since they had heard about the 8-strings which actually didn't exist at the time but there were so many people had been talking about them, they really, really wanted to try and build us the perfect 8-string guitar for us, custom only. I don't really know if they were really interested in making it a series but what they really wanted to do was build an 8-string because they hadn't done it before and they saw it as a challenge, like can we really make a proper instrument out of this. We had a meeting with them in LA and it looks like there are some details that we need to send them like jack placements that we really aren't 100% sure what we want yet on the 8-strings.

So you guys have overall control?

Yea, so we stopped down and told them this is what we want. They had suggestions and we had suggestions. Its pretty much decided what its going to be like but its just minor stuff we want to think about for awhile before we actually make it into a guitar.

Now the pick would just have to be massive to get into an 8-string or did you guys just convert a 7-string?

Nope, there is just this one guy in Sweden that does pickups by himself and he had done custom pickups for the guitars we tried out. The pickups he had on those were active, it sounded really good. We didn't know and it was hard to tell if it was going to work out in the long run because also you have to be able to basically see if they are road worthy. Its one thing making custom guitars at home but like on the Ozzfest like humidity and heat. We actually had 7 pickups too so we'd change all the old pickups on our Ibanez guitars.

Are those active?

No but they are hot [smiles]. Ibanez, we actually hooked them up so now they order through him.

Got one more guitar question: What is your setup?

I don't have much. We don't have cabinets.

Really? So you use a simulator? It's an amazing's just so fat.

You know, it takes some time to work out, but its really fucking smooth. Like my setup, I got a POD pro setup, an AKG wireless into an AB box. Out from that Channel 1 goes into a TC Electronics preamp with nothing else. The other channel goes into the other POD for clean and nothing else.

When you guys were recently out on your with Tool, i caught the shows in Kalamazoo and in Auburn Hills, how did you guys feel you were received by the Tool fans and what was the overall feel of that tour?

It varied alot. One gig in Maine you could tell that a lot of people there to see us, but it differed a lot. The thing is that with the Tool shows is that it wasn't obvious for us until now coming back on the headline tour, so many people are like "I caught you guys with Tool and now I'm here to see you again cuz you kicked ass." So, it did a lot of good but it's hard to tell with so many people cuz you know, there might be 500 guys walking away really impressed but you dont know because it's out of 10,000. The tour that you saw at Auburn Hills was an all big arena tour and the Kalamazoo show was a lot of that, too, but some of it was smaller.

How was touring with Slayer?

That tour was awesome, but we were hiking around in an RV at the time and it was pretty rough but looking back on it, it was a fucking killer tour. We got along great with everyone and we were well received so it was the perfect first American tour.

Was seeing your album crack the Billboard 200 in the States any sort of suprise for the band?

Yeah. The label was telling us that it was not entirely impossible to hit the Billboard. When it did, the label of course was really happy. We were like "thats cool" but you know, the thing that is cool about it that i like is the simple fact is that there not overly many underground bands under small labels that get onto the Billboard, so that was the thing we liked about it. But apart from that, steady is the best.

Do you guys think it had anything to do with the influx of nu-metal, with bands like Mudvayne?

I don't know, I'm not really into that scene at all.

You guys really get thrown into that genre, even though the comparison between you guys and the nu-metal bands is night and day.

I agree. I think a lot of that has to do with the selective ear, I mean you should hear some of the bands we get lumped in with.

Not that there is anything wrong with the bands themselves, but it's obvious to some people that our sound is not even close to those bands.

But still some say "I really like the style of Meshuggah and Dimmu Borgir" and I'm like "What?" Like, what the fuck are you listening to? [laughs] It's really not an issue, because as a band we just wanted a chance to be heard. Just to be like this is us and this is what we do. And if you can do that and be appreciated for it, I mean, we're smiling all the way. People are listening to what we're doing. Well some are anyway. [laughs]

You guys seem to have a quite a good core following.

Yeah thats the thing. I mean yea it would be really nice to sell two million albums but then we wouldn't be playing Meshuggah music, you know what i'm saying.

It's do your own thing or conform to the masses.

Exactly. So, when you don't conform you have to take the backside and the backside is that not everyone is going to get it, not everyone is going to like what you do.

The biggest drawback is that everybody is not going to be willing to put in the money for the promotion because everyone is assuming like Okay, they play weird, aggressive music, so we we can't play them on the radio, we can't put them in this context because its gotta be very clean and nice, and very Puddle of Mudd to be able to show it.

You guys have been aired quite a bit like on XM radio.

Yeah, I heard alot about that. The only reason for it though is that I dont think it has anything to do with our music, I think it has to do with people are like "Okay, they did a tour with Ozzfest, and they did the Tool tour, those are pretty big deals, so we'll play them once in a while."

The business is like that, it doesn't have that much to do with what bands are good or not its what the media want to tell the people what they should listen to.

They think you should be depicted in one light whether its true or not.

Yeah, exactly.

In the past you've noted such inspirations as Steely Dan, Earth Wind and Fire, Rush, and Bjork. These are a far departure from other inspirations as Slayer, Metal Church and Death. With such a broad musical pallete, how do you guys close such a wide gap and bring those inspirations together?

[Tomas Haake] It's only inspiration, not influence. You want to seperate those.

[Hagstrom] Yeah, there is a difference between influence and inspiration. Because, those bands you mentioned, I don't think we picked up one musical thing from them, but it's good music. But cool stuff makes you want to do cool stuff, thats why we put that down. Metal Church and that shit shows where we're from, when we were 14 and what we listen to and the other stuff is what makes you kick like, "This is good music".

Its' more so what catches your ear.

[Tomas Haake] Like, what's in the list from Destroy Erase Improve, there is a huge list of influence and inspiration and that is ranging from everything we grew up with through all the years all the way up until that time, what's inspired you through all those years. So, thats why it's so different with all the music and styles.

[Hagstrom] Some of it has actually influenced us musically. I mean the style...Rush for sure has influenced us. Not like i want to do music that sounds like Rush, but they way they thought music at that time, the structure of it. So, yeah, some of those bands have made a musical impact.

Thanks a lot, we appreciate you for your time.

Much thanks goes to Per, Tomas, and Marten for their time. You can find the latest release Nothing in stores everywhere along with Chaosphere and Destroy Erase Improve.